Stop Winking in the Dark

Thursday, July 3, 2008
Unless you’ve hooked the eyeballs of potential consumers, simply having a ‘winning’ product in your portfolio is never enough. Effective (and not necessarily expensive) advertising can package the product in the sexiest way possible, creating and fuelling demand for your offering...

David Ogilvy, the guru of advertising once said, “It has taken more than a hundred scientists two years to find out how to make the product in question; I have been given thirty days to create its personality and plan its launching. If I do my job well, I shall contribute as much as the hundred scientists to the success of this product.” In short, he wanted to tell, good advertising is very powerful. It is like the fairy godmother, who with a wave of her magic wand turned an ordinary pumpkin into a shining coach and the simple, dowdy Cinderella into a beautiful elegant girl.

Indeed, advertising does have the power to transform a product. It has the power to turn your product into a desirable brand. A good product without the backing of great advertising is a failure. Think of Marlboro and the first thought that comes to your mind is of a rugged, muscular cowboy on a horse, a cigarette in his mouth. Did you know Marlboro was first launched as a cigarette for women? The moment the advertising was changed, the very same product was transformed into an iconic brand. Lifebuoy soap was made from leftovers of all other soaps, nonetheless, it was its unique advertising and jingle ‘Lifebuoy hai jahan, tandurusti hai wahan’ that won it a large chunk of the market share. It became the ‘tough-soap’ for the man, who works hard and needs a strong soap to keep him clean and fresh. As Charles Revson, the man behind the very successful “Charlie Perfumes” once said, “In the factory we make cosmetics, in the drugstore we sell hope.” People don’t buy products, they buy a dream. They buy a hope and advertising creates those hopes. Ponds Age Miracle cream’s success is proof of this. It sells you the promise of rekindling a faded romance, the promise of a glowing skin that would have men falling head-over-heels for you.

Singapore Airlines was just another airline till Ian Batey of Bates Advertising invented the ‘Singapore Airlines Girl’. Unlike most state-owned entities, Singapore Airlines had a tough start – with no domestic routes to serve, it had to compete with international airlines from day one. The advertisements and the slogan: ‘Singapore Girl – You’re a great way to fly’, immediately gave the airline an aura of sophistication. It promised you a lovely flight and great service. In fact, the Singapore Girl became such a prominent figure that Madame Tussaud’s Museum in London started to display the Girl in 1994 as the first commercial figure ever. This in itself was great branding for Singapore Airlines! If it was the Singapore Girl who did wonders in Singapore, then closer home, it’s the Utterly-Butterly Delicious Amul Girl who has helped Amul butter successfully fight competition for so many years. The unique and topical advertising of Amul for all these years has kept the Indian consumer entertained and also very loyal to the brand.

India was a country where gold was considered to be the most precious of all. Not just was it important for weddings, but it was also seen as a great way to invest. In came DeBeers and through its intelligent and consistent advertising changed the outlook of a whole lot of Indians. Diamonds now started replacing gold. Through their advertisements ,they convinced Indians that “diamonds are forever”.

Effective! Not Expensive!

Consider this advertisement. “I never read the Economist” – Management Trainee, Age 42. This simple online poster changed the perceptions about The Economist forever. Once considered a boring, serious magazine in the 80s, it’s this and a series of billboard advertisements that repositioned the magazine. They did not allocate a huge advertising budget for it. All they did was put up posters twice a year – once in spring and then in autumn, two weeks each. So four weeks of poster advertising is all it took to increase its UK circulation by 25% in 10 years. Not just that, people actively waited for their hard-hitting but humorous, always to-the-point one liners.

Decades ago, David Ogilvy proved that you didn’t need a large advertising budget to make a mark. He was assigned to make advertisements for a new brand of shirts called ‘Hathway’. The competitor was Arrow shirts – a big brand with a bigger advertising budget. Ogilvy knew he had to get his brand noticed fast and he had limited space and time. He featured a model who looked arrogant, charismatic and sophisticated. But that was not enough. To differentiate him from the others, he made him wear an eye-patch. In a sea of very handsome and very forgettable models, the eye patch stood out. Sales skyrocketed from two million to 30 million. What an eye-opener!

Virtually Everything

Yes creativity – the big idea – is what is required to make your advertising and your brand stand out. However, creativity has a new playing field today. It’s the virtual world – the Internet. It has changed the world of marketing & advertising forever. Viral marketing seems to be the latest and sometimes the cheapest and most effective way to beat competition and create a buzz about your product.

The Blair Witch Project was a low budget movie made by a couple of American students. It became a big success thanks to the intelligent use of the internet which was used to promote the film months before its release. The movie was promoted with a viral as the story of three young filmmakers who get lost in the woods and disappear, while filming a documentary about the eponymous local legend. Neither the students nor their bodies were found. However the camera was left switched on and had recorded the mysterious witch. The recording was recovered several feet under a building foundation that was laid at least a century earlier. This unique style of promoting caught everyone’s fancy. The news about Blair witch sent the internet into a frenzy. Everyone was aching to see the accidental recording. People believed it to be true. The result: a profit of around $300 million for a film that cost less than $3 million to produce.

Dove soap came out with a viral-ad named ‘Evolution’. It showed how a simple face through make-up, special effects and proper lightening could be transformed into that of a supermodel. It went on to show how Dove stood for real women and real beauty. The film became a craze and was viewed more than 1.7 million times on YouTube, not to mention the immense coverage it got on myriad talk shows, newspapers and magazines. Time and again companies have been using viral marketing to create a buzz around their products. Through ‘hot linking’ a viral message at the bottom of every e-mail saying ‘sign up for your free Hotmail account’, Hotmail grew its subscriber base to over 12 million subscribers in 18 months – the fastest by a company in history!

Word-of-mouth seems to be the new media to advertise. Not surprising that we find a lot of companies actively involved in social-networking sites like Facebook and Orkut, attracting young consumers by befriending them. Capital Times, the daily newspaper of Madison, has become paperless, in that it’s available only on the web. Many more are going to go the same way. Circulation is falling, ad revenues are nose-diving, classified ads – once a profit centre – have lost out to web sites like Craigslist. The future is virtual.

Finally, an advertisement’s main jobs is not to be creative and interesting. Its final aim is to sell the product. It is ‘salesmanship-in-print’. As Ogilvy said “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it creative. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.” If that’s the goal in mind then advertising is a powerful tool to build a brand, help it beat competition and win market share. No company can be a leader without a strong commitment to advertising. As S.H. Britt said, “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing. But nobody else does.” So, get those creative juices flowing and dish out some great ads. Its time to stop winking in the dark.