Friday, October 23, 2009

Ads are an interruption - they don't have to be

In my observation, people consume media for two key reasons - to be informed or entertained.

It follows that if the advertising a brand puts out there links itself to either of these reasons – it is less likely to be perceived as an interruption and consumers are more likely to be receptive and accepting towards it.

A brand doesn’t truly “inform” until it tells its audience something they didn’t know about it before
If a consumer feels they already know the message a brand is trying to communicate, they will dismiss it on grounds of irrelevance and no objective or purpose will be served.

This is only natural – there is too much “noise” out there in the market so consumers will take every opportunity to “filter” some of it out.

Brands have to work harder with their advertising as a result. To be effective they need to genuinely “inform.” They can only do this by communicating facts that are new, interesting and relevant – and that tie back and reinforce the value proposition they represent.

Soup on the rocks – a new use for an old product
A long time (in 1972 to be exact), Campbells ran this ad for their range of soups in the US. What the ad does is show consumers how to use the product in a new way. In doing so, it proves to be genuinely “informative” as it gives consumers an idea into product use they may never have had before. Because of this, the ad and the brand as a consequence are a lot more likely to be mentally engaged with rather than discarded. The same can’t be said for the advertising of a lot of brands these days.

Schlitz beer – we wash our bottles with live steam
In the thirties the great Claude C Hopkins wrote a campaign for Schlitz beer. The idea - “we wash our bottles with live steam” All beers did so at the time – consumers just didn’t know it. The campaign made Schlitz one of the largest selling beers of the time. Why? It “informed.” It told consumers what they didn’t know – but clearly wanted to. The fact that Schlitz washed its bottles in live steam was important information as at that time health and sanitation were key issues. Bottles washed in live steam meant they were more sterile and that the beer was purer and better and safer to drink.

Insurance company claim - Australia
A third example – closer to our times comes from Australia. A few years ago I came across an ad for an insurer with a simple message that I thought was brilliant. The ad simply said “we pay 99.9% of all our claims”.

The ad again “informed”. It told consumers something they didn’t know but that they wanted to and was clearly relevant. They were more likely to engage and be receptive towards the message as a result.

Al Ries – raising questions and a furore
I am not sure how many of you remember, but a few years ago, marketing guru Al Ries raised a furore on Madison Avenue when he claimed in his book ‘the fall of advertising and the rise of PR” that advertising was ineffective at building brands while PR was.

I understand Al’s point – and I’m sympathetic to it. However I don’t think effectiveness has got anything to do with advertising or PR. Effectiveness I think is influenced largely by whether a brand is proving to be newsworthy or not – and in the right way of course.

If a brand is telling its audiences things they know about it already its messages will be discarded and its memory over time will fade.

PR has a historical but not necessarily a proprietary advantage over advertising here. PR’s whole premise is on creating stories about brands. The problem (or rather what has worked in PR’s favour) is that newspapers and other forms of media won’t accept or publish these stories unless they are newsworthy in some respect! PR’s whole focus is on ensuring they are as a result.

It is therefore not PR that is creating strong brands but its focus on newsworthiness that is!

If you adopt the same focus in your advertising as PR does then it is likely to be just as effective in building your brand. This is the point I think that Al Ries either missed or failed to communicate effectively enough to marketers when he launched his book.

Claude C Hopkins: “You don’t buy from a clown”
Claude Hopkins once said “you don’t buy from a clown.” Though I admire the man, I think he was wrong on this. You do. Ronald McDonald is testimony to this! As are scores of funny campaigns that have made millions for the brands they were conceived for.

Humour works because it is not only entertaining – it is disarming. It lowers barriers to sale and makes it possible for brands to own emotional territories that they would otherwise not be able to.

There is no shortage of humorous ads that have done very well in the market – “Happiness is a Cigar called Hamlet” is one, the Breast Cancer society ad is another (if only women paid as much attention to their breasts as men).

Edward De Bono takes humour a step further calling it “the highest form of intelligence”.

Entertainment has genres
Humour is only one of them. There’s also drama, action, documentary – all styles of narration that can be explored through advertising. Which one is appropriate depends on the product, category and key message your brand is trying to get out there.

Crispin Porter – Burger King

Crispin Porter used entertainment in a big way for Burger King.

Some time ago it embarked on a social experiment for the brand (as opposed to creating an ad!). What the agency did, in the campaign later named “Burger Freakout”, was tell people that Burger king had decided to take the Whopper™ off the menu. The reactions were captured live on video and edited into a hilarious series of videos that you can watch on the YouTube link provided. Please note the video contains coarse language – lots of it.

Why inform or entertain?
When you do, you achieve a closer fit with media and the key reason why people consume it in the first place.

Why do we switch on our TV sets if not to watch programmes that will take our minds off work? And why do we buy newspapers if not to keep abreast of the events happening around us and in the world?

When this happens the advertising your brand puts out is not seen as advertising any more - an interruption to the experience the audience seeks - but an enhancer to it on the contrary. In the process, you greatly increase the chances of your ads being more positively accepted and received.

1 comment:

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