I started this blog in 2010 as part of a course in new media for my Master of Arts in Advertising degree and have kept it up ever since. However, this month I’ll be transitioning to a new marketing role in a new industry and decided that doing so was a great opportunity to assess what things I wanted to keep doing and which I wanted to stop doing. And so I’ve decided to retire this blog to allow for more time to focus on my new role and other areas of my life.
10 years is a great run. Thanks for being loyal readers.
In light of all of the news I’m seeing about South Dakota’s new “meth” campaign, I’m resharing this post I wrote that mentions Montana’s meth campaign.
Fear is an incredibly powerful tool. I don’t think any marketer would debate that. Where we do differ is in our opinions of the use of fear marketing and the ethics associated with it. So what is fear marketing and is it the right approach?
Fear Marketing Definition
Depending on who you ask and what their background is, you will get various opinions on what exactly fear marketing is. My general definition is that fear marketing is any marketing that elicits severe emotional fearful duress and drives people to act in a way to reduce that duress. In this definition, I am not including warnings, such as the black and white plain text labels on cigarette packs that say, “Surgeon General’s Warning, Smoking Causes Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy.” Instead, when I talk about fear marketing, I’m talking about ads such as those found in the Montana Meth Project campaign. Below is one of their tamer ads. In fact, some of these ads are so disturbing that I must caution you to be prepared before you go to their site and see the rest of the ads. I know personally some of them bother me so much I will never, ever, forget them.
Is it the right approach?
When I think about whether or not fear marketing is the right approach, I usually think about three questions:
Is it true? Taking a page from Rotary’s Four Way Test, fear marketing should only be used if it is the truth. This should not be used to promote a VERSION of the truth, but only actual truths. This rules out using qualifiers such as “may” or “could” or statements that you cannot prove to be true. For example, “[name the political party you don’t like here] is going to take everything from you” or “Eating chocolate may be bad for you” are not regarded as universally true and thus should not be used to justify a campaign. However, “If you try meth once, you will be hooked” is pretty much accepted as a universal truth.
Is there another way that is just as effective or more effective? Fear may not always be the only tool or the most effective tool for a campaign. In fact, research has shown that sometimes presenting opportunities can cause more action than presenting threats (e.g. “Threat as a Motivator for Political Activism“). Also, fear campaigns may cause a reaction that the marketer does not want. For example, some people “freeze” or are unable to act when their fear reaches a certain point and others may just become desensitized to so many fear messages.
Is it a matter of severe public health or safety? In my opinion, these are the two main reasons that a fear campaign might be the right approach. For example, if the mainland United States is going to be bombed (as in another country has the missile prepared, aimed at us, and their finger is on the launch button), then, by all means, go ahead and scare the whole country. Or, if the Food and Drug Administration finds that a new black market drug is causing people to go insane and harm other people and themselves, I’m ok with them scaring a few people. However, I intentionally put this third on my list because it absolutely has to meet the first two criteria before I think this criteria can be used as justification for a fear marketing campaign.
Clearly, a lot of the campaigns today do not follow the above rules and I think we as a marketing community and as the general public need to take a hard look at the marketing that uses fear and ask ourselves if it is the right approach. If it’s not, we need to start letting our voices be heard that the abuse of such a powerful tool is in no one’s best interest.
Does this mean that: Retrieval of brand name = Better learning of the brand = More likely to buy the brand?
The new Doritos anti-ad (#LogoGoesHere) campaign features everything surrounding the brand, but never shows or says the brand name. They show the red and blue bags, talk about the flavor and what the chip looks like, etc. but never say the name.
Per Ad Age, “Doritos is the latest brand to acknowledge audience distaste for overt advertising with its latest strategy—it’s dropping its logo from its new campaign.”
Or maybe they hired some learning scientists.
In marketing, when we talk about brand recall, we’re usually referring to a consumer recalling (unaided by the logo, etc.) the brand name. Examples:
“Can you get us some chips for the party?” “What kind?” “Uh, how about some tortilla chips and some Doritos.”
“You know, those triangle chips that have a nacho flavor.” “Doritos.“
“Remember how we always got chips with our hamburgers at Mary’s house?” “Yep, whenever I have a hamburger now, I always want Doritos.”
“I need chips” (writes Doritos on shopping list).
The general idea is: If your brand is the one they recall, they are more likely to buy it.
But learning science takes it a step further.
Learning Science Retrieval
Retrieval is the process of calling up a memory, which can be a piece of information such as a brand name.
There are generally two types of retrieval
Recognition – Where we “recognize” the information as familiar or the information that we were looking for.
Recall – Unaided, we bring up the memory of the information.
As an example, on a test, a multiple-choice question is recognition
Question 1: Nicole’s last name is:
(correct answer: c)
With recall, a retrieval question is usually a free form response. Example:
Question 1: What is Nicole’s last name?
(blank space where the user would manually write or type “Finkbeiner”)
Studies have shown that retrieval increases retention of the content (increased learning).
Putting it all together
The Doritos anti-ad (#LogoGoesHere) campaign could be considered a form of retrieval. Which leads to an interesting question:
If Brand recall = Higher sales
If retrieval = Increased learning
Does this mean that: Retrieval of brand name = Better learning of the brand = More likely to buy the brand?
Hopefully, Doritos or someone with money and time is studying this. This could have interesting long-term impacts on marketing and advertising.
Pay for a subscription to listen to Pandora ad-free
Learn to ignore the ads
Only two of these are good for Pandora. And, like the City Slickers “Pizza Guy” advertisement, it’d be interesting to see if Pandora is losing enough listeners due to these ads that it will hurt their long-time revenue and sustainability of their company. My guess is these ads are doing damage.
It’s also interesting to look at this from Tide’s perspective. Do these annoying ads turn people off of their product? Or does it increase brand recall? Or is this a case of “any mention of our product is good” thinking? Perhaps people talking about it and blogging about it is just the thing they want.
A friend of mine recently co-founded the Alewives Podcast to celebrate “beer, history, beer history, and the women who make them” and that’s got me thinking a lot about beer marketing and advertising.
The Coors Light “The Official Beer of Being Done Wearing a Bra” advertisement above stands out, as many have commented, because it’s a far cry from the usual “beaches and bikinis” portrayal of women we often see in mass-produced beer advertising.
But while everyone is focused on the end, where she takes her bra off as a relaxing (and non-sexual) gesture, I noticed two things earlier in the advertisement that are also strong signals to women:
:06 mark: As she takes off her shoes, we see a bandaid. If you’re not familiar with the “heel bandaid” they are worn because the backs of some shoes rub on your actual heel and it causes pain and blisters. It’s very common with high heels and thus something many women can relate to. Side note: If you can relate to this, heel grips are a beautiful thing.
:03 mark: I could be wrong about this one since we don’t see a dog later in the ad, but the painting of the dog on the wall looks like it came from a “Paint Your Pet party” to me. These parties are where people bring their own food and drinks and take a class where they learn to paint. They tend to be especially popular with women.
And there are a couple of subtleties when she opens the fridge (:10 mark) that are worth noting:
There is a bottle of white wine that she reaches past to get to the Coors Light beer, subtly offering a contrast to the traditional expectations that women reach for wine to relax.
The fridge has fruit juice, salads, some sort of takeout, and an apple in it. While I’d argue fruit juice isn’t healthy, the foods we associate with health around the Coors Light cans in the fridge gives the beer an association effect of healthiness.
While I recognize there have been some criticisms of the ad, I think it’s a well thought out, well-executed advertisement by Coors Light and Leo Burnett.
During a recent online discussion, a colleague posed a question about the Persuasion Principle of Liking (Robert Cialdini). Most of the examples in literature are at an individual scale, meant for 1:1 interaction. He was interested in how this does or could scale.
For my contribution to the discussion, I decided to focus on politicians, celebrities, and brands and how they utilize the Principle of Liking to encourage the general public or their target markets to “like” them at scale.
The first example of this that came to mind is how people will say “They talk like me,” or “They tell it like it is,” (which, in my opinion, actually means “this person has the same opinions as me”) about why they like particular politicians. If you’re curious about this and don’t mind a very dense read, I recommend The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, as he breaks down the moral structures and topics (which then you could deuce wording and phrases) that appeal to different subsets of the public.
Another way I think brands, celebrities, and politicians foster similarity this is through origin stories. A brand for a protein bar will tell you the story of how it all started with an avid fitness person in their kitchen who wanted a better option than the ones currently on the market. Or a politician or celebrity will tell the story of their humble beginnings. An underrated example of this, in my opinion, is Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny from the Block” song, which highlights her “regular” upbringing.
Brands also highlight similarity by featuring people who look like you in ads. When I was looking for a new car a few years ago, I was shocked that I subconsciously added the Cadillac brand to my online search, as I’ve always associated Cadillac with “my grandmother drove one of those.” But when I thought about it, I’d seen several Cadillac ads recently where they showed women who looked like me owning and driving them. While I’m yet to find proof, I’m also convinced Cadillac may have had a marketing agreement with Carrie Underwood to create her song “Two Black Cadillacs” to market to younger women.
Politicians and performers on stage tend to give these compliments outright. I’ve come to dread the part of concerts where they shout “We love you New Orleans!” because I’m sure they say that in every city. And I wonder if it’s written somewhere where they can see it so they don’t say the wrong name, but I digress….
Politicians tend to say things like “Detroit, you are amazing. You’ve had a tough few years, but you are coming back because you all are incredible.” Arguably, the more the politician or celebrity genuinely believes this, the more genuine it’ll come across.
I joke that you could channel-surf on TV by which commercials are on (Subway ads = Simpsons, Family Guy, or American Dad mostly). I think that’s especially true on Sunday mornings during the intellectual news and financial market commentary. The ads during these times are highly environmental and cooperative-focused. They tend to have a theme around, “We’re working with you to protect and sustain our environment” and are run by oil companies and the like.
While I could also argue it’s reciprocity, Chick-Fil-a’s marketing strategy of sponsoring a tremendous amount of community events, in my opinion, is a great example of, “We’re a part of this community cooperating with you to make it a better place” cooperation.
With scale, you cross an ethical line if you lead the person to believe there is a direct or personal connection when there isn’t. I get emails that have my name in the subject area and are addressed to me, but I realize that it’s a form letter. But if they sent an automated email that made me think a particular person (such as a politician or celebrity) themselves wrote to me when they didn’t and/or made me think the message was sent to just me when it wasn’t, I think that’s unethical. And, it risks ruining the relationship of the person discovers it.
Reading a book at my husband’s hunting camp, my phone dings with a new text message. Not surprising right now, we live in New Orleans and a lot of very caring people are checking on us to make sure we left due to Hurrican Barry.
“Oh, wow. That’s amazing,” I say and show my husband the text.
This message is also timely. Just the day before, we were researching libraries and other places nearby that had wifi access and then wondering if we’d be able to get to those places if need be. It’s a small worry, but small worries can add up.
So, Verizon Wireless, thank you. As my husband commented, you just earned even more brand loyalty from us.