Friday, May 17, 2013

Evergreen Themes in Marketing


Perfume advertisements are guilty of over-exposing celebrities (courtesy of Charlotte Whiting

Watching commercials on TV is a bit like watching the movie Groundhog Day (or more recently Source Code). The same scenes keep re-appearing, like a never ending case of déjà vu.

Ad after ad, common themes and tropes surface time and time again.

The slick urban professional dressed in a tuxedo by the pool of a luxury condominium.

The harassed housewife whose world is as big as the container holding her laundry detergent.

The roguish yet charming group of young men whose mind is preoccupied with women, football, beer and nothing else.

The beautiful teenage girl whose shiny cascading hair means fame, fortune and a magnet for men.

Naturally, this scourge of sameness applies equally to newspaper, magazine, radio and lately Internet ads.

Of course, nothing beats a diamond advertisement. After De Beers popularised the term "Diamonds are Forever", virtually every jewellery commercial latches onto the same consistent theme. True love has been morphed into a hard shiny rock.

Interestingly, there are reasons why those "eye-rolling" diamond advertisements are repeated over and over again. Apparently, they work.

According to Gretchen Gavett of HBR, the element of surprise and that "gasp" (ie "Oh my gawd, he bought me a diamond!") is so critical to the business of jewellery advertising that replacing it with something more adventurous resulted in plummeting sales.

Hmmm... I suppose we are creatures of habit after all. 

Expanding on this idea, one can surmise that evergreen themes and memes do exist. We all want to be beautiful, wealthy, healthy, popular with chicks/hunks, and drive BMW sport cars while wearing tuxedos with every hair in place.

Green eggs and ham may work for Dr Seuss, but I prefer my eggs to be white and yellow, and my ham a healthy pink.

The challenge, however, is this:

Can we hope to stand out in a sea of clones? Are we able to differentiate our product when every video clip, poster, banner ad, or soundbite sounds uncannily similar?

One way to do this is to inject an element of interactivity. Involve your viewers, listeners and readers in the action. Get them to share their stories, or to participate in the grand narrative one way or another. Reward them for doing so. Make it a game that they can play.

Audience involvement helps to break the monotony of mundanity in marketing. It allows them to be a part of the action, and to have a stake in the outcome.

You can also consider ways to make your characters more believable. Give them names. Make them human. In this day and age, nobody (well almost) believes in a knight in shining armour anymore. Where appropriate, root for the underdog. Introduce the anti-hero.

Finally, having real customers (as opposed to reel ones) appear on screen or print may also transcend the fantasy/reality barrier. People trust people more than faceless organisations. Naturally, they need to be reasonably polished (well, depending on the product) and not cringe-worthy.

Evergreen themes in marketing resonate with people because they tap onto deep seated psychological and social roots. Like an old shoe, they are comfortable to be with.

To break through the clutter, however, one needs to find a way to balance inherent bias with audience interest and involvement. Injecting elements of interactivity, humanity and realism may help one to ride on universally comforting themes while connecting with one's audiences in a direct manner. Doing so could perhaps help to bring that love story to life.

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