Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Candor As Advertising Message Strategy

Candor is an illuminating word. From Latin, it communicates brilliancy and purity. We are said to be candid, or speaking with candor, when acting in a forthcoming and honest matter to say what we believe.

Indeed, the highest levels of candor introduce self-criticism, even to the extent of self-depreciation, so as to lay all considerations on a question or argument open for review and scrutiny.

Candor is rarely seen in advertising. A brand generally concentrates on its unique selling proposition, clearly setting forth a relative advantage over its competitors. Successful communication of a single-minded message in mass communication is thought to be challenging enough without the added burden of introducing complexities and conditions.

Consumer research tells us this makes sense when communicating with people who already buy into an idea or message. Single-minded messages do help promote loyalty.


But, when it comes to converting people to a new idea, or inviting them to switch brands, candor may have an important role to play. Interestingly, this finding about the effectiveness of "two-sided" message arguments is one of the oldest empirically documented outcomes in the modern era of scientific research on persuasive communication. This comes from the classic Yale Attitude Change Studies of the 1940s and 50s.

The widely admired VW campaign of the 1960s and 70s was based on this customer insight. Faced with the daunting task of competing with well-entrenched Detroit brands, VW employed a message of self-depreciating humor to convert consumers to the brand.

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This 1971 Karmann Ghia commercial is a particularly effective vehicle to appreciate the fundamental customer insight underlying the entire VW campaign. While competitors focused on the excitement of an annual race involving styling, size, and horsepower, VW concentrated on smaller cars and admitted certain shortcomings.

Candor, as shown here in the form of a "two-sided" message strategy, remains an effective approach, particularly when the audience is discerning and the goal is converting them to a new viewpoint.

Beyond truth, when it comes to advertising message strategy, it is candor that counts.

  Copyright © 2015 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

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