Remember you’re running a business, not saving the world!
“It’s summer. You’re thirsty. We’ve got sales targets”. So ran an honest – and rather amusing – ad for Oasis, the soft drinks manufacturer. I have to say it did for me what more ambitious, worthy or blatantly sentimental ads did not. It connected with me in a way that made me feel good about the advertiser and the product.
Contrast that with, say, Heineken, who want to ‘Brew a Better World’ or Starbucks, who according to their latest mission statement want ‘to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time’.
This is what, in the trade, is called ‘brand purpose’ marketing, and it is very much the flavour of the month. But, as highlighted by Mark Ritson in his talk for Marketing Week Live when he described it as a “total joke” (amongst other more robust descriptions), they seem to have lost all sense of brand positioning in doing so.
I suppose I can see where they’re coming from. They want to generate that feel good factor. To convince us that they have a social conscience and that they care about you as a human being.
Do you buy that? It doesn’t take a genius to see that their main interest in us as human beings is to separate us from our loose change, and that if they really wanted to make the world a better place they could plough some of their profits back into social or community projects. Or, as Mr Ritson so clearly pointed out, they could pay their fu**ing taxes! Well, maybe some of them do – let’s take the generous view.
But whether they do or not isn’t really the point. You don’t sell product by signalling your virtue. You do it by selling your products on their merits. And unless your product is penicillin or a cure for cancer, you don’t make preposterous claims for it – just that it will make life easier and maybe a bit more pleasurable, while being better at doing so than the next guys product.
Yes, you should identify with your customers and win their approval in any way you can. They may be impressed by the fact that your products are biodegradable or that you are an equal opportunities employer, but don’t pretend you’re Greenpeace and the United Nations rolled into one. Just lighten up a bit.
Better still, leaven things with a little humour or hyperbole. Costa has the slogan ‘Saving the World from Mediocre Coffee’ and that’s fine by me. The absurd grandiosity of the line shows they don’t take themselves too seriously, which oddly enough has the effect of winning them my good will, trust and respect. They’re proud of their product and say so.
All of which reminds me of David Ogilvy’s famous line: “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife”. Perhaps its not entirely PC these days, but it enshrines a universal truth. Don’t insult your customers’ intelligence. If you’re selling coffee, don’t pretend it’s the holy grail, just damn fine coffee. You’re in business and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Appeal to your customers’ common sense – and sense of humour – and your marketing will be more believable – and hence more effective.