Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The Art of Subtle Marketing

Published 14 Oct, 2020 02:47pm
“A good ad sells the product without drawing attention to itself” - David Ogilvy
Photo: Collider
Photo: Collider

If you are a marketer or an advertiser by profession (or even just an enthusiast) chances are the quote above will resonate with you; in which case you are probably aware that as simple as it is to understand the wisdom behind those words, achieving them is a whole other story. So, what are practices, both old and new, that are effective in meeting a brand’s objectives of creating buzz and brand recall?

One of the oldest practices of subtle advertising is the use of product placement in media. From Maverick’s Ray Bans in Top Gun, Bond’s Aston Martin and Iron Man’s Audi, to Wilson in Castaway, Hollywood usually gets product placement right, as opposed to our local media, which is prone to either make irrelevant brands title sponsors of a film or indulge in forced product integrations (think HBL and Cornetto in Karachi se Lahore).

Photo: YouTube
Photo: YouTube

Similarly, our telecom ads, barring a few exceptions, take the same approach of hammering product features and benefits via celebrities and flashy videos. This approach may be effective in the short run, but it makes it hard to recall the message behind those communications. In comparison, Indian telecom ads have always been memorable. You may remember ads for brands like Hutch, which depicted the relationship with their customers through an analogy of a young boy and his trusted companion, a little pug. You may also recall Abishek Bachan and his series of cheeky “What an idea sir jee!” ads, for Idea Telecommunications. What made those ads memorable were the subtle analogies used to communicate the features of their services.

Recently, Pakistani brands have also begun to use subtler approaches. For example, KIA Pakistan with their ‘Different is Good' DVCs, which took a fun, relatable and real approach to communicating the ethos of the brand. They did so by depicting real-life car conversations many of us find ourselves having. The one I related to most was of two friends on a drive. The friend in the passenger seat casually chucks an empty juice box out of the car window, after which the driver instantly stops the car and asks "ye kya tha?" to which the other responds "chalta hai yaar." The driver then says "problem ye hai ke jab ye [throwing trash] chalta hai, to ye [car] nahin chalti" and indicates to his friend to pick up the litter. The DVC ends with a simple message ‘Being different isn’t easy, but it’s a fun ride’, without harping on how awesome the car is; the same can be said about the DVC itself.

Brands in Pakistan are also now more cognizant of the fact that social media can be used beyond just the typical boosted Facebook post or sponsored Instagram story. A clever example is of Softmints candy collaborating with celebrities like Hania Amir, Ayesha Omar and Shahroz Sabzwari in a unique way to promote Softmints. Now it’s not unusual for internet trolls to make derogatory and unnecessary comments about celebrities or influencers, but it is unusual and amusing to see celebrities diffuse the situation simply by asking the trolls to ‘chill out with a Softmint’, referencing a product that is actually meant to give you icy cold breath. Discreet and effective in getting people talking compared to the usual Instagram PR shout-outs. Well done team Softmint!

All things said and done, regardless of where you fall on the subtlety spectrum, the truth is that your average consumer doesn't always like the hard sell. They don't necessarily like the idea of being sold-to through pushy marketing tactics. Often it’s just the subtle and cheeky that hits the right chord in our minds and hearts. Building a sustainable business through marketing and brand building is more about creating meaningful relationships with the consumer - hence, it’s important to understand how they perceive the different approaches a brand takes to connect with them.

Shahzeb Hasan is a marketing and brand professional from IBA and LUMS and has over seven years of experience working in brand and product management.