In the 1990’s American ad agencies hired lots of British strategists and soon after, US TV commercials strangely began to feature lots of dogs.
There wasn’t some sort of dog craze, not did the expats love dogs more than the average person. They were simply very experienced at guiding creative work through pre-testing and knew that if you put a cute dog into a 30 second film, the research respondents would be much more likely to love it.
You can draw your conclusions about what this says about pre-testing ideas, but this story also says a lot about what happens when everyone researches in the same way or begins with the same starting point.
Same old, same old
If everyone knows that you can smuggle ideas through research by putting dogs in them, then naturally all ideas end up with dogs with them, the same concept, which isn’t commercially sound since brands were invented to help people choose easier.
Yet if you look at marketing today, you can still see evidence of brands starting at the same place. There’s the glut of ‘brand purpose’ marketing out there because the data seems to say that they’ll buy less from companies with poor values, or brands they don’t trust (yet Amazon doesn’t seem to be going out of business any time soon, despite questions over tax and worker conditions).
Soon, we’ll see lots of brands focusing on the home, as remote working continues.At the height of the first lockdown, every other ad seemed to feature real people on zoom, when actually, they wanted a release from the very real realities that they were facing. Take the logos away from most car manufacturer press ads and it’s tough to tell them apart.This isn’t good because when everyone is at it, a strategy begins to lose its potency.
The fame game
Years of econometric data from The IPA Databank shows that the most effective approach you can take is try and build fame. By definition, to stand out from everyone else, to be seen, to be talked about. To try and get people talking about you is the most commercially sound approach you can make, literally, to be famous for something. It’s uncommercial to be lukewarm.
The reasons for fame being so effective lay in human nature. We survived against sabre tooth tigers, the elements and hostile Neanderthals because we stuck together. It’s deep in our nature to want to fit. We’re also busy and don’t want to think so hard. So not only is it deeply attractive to buy what we think is popular, it’s just easier.
So, back to research and insight. It’s a very different approach to start with what people are already interested in and work back to marketing, but if you can strike a chord with what they really care about, what entertains and captures their imagination, it pays back well.
This means looking harder than just the surface ‘trends’ everyone uses, it means going out and actually meeting the people you’re trying to influence (now we can). Read what they read, watch what they watch.
Marketing is, after all, about people. Who knew?
About the author:
Andrew Hovells is the strategy director at CreativeRace. He has 21 years of experience in developing integrated strategy across the entire customer journey, from TV advertising to performance media, from shopper marketing to performance digital. He’s worked on local and global campaigns for a wide range of brands including Castrol, Bentley, New Balance, ghd, Pepsi, Wm Morrison, Yorkshire Tea and Greggs.