One of the basic principles of advertising is to translate properties into benefits. For example:
“We have a car that is the most fuel-efficient on the market.” (fact)
“We have a car that is better for the environment than other cars, and it will save you lots of money too.” (benefit)
Many classic adverts from the 1950s take the benefit and dramatise it, i.e. shows it in an unexpected and interesting way. That’s still how a lot of advertising works, and has to work.
But even with a unique benefit, a focused campaign and well-crafted ads, the market could still ignore the message. The benefits of various products and services are getting more difficult to communicate. When confronted with paid-for communication, people tend to shut down their senses. Advertising becomes wallpaper.
Some have pointed toward social media as a potential solution to the problem of consumer indifference. But, as many have discovered, it’s not that simple. For people to engage with your product or service via social media, it has to provide something beyond the benefit. It has to provide a story.
Take Unilever’s margarine brand, Flora, for example. When they wanted South Africans to view their product as a healthier alternative to butter, what did they do? Did they publish ads with a packshot and a headline saying “The healthier alternative”? No.
Instead, they found a middle-aged man with a heart condition, caused by his lifestyle, and sponsored a documentary about him and his upcoming heart surgery. He went on talk shows to discuss healthy lifestyle change, and quickly became a public figure. The climactic moment of the campaign was, of course, the heart operation, which was shown live on TV, while well-wishers sent in tens of thousands of text messages from their mobiles. The Meet Wally’s Heart campaign was a triumph.
It brings to mind a think-tank report I read ten years ago. It claimed that, in tomorrow’s market, every company would have to become a media company in one way or the other. It seemed a bit far-fetched at the time, but, with margarine manufacturers creating TV documentaries, the prophecy certainly seems to be coming true.
This puts ad agencies in a very interesting position. If we want to do what’s right for our clients, we can’t content ourselves with turning facts into benefits and dramatise them. We must create a story about the benefit that is interesting enough to break through, and engaging enough for people to want to share it in social media.
Impossible in b-to-b marketing? Hardly. One of my former clients was an IT company that was well known for its sheer size, but hardly for its innovations. When I had a look at their product catalogue, I was stunned. The company had launched several completely ground-breaking solutions, whose stories were just screaming to be told.
Like, for example, the biometric eye-scanner that replaces passport checks at airports. If the company were to install a couple of those at the doors of the hippest nightclubs, where people (including those elusive C-level executives) were prepared to do anything to get in, you could create a story that would build the company’s reputation for years. The potential is always there.
So – what’s your story?