Monday, 13 July 2009

Feelings are more important than facts

That's a little phrase I use when explaining what we know about communication theory or rather what we've learned in the last few years through terrific thinkers like Russell Davies, Paul Feldwick, Faris Yacob, John Grant, Richard Huntington and Mark Earls. I'd also include Johnnie Moore but he's cleverly identified that he can facilitate change much more powerfully on the inside than through external messaging on the outside. They might not say it quite the way I do because there's always a context  

That little phrase is the reason why I think the Levi's commercial I blogged, is more profound than any washes "Whiter than White" soap powder commercial could. Can you remember which brand said that? It does however have Walt Whitman's poetry in it so I'll try to weave in some messaging thoughts.

In principle we know that the messaging 'ammunition', and it's conceptual artillery of a say a 'mortar rocket' - the brand proposition - are a really brutal way to articulate what a brand stands for - which is why so much advertising sucks. The dirty secret of advertising is that most message based advertising is (from a global persective) in the FMCG segment and is really more about using a propaganda based frequency (repetition) and reach (penetration) platform that is a numerically driven  and quantitatively assesed communications model. Now it works in principle because it's a level playing field for all brands to size each other up. It's flat flat flat. Something like; 'we're rubbish and you're rubbish but at least we can compare how rubbish we are. Like for like is easier than great creative against great creative

Then we squeeze the mediocre output through the link-testing sausage making machine, that removes all the bits that stand out (the scary bits for marketing managers - the interesting bits for creatives and planners) and deliver something that manages both the risk, and let's face it, diminishes it's ability to be persuasive. The magic is, that because it's all so uniform and standard, it can be measured more fairly than working out if say a kiss on the lips is more romantic than licking an ear lobe. It's that ability to brutally compare, which gives the largely illusional security to marketing managers who absolutely don't want to fuck up on their next ad. And why would they? They've got mortgages to pay. So we rely upon the messaging model to sell 90% of our goods, and guess what? 90% of our advertising sucks.

It's boring, patronising and is complained about by exactly the same respondents who we then recruit to tell us what ideas are good or bad. Until we reconcile this illogical way of thinking i.e Asking people how to improve ads and ignore that they don't like what we do as a business, we're kidding ourselves that we're in the creativity business. It's the safety business we're in. Of course this doesn't apply to all work but ask people what they think about most advertising and you'll get the answer to why we should't recruit them in link tests.

However there's an awful lot of complexity to this subject because actually, messaging does work - on some levels - and it's hugely dependant on the CONTEXT which is something I've banged on and on about over and over again. Even this blog post can never define the solution (or even accurately outline the full problem one suspects) because without knowing the full context, the answer may well fly in the face of everything I've just written. Nothing new there then.

But for the sake of focus I'll highlight two messaging models that DO work.

The first is Propaganda. Most of it is done by people who are used to  giving orders. Military style like instructions or bureaucratically hierarchical management. When I say jump, you jump. When I say smoke a reefer, you smoke a reefer (well obviously not, but you get the gist).I've given some examples throughout this post and tried to also show that once it becomes a meme, we've given people something to do which in marketing communications is one step above feelings.

The second great messaging model example is Google Adsense and which has almost reduced much of the advertising revenue slice of the classifed ads cake to a digital utility. Here's a quick example.

There you go. The most profitable messaging business model in the Universe. However, the reason for writing this erratic and probably slightly incoherent post is I got to thinking about when people pick up on a meme and get involved, it's a force for good and should be embraced in much the same way that the Keep Calm meme has evolved throughout this post. People nicking your content and playing with it is far more effective than the messaging model which is largely illusory has a control medium and so finally it's important to bear in mind that while feelings are more important than facts, action's speak louder than words.

Update: I've since learned that Walt Whitman had some pretty shabby views on ethic groups other than Anglo Saxons.