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December 05, 2019

By: Shravya Kaparthi, Director, Analytics and Decision Sciences, RAPP Dallas

An ad is just an ad until it’s not. Then, it becomes something more. One such “more” started this year around mid-November with the release of John Lewis' Christmas advertisement. Clocking in at two and a half minutes, it tells the tale of a girl and her friend, a young dragon, so excited for Christmas that he can’t stop himself from breathing fire. Needless to say, things go horribly awry — down to the very end, that is, when the message hits home: the importance of showing loved ones just how much you care.

This isn’t the first year a John Lewis advertisement has made us laugh, cry, and feel myriad other emotions somewhere in between. Actually, the release has become an almost annual event, with its 2019 offering racking up nearly 8.5 million views and 77,000 likes in its first week alone.

What I’m getting at here is that people don’t hate ads, despite calls to the contrary. When they’re relevant and capture part of the human experience, folks actually quite enjoy them — even going out of their way to watch them. I know more than a few people who tune in to the Super Bowl for the ads alone, which is part of why 30 seconds of air time will run upwards of $5 million for 2020’s game.

Overcoming Issues in Advertising
With enough mediocre — if not downright bad and intrusive — ads out there, marketers have a chance to not only learn from the ad industry’s collective mistakes, but also rise high above the fray. In fact, widespread mediocrity affords you room to be bold and try something different in the quest to make better advertising.

Just remember that every interaction with the end user is more than communication. It’s an opportunity to build and strengthen the brand in the eyes of the consumer. The question then is, what’s the magic formula to making compelling content that resonates? The following elements will never let you down:

  1. Good storytelling. More than just a video spot, good storytelling is a consistent brand experience built across multiple touchpoints. Even data-driven strategies are simply numeric equations without some sort of empathetic narrative. Try to ingrain the importance of storytelling beyond the creative teams and into all departments across the industry.
  2. Contextual relevance. Better advertising demands an understanding of the context over everything else. It should guide and help people navigate through a situation or capture the consumer’s imagination and strike an emotional chord. In fact, ads that play on the emotions are 64% more likely to drive strong engagement. Of course, contextual relevance will change as the consumer moves along the path to purchase, and sometimes what’s relevant can change from touchpoint to touchpoint.
  3. Opting in. Data drives context. And while you can capture consumer data in many ways, perhaps the healthiest (and most ethical) method is with consent. The only real hurdle is changing people’s perception around the concept. But if you give them enough reason to opt in, they will — and it’ll likely strengthen their relationship with your brand. Amazon did this with Prime. From online shopping to on-demand videos, the retail monolith created a user experience that encouraged people to opt in.
  4. Behavioral change. If you want to change behavior, change the environment. That calls for your brand to do two things: reduce friction and increase motivation. Mind you, the role of the brand here goes beyond just an ad. Every brand interface should help people navigate through behavioral changes for better solutions. For instance, in the health and fitness industry, you can find a variety of activity trackers. For the home, you can find a slew of smart devices (e.g., thermostats, lights, doorbells, etc.). Even with transportation, you’ve now got a number of ride-sharing — or bike-sharing — brands. Tap into consumer desires to advance and evolve. As change agents, marketers have the powerful ability to drive social changes as well, influencing sociocultural shifts beyond just individual behaviors. Coca-Cola's successful "Share the Summer" campaign comes to mind when thinking about recent brand communications that attempt to do more than simply sell a product or service.
  5. Goal alignment. “Good” businesses have been around for a while now. Organic clothing, cruelty-free cosmetics, and eco-friendly packaging are now all part of the mainstream, and consumers are not only willing to pay a premium but are actively advocating for brands to take a stance. Being good is table stakes, which is why you need to pair social responsibility with great products and services.

But merely taking up social causes for the sake of it won't help. In fact, it might seem fake. The connection between the cause and brand identity is important. Authentic and genuine brands tell powerful stories, such as Gillette's controversial toxic masculinity campaign and Procter & Gamble's "Share the Load" series. The ingredients to this magic formula need not be mutually exclusive. All should co-exist within your brand and brand experience. Otherwise, it is tough to build a consistent brand narrative across platforms.

In today's choice-filled world, brands need people more than people need brands, and loyalty is built through a series of useful experiences, not just advertisements. With RAPP's focus on the individual, we’re able to segment and target consumers based on context by crafting dynamic and personal customer journeys through the right channels — with the ultimate goal of building direct, enduring, and high-value relationships between the consumer and the brand.

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