advertising, campaigns, communication, digital, insight

Heretical Thinking

One (more) good thing about shifting to digital is that it’s opened up my mind to whole new ways of thinking.

In my last post, I’d talked about what’s holding digital back. In this post, I’m going to talk about an idea I had a few days back – an idea that might help digital find a role it can call its own.

Every brief I’ve got in my advertising career basically revolves around two things:

  • Telling a consumer about a product.
  • Making a consumer think that he/she wants to buy that product.

There’s a section of the brief titled What do you want your consumer to think or do? The general answer is: New XYZ detergent washes whiter. Or, ABC cream will make my skin soft and smooth. Or, I want to buy a JKL watch because it’s the watch for my generation.

Clients and agencies have built fortunes around objectives like these. I’ve helped too.

The thing we sometimes lose track of is that there’s a team sitting in the agency across the road writing a brief of its own to take on the brand you’ve just launched.

So, your very own target consumer will soon be bombarded with a message that makes him/her think, DEF cream will make my skin softer and smoother than ABC cream will.

So, six months later, sales plateau; the agency huddles around a conference room table once again to develop the next commercial, to take on DEF cream. And so on and so forth.

How do you keep the pendulum from swinging?

To arrest the pendulum, to lock it into place, you have to get your target consumer to subscribe not to your brand’s benefit, but its philosophy as a whole. An idea that greater thinkers than I have put out long ago.

Tata Tea talks about awakening, not tea. Idea talks about the power of a mobile phone, not its great plans or awesome coverage. Surf talks about values, not stain removal. They’re all selling beliefs. Philosophies. Bestselling philosophies, too.

That’s where the “heretical” idea I had comes in to play.

You can’t get a consumer to believe in your philosophy through a TV commercial, or a print ad. You can only make a consumer aware of your philosophy.

To get them to believe, you must communicate your philosophy using the most engaging medium you can find. A medium which is not a medium at all. A medium consumers don’t think of as an advertising medium.

For example: I could commission an author to write a book. A bestseller that spins a yarn around my brand’s philosophy. Maybe mentions the brand in passing. All in all, it’s a great read by a brand-name author. Release the book. Promote it. Sell it cheap. Hold events with the author – book readings, autograph-signings, etc. Distribute a free e-book version. If you love the book, chances are you’ll resonate with the brand when you see its next ad.

Another example: take 2010’s biggest viral hit yet – Pants on the Ground, by General Larry Platt. With one smash-hit video, Platt has heaped scorn upon the ‘cool’, low-waist, boxer-showing jeans American youth wear. Isn’t that a great philosophy for a clothing brand to piggy-back upon? Imagine if a denim brand were to say that there’s nothing cooler and more timeless than a superbly fitted pair of jeans. It would simply captivate the millions of people – myself included – who hate low-waist jeans. And it’s not advertising, just some much-loved content a brand would adopt.

A third: Diesel’s new Be Stupid campaign. It’s launched with a series of headlines that espouse the philosophy. Why not shoot a series of videos recreating the moments when great inventors and thinkers had their ideas? Why not put out an online guide to thinking bigger by being stupid? (Very mildly branded, of course.) If such content were inspiring enough, the brand’s philosophy would resonate far more strongly with more potential consumers. (If anyone from Diesel is reading this and wants me to execute these ideas, call me. I give best price, la!)

By the nature of the medium, digital plays a crucial role here. It offers a range of media choices – social media, viral films, gaming, blogs, web shows, web comics, e-books, what have you. And it’s easy to generate conversation using digital. One powerful blog post or video can start a debate. Use that power. Get feedback. Get hated, get loved, get death threats. Respond positively. Argue. Fight. Widen the debate. It shows you’ve engaged. Sell not your product. Sell your beliefs.

And this can be the role of digital – to quietly embed a brand’s philosophy among its intended consumers.

Now we just have to think big enough to make it happen.


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