Don’t promote your product
The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the July 29, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger
By HOLMAN TIBBETT
Advertising is a blend of two entirely different motivations.
The first is that of the people who make the product — the producers. Their motivation is simple: buy my product because I have rent due, mortgages to keep up, alimony payments in arrears, gambling debts to take care of, and hospital bills to cover if the gambling debts don’t get taken care of.
As you can tell, while producers have fairly basic needs (more money), many of them lead very complicated lives.
The second is the motivation of the people for whom the advertising is intended — the prospects. While the producers want one thing (money), the prospects want many, many things. And these things are seldom the products being offered by the producers. They want security, an ego-boost, romance, escape, power, a feeling of superiority, excitement, relaxation, and the knowledge that they are clever, capable, and able to leap over tall decisions with a single bound. Meanwhile, the producers are trying to sell them cars, refrigerators and coffee.
When advertising is fuelled by the producer’s motivation, its sole aim is to promote the product. “Buy this!” it shouts. “Buy now while supplies last!” “This is the best X in the world!” (or in our case, in Second Life). In a way, the naked appeal for money is touchingly innocent. To the producer, the money in a prospect’s pockets is self-evidently disposable since it isn’t doing anything really important — helping to pay the producer’s rent, mortgage, alimony payments, gambling debts, and hospital bills. It’s like a child who can’t understand why his parents would rather use their money for roof repairs than buying him a new Transformer toy.
The problem with promoting the product is that it offers nothing of interest to the prospect, who (heartless, indifferent person that he is) really doesn’t give a damn about the producer’s personal problems.
For example, let’s look at coffee drinkers: specifically the young-to-middle-aged woman who, while reasonably content with her life, still harbours barely-recognized urges for something more exciting. She may be a house wife or an office worker, but when it comes to coffee, all she really wants is something hot and mildly stimulating to drink while she takes a break and escapes into the plot of her latest romance novel. Such a woman is remarkably resistant to the simple plea: “Buy my brand of coffee!”
But what if we make the coffee part of a romantic plot?
Between 1987 and 1993, the advertising agency of McCann-Erickson did exactly that with Nescafe’s Gold Blend instant coffee. Their television campaign, which aired over several years, told the story of a man and woman (Anthony Head and Sharon Maughan) who meet and romance each other over cups of coffee.
Corny? Yes. Effective? Definitely. Not only did the commercials result in an almost instant 10% increase of sales, they also inspired a novel, Love Over Gold, which became a best-seller.
McCann-Erickson identified a large demographic of coffee drinkers and then, instead of telling them, “Buy this coffee,” presented them with a well-crafted romantic story: a story that just happened to revolve around a particular brand of coffee. They weren’t selling Gold Blend; they were selling excitement and romance.
Of course it’s nice when we can combine the appeal to a prospect’s need or desire with clever creative work. But the appeal alone can be extremely powerful. Half a century ago Victor Schwab gathered together 100 of what he considered to be the most effective ad headlines. Here are a few of them:
“A little mistake that cost a farmer $3,000 a year”
“How a new discovery made a plain girl beautiful”
“When doctors ‘feel rotten,’ this is what they do”
“Five familiar skin troubles — which do you want to overcome?”
Certainly these ads don’t suffer from an excess of creativity, although David Ogilvy once said, “If it doesn’t sell, it’s not creative.” The point is — they worked. While many of the headlines now sound dated (“Are we a nation of lowbrows?”), and some have become so hackneyed the modern reader would likely ignore them (“New shampoo leaves your hair smoother — easier to manage”), at the time, and for many years after, they hooked readers with their specific appeals to common needs. And even now, aren’t you a little bit curious about the “little mistake” that cost the farmer $3,000 a year, or what doctors do when they “feel rotten”?
Don’t promote the product. Identify what the product can do for the prospect and then promote the hell out of that. To return to Ogilvy: “When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire.” Who in their right minds would pay out good money for a fire extinguisher? The answer, of course, is anyone who associates it with security against a fire.
Take some time to figure out what your product can do for people. And not just “people,” but specific types of people. The Gold Bond coffee commercials were targeting a specific demographic. Had they been targeting a different demographic, say men between the ages of 18-24, they would have used a far different approach. What the advertising agency did was identify a need, and then position the coffee as a promise to fulfill that need.
Al Ries, the marketing wizard who was instrumental in introducing the concept of “positioning,” puts it another way. “Marketing doesn’t deal with products,” he says. “Marketing deals with perceptions.”
What perceptions can your product match? What desire or need can it fulfill? When Black & Decker stopped trying to market power drills and started selling quarter inch holes, their sales soared. Lexus doesn’t sell cars, they sell luxury. Coke doesn’t sell pop, it sells tradition.
If you promote the promise, the product will make you money. If you promote the product, the money will be little more than a promise.