Some Advertisers Seem Stuck in the Recession
by Roger W. Adams
Chief Executive Officer, Marketing Second Opinion LLC
In general, the best ads have both a rational and an emotional component. The emotional makes the deep connection with humans and establishes relevance. The rational is the explanation of the function or benefit that justifies purchase or aspiration.
In normal times, advertisers rely on a mix of both. Most long term ads appear to be a 50/50 blend of both, with the mix shifting a bit over time as short term needs change. But it is the emotional side of the ads that retains the customer connection and helps retain the motivation to purchase.
Think about Tylenol and its assertion of safety and reliability throughout all its visual expressions in television or magazine. It presents an emotional case for its safe usage and end benefit of making your body feel better. And its assertion that more doctors recommend Tylenol is both rational and emotional support.
BMW’s historic “Ultimate Driving Machine” does not explain why it is ultimate with rational proof points. It uses the emotion of the sleek vehicle and satisfied, passionate drivers to deliver the message, but subtly delivers the rational message with aggressive driving maneuvers .
Apple, excluding perhaps the iPhone partnership with ATT, does not show you benefits, but makes the company and products cool, hip and aspirational. The fact that they work well is understood and incorporated by reference or by comparison to a PC.
I’m lovin it at McDonalds because everyone else is! They don’t explain the rational proof points of the 100% beef patty or explain what in the world a chicken nugget is. They fixed the restaurants, trained the staff, focused on the core business so you won’t be disappointed, then entice you back with a unifying, uplifting message. Then show people enjoying the rational choice of a good tasting, affordable meal.
Even Healthy Choice balances rational and emotional messages in their new campaign with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. They work in rational proof points in a sponsorship parody, but the real message is it is cool to eat this better for you product.
The point is, good advertising uses both rational and emotional messages to build equity with consumer relevance, and motivate people to purchase or aspire to purchase.
But in the depth of the recession, many companies turned highly rational to try to get their value messages out. And many of these campaigns were effective at rounding up the few active shoppers in the marketplace. But I would argue that those that did leverage the rational card will lose many of those same customers to the siren song of more adept advertisers maintaining an emotional connection.
Recently, it appears as if I may be right. As some of these rational ads began to produce less effective results, many advertisers began going even deeper into the rational argument hole. A few choice examples are shown below:
1. Staples: Staples was a poster child for a well done campaign with rational and emotional underpinnings. Through the Easy Button campaign, they made a complex assortment of office supplies seem simple and affordable. Brilliant. Got it. Want it.
As the recession took hold of reason, they shifted to more of a rational price message. And as time went on, results got worse. To compensate, they went even deeper into the rational well and launched a new campaign (abandoning the Easy Button equity) and instead have a geeky man yell (which is louder than a shout) “WOW! That’s a low Price!” In their Q1 results, Staples disappointed analysts with their top line results and forecasts for the year and its shares were hammered.
Equity gone. Emotion gone. Top Line gone. By the way, recession is gone.
2. Honda has been the steadfast leader of simplicity and elegance. We make it simple is easy to understand and appealing. They make bullet proof engines with power and efficiency. They have done things their way for years and even used some retro ads to prove it over time. And avoided price except as an informational item to balance the emotional connection. Their latest new product appears to be struggling (the Crosstour).
The ad was 100% emotional. Well done with a great visual and audio equity, but no real rational. In fact, I’m not sure what the rational sell for a hatchback is today in the US. But they avoided it and the product sales suffered. So blame it on a launch during a recession. But they now have dropped their rational/emotional balance and have swung uncharacteristically to a 100% rational price message with “The Really Big Thing” sales event complete with a semi truck delivering 20 foot high Zero’s to promote it. Never mind about the love for these beautiful machines…..just come buy now while they are on sale. 100% rational sales pitch will move some units, and cause them to dip right afterward as they make a withdrawal from the bank of equity.
3. WalMart warning sign: Anybody notice how the much touted emotional campaign “Save Money-Live Better” campaign has now evolved into a rollback promotion? It appears as if there is some resistance at the store level with less ROI from the emotionally charged value messages. The reaction is to slip in more rational, historic price rollback references to drive traffic. WalMart has done so much to change their image by deftly crafting value and aspiration that I hope they stick to their new equity and make us feel smart for shopping there.
The point of these examples is to reinforce a fundamental of advertising and marketing.
Consumers need a rational reason to buy a product or shop at a store. But it is the emotional connection that makes them WANT to buy a product, and shapes their opinion of brands. Deep down, I suspect we all know this is true. Yet we forget it during difficult times when sales are elusive.
The key to great advertising is to have a great product and rational proof points, but leverage them with a higher order, emotional equity that makes consumers aspire for your brand. Apple does it. Virgin does it. Mini does it. Pedigree does it….Even Healthy Choice does it.
Take an objective look at your own ads or use a skilled practitioner to do so for you and give you an assessment of your emotional opportunities and gaps. If you do so now, you may be able to build top line and market share before the other guys in your category that are still pushing price know what happened.
Roger W. Adams is the Chief Executive Officer of Marketing Second Opinion LLC. He can be reached at RAdams@MarketingSecondOpinion.net or by phone at (203)322-1175.