Calle Sjoenell, CEO, Ogilvy & Mather New York
I want advertising to be useful to people. I want it to be something we want in our lives when we need it. I want it to contribute to how we live and understand our culture and society. Is this a marketing utopia that will never happen? There are a few signs to the contrary.
There is some interesting research done in this area. IPA’s study, Marketing in the Era of Accountability shows that campaigns that generate brand fame drives the most profits, proving that emotional appeals outperform rational appeal across all business categories.
That means if you make your brand famous you drive the most ROI for your client. How do brands become famous you might ask? They create communication that people voluntarily pass on to other people. In reality people find the brand communication so useful they feel that it will be useful to friends as well. It will also be useful for the sharer who ups his social status by bringing this interesting brand activity to friends.
The other piece of research comes from Jim Stengel, Grow 2012, that shows that companies with a noble purpose clearly outperform companies that don’t have one.
Examples are IBM, building a smarter planet and Google organizing the world’s information.
To me these two findings points in the same direction for marketing: both your company and your communication needs to be useful to their audience, otherwise there is no reason to exist. The moment a company puts its own interests before its costumers is the moment you start to lose.
The role reversal of Apple and Microsoft is clear proof of this. In the end the market chooses the winner, no matter how strong the company.
I choose to define useful in several ways.
- In communication
Show: Simply showing how the product is used. Apple did a fabulous job launching the iPad in outdoor media where they showed the occasions it was supposed to be used. The real innovation was that you could use it slouched in your sofa unlike the laptops which require you to sit up.
Teach: Teaching the audience what your product/service can do that you did not know before. Google Chromes “Dear Sophie” ad showed a father sending emails to his new born daughter and then giving her the account when she turns 16. Clearly a useful way to use the web.
Social Status: Give the product and service a role in people’s lives that enhances their social status. Toyota’s The Swaggerwagon is a good examples of giving families back their social swagger by being proud of owning a minivan.
The key here is to bring something new and interesting to your audience; otherwise it will have little chance of being useful.
Humor: My first question is can humor be useful? The answer is yes but only if you do it right. The humor needs to come from the core of the brand’s purpose and have the product’s/service’s useful attributes at the heart of what is funny. Old Spice Man on a horse is a classic example. It actually teaches women to buy “male” scented body wash and then let guys know that is what is expected of them as a result.
- In media
Delivering communications of product and services when the audience needs them is also key to being useful. Here it’s not the content, but the product/service itself being served and relevant to your interests when you need it.
Google’s Search ads are the most obvious example and Facebook ads that are selected depending on your profile interests are another fine example.
So how come so little advertising feels useful to their audience? It mainly comes down the medium it is communicated in.
Television and radio communicates in one direction. So companies have used it mostly to talk about themselves rather than why their product and service is useful to the audience. Car advertising is a classic example of ads that tell you the same attributes of the car and where they can be used, seldom bringing anything new or interesting. Hyundai’s Assurance Program is an interesting anomaly. They made a guarantee that if you lost your job during the first year of getting the car you could return it at no cost.
This all changes when interactivity comes into the picture whether it is a companion screen to your TV experience or a desktop or mobile device. Interactive media wants to be useful by its very nature since it’s driven from the user and not the other way around.
Interactive media also wants to be useful. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Hulu etc, all of them work hard to deliver content when you need or ask for it. I think this is just the beginning of advertising being useful in the media landscape. The mobile devices with their small screens and portability almost by proxy forces out marketing that interrupts, since we want to be in full control of the experience. Brands need to learn the audience’s behavior and build marketing around them to become useful.
This does not mean that traditional storytelling will have less of a role in the future. On the contrary it will be even more important, but work in a different way.
You still have to create a narrative of your idea you put into the marketplace and make it understandable, engaging and intriguing in even smaller media, where every pixel counts. The handle or the name of your idea becomes increasingly important.
With storytelling, the big difference today is that you have to work more like a creator and writer of a TV show. You need to have a solid concept and a fantastic pilot which you release to the market. The big difference is you need to adapt the following episodes to how people react to the show, while the show is on air. You have to go with the flow and make your idea bounce around in as many media as you can, tweaking and changing it along the way. Gatorade Replay is a perfect example of this. The idea adapted and formed with the reaction of the participants and created a multi-year campaign with new angles every season.
How do we get there?
To prepare for this new useful world both agencies and clients need to change how they work. At least half of the production budget needs to be spent while the campaign is running; instead of blowing it all in one go. Clients and agencies need to work more like a news agency, constantly adapting and making new material across all sorts of media.
Creative needs to be much more adapted to tweaking and producing their ideas in real time than carefully crafting it in vacuum before a launch.
Planners need to get under the skin of their target audience, not so much around their attitudes but their behaviors and finding out where a brand can be useful to them.
I almost see a new department called The Making Department that is a mix between media, creatives, planners, technologists and producers who spend most of their time tweaking campaigns in real time instead of revising campaigns long before launch.
The era of 9-12 months campaign planning will be rendered pretty much useless since it’s hard to predict the economy, market and the media landscape that long in advance. The media acceleration is just too fast and it looks like it is speeding up even more.
So will advertising be more useful? I think all the new media technology will lead us there and the ones who will make it happen faster will be heavenly rewarded.