|He’d wondered why, after several drinks,
he could still pronounce
“she sells sea shells…” correctly.
Apart from the fact that alcohol lubricates brain cells and leads to better ideas, there’s something else we digital worker bees can learn from booze manufacturers’ surrogate advertising campaigns.
If you think hard enough about it, surrogate advertising is the tried and tested foundation of digital engagement strategy.
Let’s break down what we do when briefed on a digital engagement campaign. (When I say ‘engagement’ I don’t mean product-led banner campaigns; though this Pringles banner will beg to differ.)
Typically, we will come up with one or more of the following: a microsite, a Facebook app, a Yahoo! content property, a theme for a YouTube channel, a mobile app, etc. In some way or another, these properties will revolve around the brand positioning and eventually link you to the product website.
Then – and this is where you must pay attention, children – we encourage the client to spend media money driving traffic to the property you’ve built, rather than to the product website directly.
Isn’t that exactly how surrogate advertising works? Launch Kingfisher packaged water to eventually drive you to buy more Kingfisher beer through brand recall and imagery?
This isn’t a theory – this is how several cutting-edge campaigns have worked.
Take a look at Tourism Queensland’s Best Job In The World campaign. Instead of directly writing banner ads telling people about the various fish you could find in the seas off Queensland, they ran a surrogate campaign to build imagery and recall for Queensland.
Look at what we at Yahoo! are running for Dove. We’ve built a co-branded content property that brings conversations around Real Beauty online. Real Beauty, of course, is the philosophy of Dove worldwide. You will find very few mentions of Dove on this site – but you can’t miss the brand either.
Ben & Jerry’s used the theme of Fair Trade to create surrogate branding with fairtweets.com. They created a microsite, mobile site and Twitter plugin to promote their support of the Fair Trade movement, in turn building salience for their ice-cream.
Heineken’s Star Player is an excellent example of a brand giving users a fantastic experience. What the app has to do with beer, I have no clue. Once again, great surrogate work.
Approaching digital creativity this way might be a simple way to break down what people think is a very complicated field.
Of course, your job’s not done until you have a killer idea in your head…
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.