Posts Tagged ‘advertising campaign


Advertising Craft and the Metrics Epidemic

From time to time, despite advances in psychiatry, an insidious strain of ideological nonsense starts weaving its way through the corridors of advertising and marketing communities. It’s a destructive threat no amount of practical experience can curtail for long.

I’m talking about the multilevel delusion that advertising exists to increase sales by measurable amounts.

At this late stage in the most recent outbreak of this pandemic, I know it will be hard for some of you to read the previous sentence. If so, I urge you to seek medical attention right away.

This rapidly mutating ideological virus has a cascading effect on all aspects of the advertising/marketing industry. Once unleashed, it turns even the savviest minds into anxious, literal, perfectionist Golems, perpetually clinging to their “precious” metrics.

“How can you guarantee my customers will open this envelope?”

I heard one afflicted brand manager shriek this gibberish, during the height of the outbreak of 1997. Very sad. Yet so infectious is this delusion, it caused several of my colleagues to dismantle the entire conceptual array for a direct mail piece, just to splash “SEE INSIDE TO SAVE 10% ON YOUR NEXT PURCHASE” in big red letters across the envelope.

Recently, I realized another outbreak had taken place. I feared the worst when I learned that a client had vetoed a set of robust creative concepts simply because his sales reps didn’t understand them.

Well, of course not. An advertising concept isn’t fundamentally about sales. So where does this confusion start? Like most of its kin, this profound distortion of the truth is based in ignorance. For in this jumbled world, advertising must necessarily sit shoulder-to-shoulder with sales promotions, catalogue space ads and supermarket circulars. No wonder people with an MBA in “Will-this-be-on-the-final?” get confused.

Nor should it surprise anyone if many a car brand manager, in the grips of Delusio Metriciencis, will demand an ad campaign set in a car dealership. If you’ve seen any one Volkswagen “Sign Then Drive” TV spot you know what I mean. If you haven’t, and wish to research this topic on YouTube, I suggest you wear dark glasses to ward off contagion.

In a world without branding …
Anyway, an ad set in a store is the epitome of the confusion of advertising with sales. In reality, advertising exists only to create the emotional, cultural and societal context in which a sale can occur. It’s the very reason, when you set out to by a cellphone, you arrive with a clear conviction about whether you want to go with IOS or Android, Apple or Samsung.

Otherwise, in a world of nothing but sales messages, you’d walk into a store filled with identical cell phones and simply pick one from the price-bin you’re comfortable with. In that context, the first marketer to offer a red cell phone would create a sensation. And the first to say: “Your lovely spouse deserves a lovely red phone,” would own the market within the first week.

Not because of price points or sales messages. But because the Red Phone company had invented branding — a cultural environment in which consumers can perceive your product, value it, distinguish it and identify it.

… a mindset ruled by rulers.
In light of these simple realizations, it’s painful to watch a marketing manager’s spiraling descent into the kind of short-term thinking that de-brands a product. You can almost hear his or her fevered dreams:

“Hey, love your new $55.47.”
“Thanks! It’s so much better than my old $59.95.”

“You are so lucky. My $72.19 is so much more expensive.”

I know. Marketing is hard. You have to distinguish between one aspect of your annual spend and another. And towering over you is Metrics, an ogre with hypnotic powers, who convinces you his slithering percentage points are endowed with meaning.

Wake up! Spend a few hours in a decompression chamber. Do whatever it takes to flush out the ideological toxins that plague you. Trust me, they’re the only reason you believe Advertising can deliver measurable results.

Ironically, more than one creative director in my career has opined, “Advertising isn’t rocket science.” But my message to you today is more sweeping:

Advertising isn’t science at all.

And no amount of sketchy market research, sticky eyeballs, click-throughs, retweets or “participations” can make it into one.

Advertising is a craft. And its ablest practitioners are people who understand human nature — as expressed in a specific, well-defined target audience. Remember that, the next time someone on your extended team demands proof that a gecko with an East London accent can make cynical Americans warm up to a car insurance company.


Spin it to Win it

Whether your product is as serious as an appeal for humanitarian aid, or as frivolous as a Superman-themed iPod cover, if you’re going to sell it, you need an angle. In the abstract, that’s five cents’ worth of wisdom you might think was the essence of advertising.

And yet in today’s world, where the distinction between an honest sales person and a sneaky “spin doctor” has been blurred by everything from real political scandals to cable-TV dramas, that cheap wisdom is often obscured. In recent years, the battle cries of the authenticity movement have discouraged even sensible people from acknowledging the basic truth behind any sale:

You have to spin it to win it.

Hence, even if you craft your appeal to audiences under the aegis of strict, authenticity-driven ideology, you’re still crafting an appeal. You’ve simply added a step to the process. First, you win someone over with your earnestness, and then you hit them with your sales pitch. And, as any fund raising hack knows, that approach appeals directly to a certain sector of your customer base.

“Won’t you please help ensure that [cause target] has the [cause-specific panacea] [gender-appropriate pronoun] needs to achieve [cause-specific happy ending]?”

…runs the tired formula of many a fund raising campaign. While many foundations do great work, if you’re going to give, it’s not because you’ve carefully weighed the data the campaign presented.

You’ll give because you’ve been sold—or rather, been given the tools to sell yourself.

Case in point is a clever video that puts the last 10 years of Technology advertising in stark perspective. Go ahead, watch it now. I’ll wait.

Goose bumps, right? For my part, I could barely stop myself from making my own printing press so I could cranck out these technological marvels.

Here’s an everyday object repositioned as a magnificent innovation. The mundane becomes the grand, and the future arrives by special delivery to your benighted hovel of a life.

Peek inside the envelope.
The first step in the process is to create a conceptual framework for your pitch, one level removed from words on a page. As in the “Book” video mentioned above, you need to envelop your product in a coherent and emotionally compelling story about its value.

In rudimentary form, you can see this at work in catalog copy, as in narrative snippets like this from Hemmacher Schlemmer:

Worn like a backpack, this is the lightweight vacuum that turns a
physically demanding chore into an activity that’s as effortless as walking.

…or this from Sharper Image:

The Emergency Handcrank Power Radio keeps you connected to the world
while you’re camping—or whenever severe weather strikes.

Similar examples are legion, but to achieve a storied Spin you must get beyond messages that cling tight to product features. You must demonstrate your value in a broader context and make the sum total of your products’ attributes into an object of desire.

This is Apple’s greatest achievement—to the dismay of anyone rooting for the further evolution of the human species. People are willing to pay more for a parity product because it feels sexier than the alternative.

Read the letter of the lager.
But lest you think only brands with deep pockets can take this tack, witness the positioning power of Brooklyn Lager, the product of an artisanal brewery:

The result is a wonderfully flavorful beer, smooth, refreshing and very versatile
with food. Dry-hopping is largely a British technique, which we’ve used in a
Viennese-style beer to create an American original.

…not your drunk uncle’s beer, to be sure. Let’s see how the brewery puts its product in context:

Brooklyn Lager is at home with pizza, burgers, Mexican food, roast chicken,
barbecue, fried fish, pork and Chinese dishes. For cheese, go with manchego,
Stilton, farmhouse cheddar and mild Gruyere.

Now, many a marketing guru would balk at using “so much copy” to sell a product online. Yet I defy anyone who doesn’t actively dislike beer not to undergo a  change in perception. That’s because the copy creates a singular narrative identifying the product’s specific value: as a beer for people for whom food and drink is an essential part of their culture.

 Try doing that with a semi-literate list of bullets or a stingy discount coupon. Without an honest, compelling spin, you’d do better to sell your wares on a street corner with a megaphone. At least then, after serving 90 days for disturbing the peace, you might have the start of a ripping yarn to wow your customers.

Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY



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