Advertising is a term that is proving hard to define. Of the countless definitions you can find on the web and in those academic books, they all seem to have the same recurrent words: paid; non-personal; communications; influence/ persuade/ raise awareness; target audience; products/ goods/ services/ persons/ entities. It is fairly hard to define such an evolving term. I mean things have changed since the first adverts aired in the 19th century. Interactivity – that “red button” for instance – has massively changed the way advertising works (name a print ad without a website address, a QR code, an SMS number or a social network link). Yes, technology has changed the way adverts act on us but is this the only massive evolution we could see in advertising?
Rory Sutherland is a brilliant adman. He couldn’t have thought of an easier way to put it across: “advertising is all about intangible values”. Of all the definitions I could find on the net, none was putting the accent on the brand, that intangible asset that supports these products/ goods/ services/ persons and entities advertising is supposed to have an effect on. Take the fragrances market, which is both interesting and challenging for 2 reasons: you can hardly differentiate a product from another since they are all subjective (be it for the liquid itself); and there are countless new product launches every year further cluttering the market. So how would you create that USP that will give you the edge over your competitors? You act on aspects that are peripheral to the product e.g. the packaging, the price (and promotions), the distribution and, the most important asset of all, the brand (selling more than a smelly, you actually sell a mood or a lifestyle endorsed by a brand or a celebrity). Nowadays, consumers don’t say beer but “Carling” or “Stella”; they don’t ask you for your MP3 player but for your “iPod”; just as no one seems to have a mobile phone anymore but a “Nokia” or an “iPhone”. Some brands managed it better than others (have you ever used the word “cola” in a sentence?), but overall, they all understood the new use of advertising in a market cluttered with look-alike products and politicians.
When butter brand Lupark challenged W+K to increase the sales of their product, never the agency would have thought of changing the product, or even its packaging or its price for that matter. They went for a far smarter and cost effective solution, and changed the one thing the competition wouldn’t be able to imitate later on: they’ve altered its brand perception by telling consumers it was “the natural choice to enhance good food”. The activation that followed is genius and I recommend the read.
Whether it is Sutherland’s hilarious Diamond Shreddies anecdote, or Belgian beer Stella Artois positioning itself as being French, advertising allows to change a product perception without even touching it the slightest. But as every magic power should not be abused, a brand needs to remain credible and consistent in its claims and positioning so as not to confuse or, worst, lose its audience. I mean why would everyone be so pissed off about Robert De Niro now playing in cheap comedies eh?