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.

advertising, campaigns, insight

The Power Of (Working On) An Ad Campaign

During my transition from mainline to digital, I was working on a brief for a brand of premium writing instruments we handle.

Cracking the idea involved getting deep into the consumer’s mind to understand today’s perceptions of writing by hand.

The more I studied, the more I got hooked to the idea of great handwritten penmanship.

I began to remember the beauty of “gleaming wet words flowing on paper” (sorry, I can’t remember who originally came up with this quote I’ve just mangled). My memory flashed back – yes, (H)(B)ollywood movie-style – to Tony Brignull’s classic long-copy ad in The Copy Book headlined, “Rediscover the lost art of the insult.”

I looked at the cheap, plastic, utterly tasteless and pathetically common ball-point pen clutched in my hand. My hand, almost of its own accord, recoiled – it opened, and that sad instrument fell to the marble-tiled floor, bouncing and clattering, rolling to a standstill. And at almost the same moment, a voice in the inner recesses of my mind whispered, “You must buy a fountain pen.”

Naturally, I approached Marble’s (that’s the name I’ve given to this inner voice) idea with some trepidation. What if I spent hundreds of rupees on a fancy pen and decided that I wasn’t enjoying writing with it? That would mean several beers’ worth of money down the drain.

So I went out and bought a cheap fountain pen, for all of Rs. 36.

Yes, it was a little rough, a little scratchy.

But it was beautiful.

So today, I went out and bought another fountain pen – this one for Rs. 125 (plus Rs. 30 for the cartridges). Which happens to be the same brand I was working on.

Much smoother, classier to look at, a delight to write. (Free brand plug.)

The moral of the story is, dear children, that advertising obviously affects more people than just the ones who consume it.

Now imagine if the brands I’d worked on had influenced me to this extent in the past. (To see which brands I’ve worked on, click here.)

Firstly, I’d have thrown out all my wardrobes. I’d be living out of suitcases, being addicted to buying one every month.

Secondly, I’d be drinking tea only. No coffee, no beer, no gin-lime cordial-bitters-ice. Only tea. And not the tapri chai I like. Regular tea.

Thirdly, I’d be saving a lot more money in my bank account. Not a bad thing, actually.

Fourthly, I’d be riding a bike. Not driving a car. I’d also be falling off a lot more often, and taking a lot longer to reach work, due to sheer lack of confidence and hence speed.

And lastly, most terrifyingly, I’d be fathering babies faster than the wife can say, “Shopping!”

campaigns, mogadishu

Mogadishu Creative

At the risk of offending people in advertising – including, but not restricted to – the good folks who keep me employed – I’m considering starting a new section on my blog to review ad campaigns.

I plan to pick out work that’s of a different level altogether. The type of work for which no publicity is better than any publicity. The sort of work done out of desperation, ignorance and indifference. The sort of work best suited to be showcased in an agency from…say…Mogadishu.

Many thanks to Spiky for the name.

The first Mogadishu post is coming up soon. Submissions welcome.

And for those who ask me after every post – “What is the insight?” – this series is an insight into the consumer mind after exposure to the campaign.

Clients can thank me later.