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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Kmart Wins 2015 Valentine's Day Advertising Sweepstakes

Brands aspiring to be leaders in their product categories would do well to employ storytelling to portray how they help customers lead fuller, happier, more productive lives.

Valentine's Day is near. Thoughts and tokens of love are everywhere.


Indeed, Valentine's Day is one of the most opportune times for brand storytelling.

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This commercial is a wonderful example of how brands can position themselves as playing important roles in the contemporary context of everyday life in America. Here, the brand is acting as far more than a store where you can buy a seasonal item. The brand becomes your partner helping you achieve things that really matter to you.

The commercial is well conceived and produced. It is full of nuanced detail, a true example of a "rich media" experience with layers of meaning giving rise to strong emotional responses.

Without a doubt, Kmart has won the 2015 Valentine's Day Advertising Sweepstakes and taught every retail brand a powerful lesson about how to communicate as a leader.

 Copyright © 2015 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Your Key To Successful Customer Insights

Everyone talks about needing customer insights, but how many can really define the concept? How many can find or recognize an insight? How many marketing communicators and researchers can tell a better insight from a lesser one?

There are many sources one might consult. Google search returns 747,000 items for "consumer insight" and 589,000 for the more recently popular term "customer insight."

Google Ngram search gives a bit of historical perspective on the usage of these terms. Ngram lets us find the frequencies of words or short phrases in the English language books since 1800 that have been scanned by Google Books.


Searching for the broad topic "consumer research" gives us a view of the ascent of the modern marketing era. The inset graph expands to view to show the consumer insight came into use in the 1970s with customer insight following a similar pattern a decade later.

Throughout these sources, it seems these two terms are often used casually, with the assumption everyone knows what the term means.

With extensive professional experience in marketing communication and in leading consumer and advertising research roles, I offer this precise definition of the term customer insight.

A customer insight is a factual observation about customer thoughts, feelings or actions that reveals a clear and material basis for communication.

Better customer insights are more factual, clear and material. Materiality is key, it means the insight has an important connection to decision-making by consumers. A material insight therefore provides a basis for effective communication with consumers. If a potential insight cannot be supported by a well articulated pattern of facts, it is not a material-level customer insight, rather it is merely a convenient supposition.

Indeed, you can help yourself avoid expensive mistakes by evaluating possible customer insights in with my typology that I have named the Customer Insight Success Grid.


The Customer Insight Success Grid calls attention to two essential criteria for success: The extent of the array of factual information sources in support of the insight, and the importance of the insight to the development of effective communication.

Too often supposed insights pop up out of nowhere with vague factual support. While individual expert insight and qualitative methods can surface speculative insights, truth follows from a triangulation process drawing upon a range of qualitative and quantitative resources. A supposed customer insight is only speculative observation (blue sky thinking) unless there is an array of appropriate supporting sources.

Customer insights become productive when there is both an array of supporting sources and the insight points to a perspective on the role of the life of the customer that is material to more effective communication.

So, when thinking about customer insights, remember my definition of customer insight and my Customer Insight Success Grid. A potential insight may be located anywhere on the grid. You want to seek those most productive insights on the high ground of the upper right quadrant.

  Copyright © 2015 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Super Bowl Advertising Wearing Out?

The 2015 Super Bowl ended with a surprise, that's for sure. But, when it came to the advertising ideas there were few surprises.

The USA Today Ad Meter provides analytical perspective.  The chart below contrasts the scores of the top ten rated commercials this year (the blue line) with those of 2014 (brown), 2013 (green), and 2005 (the top purple line).


Budweiser won the 2015 ratings race with a heart warming story about a lost puppy. That there was a full one point spread over the second place spot for Always (8.1 versus 7.1) offers a clue that the pre-release of the lost puppy commercial may have garnered the spot a boost from pre-game conversation. Certainly, it would appear pre-release caused no disadvantage.

What is also interesting is that the 2015 ratings for the top ten commercials averaged only 6.8 on the Ad Meter 10-point scale of favorability.  The top ten average was 7 in 2014; 7.1 in 2013 and 7.9 ten years ago in 2005. While there have been methodology changes for this survey from year to year, the mid-scale directionality for 2015 alone suggests less enthusiasm than one might expect.

Perhaps this is a signal from the Super Bowl audience that it is time for new advertising ideas.

Copyright © 2015 by John Eighmey. All Rights Reserved.