Error: Message Malfunction

[April 16, 2011] 

If I had to guess, I’d say the just-the-facts approach taken by Dyson.com stems from a mistaken belief: that anydirect, emotional appeal to consumers is synonymous with shameful Hype.

This is both an over-reaction to the worst in advertising and a sad consequence of relentless social pressure. In this case, the strict injunction to “be cool” has led a clever manufacturer to forget how people are put together.

Far from being an unfortunate byproduct of evolution, human emotion is both our universal language and the driver of every human achievement. And that includes the mysterious, innovative thinking Sir James Dyson has applied to the redesign of common household technologies.

Judging from the affable, no-nonsense delivery of Dyson’s TV spots, I can easily imagine what’s happened. Wishing to avoid the sensationalist antics of the ShamWow campaign or its classic predecessors, and believing his products speak for themselves, Sir Dyson has adopted a direct, matter-of-fact style that works well on screen.

As I see it, the key problem with Dyson.com is one of translation. The “simple truths” approach that works when delivered in person, fails completely as blank text laid out in a minimalist narrative. Why? Because it makes no direct connection to consumers. As a result, the site has a messaging strategy about one desert dryer than Steven Wright.

Ironically, though the product designs are depicted in a glossy, eye-candy style and brought to life with simple animations intended to draw oohs and aahs, the accompanying text is morbidly un-celebratory. The only thing in this copy’s favor is that it’s blessedly free of iPad-Narcissism.

Structural flaws in an ideological blueprint.
Here again is evidence of the black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking that’s not only the bane of contemporary marketing theory, but is wrecking havoc with the critical legislative, moral and social issues we face as a species.

There’s no excuse for that. Our choice, as marketers, is not between rabid, “interruptive” flailing and sanitized immobility. Like artists, we have infinite gradations of light, color, shade, tone, rhythm and movement at our disposal. If the ShamWow guy is too extreme for your taste, it’s not because “promotional campaigns are cheesy.” It’s due to specific choices made by one brand.

In this case, with a few light touches, Dyson.com could have a human voice. All that’s needed is a spark of recognition: anecdotal phrases to help consumers place Dyson products in the context of everyday life.

No need for jiggly type or gyrating jeans; just a message imbued with a touch of poetry—lines that use poetry’s ability to sum up a world of feeling in seconds. Now, in keeping with the brand image Sir James cultivates on TV, I could hardly expect him to approve a line like:

The only sucky thing
about a Hoover is
the way it’s designed.

Yet there’s no reason the simple truths he demonstrates in his TV spots couldn’t have made their way onto Dyson.com. Instead we’re greeted with:

Find out why a Dyson vacuum cleaner is different

Neglecting to balance the human equation.
Convinced that people only respond to schematic, “no-hype” instructions, Dyson.com makes a critical miscalculation. Keep in mind that these products are the epitome of the high-priced spread. Consumers asked to shell out more for basic tools need a lot more convincing than a one-dimensional “Ours Are Better” strategy.

While some shoppers’ inner techno-geek might well be slightly intrigued by “Root Cyclone Technology,” the key challenge of any ad campaign is helping consumers feel how well your brand meshes with their self-image, their world-view; how it solves the problem they’re fixated on at this moment.

Needless to say, claiming your product is different accomplishes none of that—not least because “different” does not imply “better” to all people in all contexts.

Now, having handed over its digital presence to a mere design vendor, Dyson’s brand narrative hangs on the thin thread of a consumer’s TV-memory. Coming to the site with this ingenious man’s voice in their ears, some consumers might well be “pre-sold” enough to buy.

Trouble is, they’re much more likely to turn away, since the products pitched as breakthroughs on TV are presented online with only a tad more excitement than the moisture-retaining microwave cookware sold by upscale e-merchandisers. 

Besides, relying on “old media” to plug the holes in your “new media” engagement model? That’s no way to engineer success.


2 Responses to “Error: Message Malfunction”

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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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