Essentially there are two ways that most brands approach advertising.
First we have the “rational” approach, the approach which seeks to sell with a reasoned argument using the features and benefits of the product. Probably the purest form of this advertising is the infomercial – so called because it peddles in, yup, information. When Joy Mangano (yes the Jennifer Lawrence Joy) pitched her new mop design to the public, she drew attention to the facts. Its hands-free squeezing mechanism. Its machine-washable head. Stuff like that. And because the facts were great the product was a huge success.
The problem with this approach however is that it requires really compelling facts to sell a product. Most businesses simply aren’t selling something that innovative, something where you see it and go “gee, I’ve got to get me one of those”. That’s why the infomercial is the home of unique (to the point of wacky) products alone.
For most brands, the better course of action is the emotional sell. In this game you know you’re selling something that isn’t truly unique, and truth be told people could go to another supplier to scratch their itch just as easily. Therefore it’s all about how you sell it, and that means trying to touch people deeply.
Think about the John Lewis Christmas ads – for instance the most famous one with the kid who waited anxiously for the big day not so he could receive a gift, but so he could give one. It was a smash. People talk about it to this day. And John Lewis shifted a ton of product. But what actual fact was it communicating? “Gifts you can’t wait to give”. In other words, we’ve got lots of nice stuff. Not exactly a washable mop head is it? The truth is that basically everything you can buy in John Lewis you can buy elsewhere, but that didn’t matter because their emotion was stronger – way stronger – than anyone else’s.
Thus it would appear your path is pretty clear. If your product has killer facts sell with them. If it doesn’t, sell with emotion.
However there is a third path.
How do ad agencies manage to pull on those heart strings? Well essentially it’s a two step process. First they get an insight about people – in this case that people look forward to giving gifts more than getting them in many cases. Then they convert that insight into an idea – in this case the kid watching the clock. If it’s true, and it’s creative, it’s a hit.
So what if you apply that process to a business itself, where instead of creating an ad you create a product innovation? Or even an entire business? You then have something that doesn’t only have unique facts – they’re emotionally charged too. This best-of-all-worlds scenario is what links the greatest brands of the era.
Take Airbnb. What’s their insight? That today, in an era of package holidays and antipodean backpackers, where travel is no longer exotic and exciting in and of itself, people crave to not be tourists but “locals” when they go abroad. That’s pretty solid, and indeed could have been used for a superficial ad of a hotel chain or travel agent in other circumstances. But in the case of Airbnb it feeds their unique product – letting people stay in houses, like a normal person, when they visit somewhere. Thus their product is essentially an ad campaign, where its unique facts are the creative idea.
And it doesn’t stop there. They use that insight to drive innovation too. Just as in an ad agency, where one insight can yield many creative ideas, so too can it yield many business ideas. Thus they start offering meals in people’s houses, tours hanging out with normal locals, unique experiences, you name it – anything to make people feel at home.
This is the recipe for an iconic business – one where the most exciting thing about it isn’t some fantasy video another business created, but simply what they do.
But what if you’re an established business? Well you can play this game too. You just need to identify the core insight that you already “sort of” answer, and then innovate to answer it more strongly. In time your business can transform into something equally exciting, but still maintain the core identity it had all along.
Finding this insight and activating it is what we call “basic”. If it rings true with you then follow us on Twitter. And if you want to start your own transformation, drop us a mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.