Published in Nov-Dec 2022
I was watching T20 cricket between Pakistan and England recently when, suddenly, the commentators started parroting advertising slogans. They told me about a “Sensodyne sensitive free moment” and, shortly after, felt compelled (by their contracts with the broadcaster no doubt) to tell viewers about “a Tapal tea moment.” It felt a bit uncomfortable.
Huge increases in media volumes over the past 20 years are a great temptation for brands because there are many more targeting opportunities. Now, being ubiquitous in the media is not wrong as it creates a sense that a brand is popular, widely used and is therefore a safe choice. Behaviour scientists call this the “law of social proof.” But it is also very expensive and therefore an option open to only a few brands. The rest of us have to think harder about how we use media.
More communication is not necessarily better communication. It is a bit irritating to be tracked with messages across the apps on your smartphone. With TV ads there was always a kind of unwritten contract with the viewers – ads are confined to ad breaks so you can pop out for a nice cup of that Tapal tea if you wish. The T20 broadcasters had forced ads on me (whether I liked it or not) by enlisting ill-atease commentators to do their dirty work.
This is ‘offensive’ marketing. Marketing that is ‘done to’ people. You find it expressed in the language of war often used by media planners, who talk about ‘target audiences’ and ‘campaigns’ as if they are later-day Napoleons of media, ‘stimulating people’ into action with ‘messages’.
What is needed instead is a different language that includes people not as ‘targets’ but as sentient beings as part of a two-way relationship. I am going to call this ‘a media philosophy’ which describes how a brand will connect with people through media so that those people want to do or feel something.
Here is a thought experiment for you. Think about the brands you admire and like. Mostly they will have worked out when and where they mainly communicate with you and those will be moments when you are receptive to what they have to offer.
Effectiveness and efficiency are greater if you reach people in the right frame of mind and at the right moment. In The Long and the Short of it, Les Binet and Peter Field, reviewing learning from the IPA Effectiveness Awards, wrote: “We should choose brand-building channels according to their ability to emotionally engage as many target consumers as possible and choose activation channels according to their ability to prompt and facilitate immediate purchase by imminent category buyers.”
That is one media philosophy that works. Here are some others for brands that have found just the right way to communicate with me:
Exciting New Designs
Displayed in Temples of Desire
This is both Apple’s and Nike’s media philosophy. Ads showcase exciting new products/features. Retail is not just about selling, but a place of desire where you can meet friendly, well-informed staff and get your hands on those lovely new things. (And if I can’t touch them I can watch them being unboxed on YouTube.) Increasingly, physical experiences are an antidote to an atomised life lived through a screen.
Just a Click Away
This is how booking.com has built its global brand. Travellers looking for accommodation don’t search for brands; they search for information about destinations. Google a destination and you will almost always find booking.com near the top of search rankings. It is an expensive but effective strategy and booking.com have invested heavily in search advertising to achieve it. The aim is not emotional engagement but rather to achieve the status of a reliable utility – on hand whenever you need it.
That You Can’t Help Getting
Interactive social media have opened up new ways for people to get involved and share their thoughts, something which has particularly supercharged media and entertainment brands. These days, programmes like Married at First Sight (my daughter forced me to watch it and I was gripped) or The Apprentice are also entertaining social media storms. Who should stay? Who should go? Who is the snake and who is the nice guy? Who is going to get voted out and who at the end of it all should win the prize or contract? It is total interactive entertainment and now anyone can be a part of it.
Join Our Community of LikeMinded Souls:
This model has been used most recently by new podcast brands. I have confessed to being a history nerd to Aurora readers before. Podcasts have boomed (especially during the pandemic) and the ones I come back to time and again have used social media to create a feeling of belonging. I can also get in touch with the creators of The Rest is History directly through dedicated community platforms and Twitter. I feel a part of their world. They even give me their attention by responding to my questions and observations.
Beautifully Told and Moving
Stories That Make You Want to
Buy the Product
This TV advertising-led model predates the digital revolution. Against all predictions by futurists, it has not gone out of fashion. Film is still a great way to tell moving human stories (often featuring cute animals in the UK) especially when just the right music is laid as the soundtrack. In the UK we associate this with John Lewis. On my last visit to Pakistan, I found plenty of brands “doing a John Lewis” as part of the 70th anniversary of foundation celebrations.
In finding your own media philosophy, much will depend on your attitude to creativity. Do you think of the digital revolution mainly as a massive cost-effective targeting opportunity, or as a much richer canvas of possibilities for your brand to be engaging? Think instead about where your brand should paint its pictures, tell its stories and be available to its customers. Instead of the language of war, think about enticement, pleasure, intrigue, desire and, last but not least, make it very easy for people to find the information and act when they want to.
Julian Saunders was CEO, Red Cell advertising (a WPP company). He was also Planning Director, Ogilvy, Executive Planning Director, McCann-Erickson and in The Zoo at Google. firstname.lastname@example.org