A famous meme of 2020 taught me that Digital Transformation wasn’t accelerated by the CEO or CDO, but by Covid-19. Everywhere you look today in marketlandia, digital takes center stage: your insights are digitally sourced, your brands are digitally advertised, your path to purchase is digitized, and your purchase channels become more digital than ever. Given the ubiquity of the word digital, it’s time to remove it from our vocabulary too probably. In 2020, everything is digital, like in the late 1880s everything became somehow electrical.
Just ten years ago, platforms like YouTube and Facebook were in their infancy and fighting for the crumbs of the media budgets. Every year since then we wondered at the declining share of investment of Traditional Medias (TV, Print and OOH) and the increase of Digital Media. It’s such a worthless stat to sit and admire or even target. No one outside of our marketing bubble even thinks of advertising as TV vs Digital. What is more important is the reach potential for each media format, irrespective of the pipes build to deliver the signal (pipes which honestly are the same these days too – all is digital).
Three things to remember or debate:
Digital Media is not one thing – focus on the behaviors of people, how they view, scroll, skip, multi-screen, or even engage with your content in the multitude of digital formats and channels. Focus less on “we need to be digital-first”, focus on the details of today’s media.
The most iconic campaigns transcend digital media and aim to become news in themselves. Guess who is also in charge of the amplification: all media, including TV.
And last, if you can’t grab their attention, it doesn’t help that it is digital-first, or TV last.
Digital is now everywhere like the air we breathe, so stop congratulating yourself for inhaling air, and focus on its scent.
Human emotions are indispensable vehicles for building powerful brands. Our core job as marketers is to elevate brands that elicit (mostly) positive emotions in the hearts and minds of consumers. But what happens when we want to play with negative emotions? In recent months, during the peak of the COVID pandemic, many advertisers converged their thinking that “isolation-sadness packaged as togetherness” sells. It probably doesn’t. But what can you do?
I sincerely believe that building brands through advertising is translated into a desire to make the viewer feel better at the end of the ad compared to how he felt in the beginning. It doesn’t matter how long they paid attention to your commercial or what ad length you used, all it matters is the emotional crescendo—feeling better, in general, haloes into the feelings towards the brand. Memory structures get built easier with emotions and the likelihood that those memory structures get recalled at the point of purchase increases.
The simple path to this crescendo is to have an entertaining, funny ad which most advertisers default to. The other more complicated way is to delve into a sadder story, that has a positive resolution. This latter path is more challenging to nail. The longer time you spend building the negative emotions, the more difficult it is to achieve the uplift in the end. I am not saying it’s impossible, yet solving for negativity faster is a piece of good advice I often give.
Here are 2 examples when we were at our best to turn negative emotions into a positive resolution for Mars brands:
And here are 2 examples when we failed to solve negative emotions quickly
Product performance, pricing and positioning, packaging and size portioning, brand positioning, in-store promotions and advertising are the levers a marketer regularly juggles to grow brands. Without too much doubt that the last two are the most talked about and controversial, going head to head in their fight for budgets. What should you choose to do: build long term association in people’s minds with the brand or sell the product at a discount now. How brands allocate their budgets between advertising and promotions is a management decision that reveals the short-term/ long-term thinking in the company, the balance of power between marketing and finance, and even the average tenure of senior management.
To me, advertising is the best marketing investment you can make to ensure your brand is noticed, remembered and understood in the long term. Assuming your creatives as great, advertising has a positive sales impact in both the short-term (year 1) and long-term (year 2-3). In-store promotions have a fantastic effect during the activity, but little (and most of the times negative) impact in the medium to long term. And this without considering the adverse effects on brand equity that price drops or multi-purchase can return. My point is clear, we mostly agree with it, but our behaviors diverge. As long as we will only focus on our year-end sales objectives, we will continue to prioritize promotions with their sales spike-like effect over everything else.
As a big believer in advertising, I am not able to defend properly in-store promotions. Maybe some of my readers can start a debate on their benefits. To me there is a role for promotions to play, but preferably a reduced one. One thing is certain, when you are running both at the same time, you are wasting money. Yes, it looks cool on your graphs when the advertising campaign has a spike in sales, but that’s just because of the 3for2 ran at the same time. A much more balanced approach of alternating promotions with advertising could work better, but it is very category dependent (expandable categories have an easy time here). A sizable promotional activity will cause stocking, and your next in line advertising campaign will suffer. There is no magic bullet; research can help. Using a robust insight generation program to test different hypotheses in a randomized control testing environment with store-level data is the way to go. But even with research, your decisions to prioritize promotions vs advertising might not be rational in the end.
For this week’s post, I am going back on memory lane to my old days as a brand manager in the evil tobacco business. It was a tough job, the government set maximum selling prices, consumer media advertising was banned, product sampling was unheard of and habit induced taste preferences made switching between brands unlikely. Left without any major levers to pull, marketers started to invent consumer needs. Our favorite was the consumer appetite to see a brand new packaging redesign. In most cases, we did that to cure our marketer boredom. I doubt consumers genuinely wished for “more modern” brand typeface that made their favorite brand harder to spot on the shelf.
The best method to recognize brands on the shelf is to recall their distinctive assets visually. These are design elements surrounding your brand that generate memory structures in the busy minds of your consumers. Advertising’s role is to show those distinctive assets and build the memory muscle continuously. Think years not days here. Altering your distinctive assets frequently is a recipe for confusion, and rarely needed. Your packaging is one of your most prized distinctive assets, don’t play with it. The orange juice brand Tropicana learned it the hard way (read the case study here). But if you are short on time, the bottom line conclusion of the study is “don’t do it”.
Recent Black Lives Matter protests stirred some ripples in the advertising and brand world too. Brands started moving away from images that could generate a PR drama, and packaging redesign became trendy again. While in this instance, playing with your packaging to “update” your brand could be a wise move, in all other cases it’s probably not. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Ten years since I left the tobacco world, I wonder what marketing departments are busy with these days in BAT. In the context of more countries moving to plain packaging with non-distinctive branding communication, marketing teams must get bored with something else. What could that be?