Air-Guitar Marketing & the Kitchen Table

[June 1, 2010]

At any given moment, what brands can achieve through advertising is limited. You can use market research to find your customers’ tickle spots. You can analyze click through rates, count eyeballs, measure engagement time or assess the relative “viralality” of your message.

But you can’t sell what isn’t there.

I suppose the main reason many brands advertise at all is to pick up the slack between their products’ actual value and the perceived value they’d like to charge for. And yes, there are millions of dollars made each year selling products that promise but don’t deliver.

Of course, when word gets around, the company loses market share (at the very least), so what’s a brand to do?

Whatever you do, don’t blame the ads. Their only function was to get people excited enough to buy. After that, the real advertising takes place at the kitchen table, where it always has. It happens when a satisfied customer advocates the product to family and friends offline. Not in social space, mind you, but in real time, off-screen, no 3-D glasses required.

That’s something focus groups can’t change. The most a focus group can tell you is the optimum location for your smoke and mirrors. Nothing ever sold big unless it had the kind of value that large communities of people could get behind. And since I’m sure no one finds that a revelatory statement, I’m kind of perplexed that the social media wave continues to knock marketers off their surfboards.

Earning your place at the table…
The only thing a social space does is post intimate public opinions online. It posts them, but cannot create them. Does anyone believe people weren’t talking about products and brands before the word “tweet” took on a double meaning? Wasn’t it always our goal to generate buzz—away from the radio, the TV, the mailbox, the billboard and the store display?

To create that kind of buzz you have to start at the product development level. You can only sell what people actually want to buy. Not redundantly, a product people want is also the product most likely to sell. Great, signature ad campaigns can sometimes “create demand,” transforming a ho-hum item into an object of intense desire. But nothing sells like sale-ability:

Coke sells because it actually tastes good.

And the more globalized our economy becomes the more absolute sale-ability will be the benchmark for success. It only makes sense: The amount of competition in every conceivable product category is growing faster than anyone can track.

…or strumming the air guitar?
In this world, more rounded and global and 3-D than ever, what brands need to answer is one simple question: “Is this something people actually want?” My question, you’ll notice is not: “Can this product make a successful entry as a parity contender in its market segment at a competitive price point?”

Instead of statistics, your product development needs to revolve around fulfilling a need. Can your product generate kitchen table advertising based on its real, functional value? Because it’s only when you grasp that value, not to mention believe in it, that you can craft a platform to sell it on.

Otherwise, it’s like pulling teeth to “move the needle,” no matter how many apps you program, coupons you print, sweepstakes you stage or action movie placements you achieve. From that perspective, I think there’s a greater need than ever for ad agencies to stop acting like vendors and go back to their roots as consultants.

Even if your motto is “Serve the Client,” it’s clear it serves no one to spend millions, just to sell air-guitar benefits. That’s why brands need ad agencies to help them keep new product development grounded in hard reality. We can’t sell airy, non-existent benefits, but we can help you develop products meaty enough to warrant word-of-mouth at the kitchen table.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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