A Dot Dot Dash Opinion Piece
Welcome to the age of the smart consumer. Raised with marketing, we know how it works. We understand its aspirational anthems, its fear drivers and its empathy hooks. We know marketing is designed to capture our emotions. But where once we were led, even deceived, today we are the choosers and selectors. We make the choice to be interested, to follow, and to purchase.
Once upon a time, when marketing tactics stopped being effective, smart innovative marketing magicians created new approaches. But as marketing is now transparent to us, the challenge is to reinvent it.
We are witness to a number of interesting reinvention efforts. There is the well-developed world of experiential marketing, where we get to have an experience of the brand and move from passive aspirers to active ambassadors. There is the emergent field of impressive, and beautiful branded films that create worlds as crafted by luxury brands. And there are compelling social actions that get us involved as citizens and social actors.
The exciting development, especially amidst contemporary culture too often defined as “post-truth”, is that marketing is in the process of overturning itself. To attract people marketing needs to do the opposite of what it has historically done. Be believable.
And there are new rules of attraction when the demand is believability.
We all know about the 5 essential Ps of marketing — they are the bible of how to market and merchandise to attract customers and grow sales. We also know that several years ago, in an attempt to fortify credibility, marketers added a 6th P — Purpose. Today brands have to offer function and social purpose. The coffee now needs to taste fabulous and support local coffee farmers; the department store needs to offer the best array of exclusive shoes and purses plus artisanal goods from under-recognized countries; and the shoes I spend too much money for need to have a Foundation that supports restoration of historic sites, and encourages young artists.
We now demand that companies and brands deliver quality function and genuine citizenship. Companies today have to be stewards of design and of social development. But what makes any of this believable?
We have spent that past year researching and assessing advertising and marketing. And as you would predict, we have an analytical framework that assesses companies in terms of believability, credibility and effectiveness.
There are those who are still doing ‘Advertising’ — Seltzer’s new ad using luscious mermaids is an excellent example of good intentions gone awry. While the idea might have been to be more “women-friendly”, the result was to appear caught in a 1950’s time warp.
There are those who are in ‘Alignment’ — companies that recognize the power of experience over speak-at-you marketing. Skittle’s musical before the Super Bowl is a fun example of a company that gets the effectiveness of creating events that attract interest, albeit momentarily, and superficially.
Then there are the ‘Platform brands’. These are companies that create a platform that hosts human stories and/or encourages social change. Gucci’s Chimeforchange is an elegant luxury-powered platform that supports gender equality. A commendable effort of shifting a luxury brand into social agent territory.
Beyond ‘Platform brands’ are what we call ‘Restatement companies’ — those that are committed to reshaping their image and the positioning of their company, and industry. These companies make bold restatements of their intentions and purpose. The recent campaigns by both Wells Fargo and Citgo — with public pronouncements of their new values, and in Citgo’s case, asserting that they are in the business of “empowering people to go do more “— are respectable examples of companies that understand that need to shift towards purpose and impact.
Yet they still strain credibility, because we know that these restatement companies have yet to prove themselves. Or to put it another way, words are always weaker than actions.
At the highest order of credibility are ‘Action Heroes’. These companies not only take a stand, but confirm and prove it through action. They are credible because their actions make them believable. They achieve this when they do the opposite of marketing.
First they speak a truth. Not a manufactured truth, but a truth that we recognize and applaud because no one else is speaking it.
Second they are doing something. They offer some type of social solution. Their actions confirm and magnify their words.
And third, they are focused on a human endeavour, not just trying to sell something. They are genuinely trying to create material change on complex social issues. They are doing this because they understand social issues are business issues.
Truth, action and human endeavour. These are the three new laws of attraction.
Once upon a time the 5 P’s got us to pay attention. We could not escape the irresistible combination of price, function and ubiquity. Then came competitive aspiration, purpose and FOMO. Creating a world where we were ruled by brands, and individually became brand marquees. Even in the most recent mirrored image, JOMO, we continue to define ourselves through a brand-defined universe.
Today marketing needs to transform into honesty.
Advertising into action.
And stuff into human endeavour.
Deeper than attraction, more enduring than marketing, Believability is the demand and requirement.
Welcome, to the world of Magnetism.