Those of you with long enough memories may recall that I’ve been pondering on the nature of marketing for a while now. Whereas that post was about the merits of marketing as “selling” vs marketing as “designing,” I’d like to spend a little more time thinking about the “selling” side, as that’s most (by quantity) of the marketing we see right now — mature products that are being pitched to potential consumers.
Why am I harping on this? I just finished Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick last night. While I think their book Switch on behavioral change is a bit better, Made to Stick refers to how ideas become “sticky.” For example, how there are certain ads you can remember forever, and others you forget before the ad’s over.
- by Savinay Chandrasekar
Specifically, Chip & Dan narrow down the concept of sticky ideas to a simple acronym: SUCCESs; that is, a sticky idea will be some combination of the following:
[For more information on SUCCESs, check out Fast Company’s “Made to Stick” section.]
I think back to some of my favorite ads of all time, and sure enough, they fall into many of these categories.
Think of the e*trade Monkey Super Bowl ad:
Simple? Totally. Concrete? 100%. Unexpected? 91304109384%. Emotional? I laughed my a$$ off the first time I saw it.
How about The relatively new Old Spice and Dos Equis campaigns?
Simple, Unexpected, Credible (the guys just look masculine), and Emotional. The Dos Equis one even tells a story (or a bunch of them).
What about serious commercials like Apple’s 1984 or the “This is your brain on drugs” PSA from the 1980s:
Now I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t know much about marketing beyond what I learned in my “Intro to Marketing” classes at Wharton as an undergrad and at Thunderbird as a grad student, but the way I’ve always thought of it, marketing consists of one of two things (or ideally, both, but I’m getting ahead
of myself):  “selling” the merits of your product in such a way that the audience (consumer) desires it, whether or not he or she actually had a need for it, or  designing a product around the consumer’s needs such that its merits are intrinsically desirable.
Now there’s obviously a lot of variance as to what falls into or out of these categories, and the boundaries are blurry at best, but at the risk of oversimplifying, TV infomercials for food dehydrators and blankets with arm holes in them would fall under category , while pacemakers and spatulas fall under category .
That’s not to say that all “wants” fall into category  and all “needs” fall into category ; for example, chewing gum is hardly an inelastic product (in economic, not physical terms) – one could quite easily live a long and prosperous life without it – but after a heavily sauced dinner of Chicken Tikka Masala and garlic naan, it’s definitely a product whose innate merits (adding minty freshness to your breath and generating saliva to aid digestion) meet the consumer’s needs at that time.
What’s the point of this all?
To me, the best marketed products are the ones at the intersection of category  and category . Indulge me if you will with the following Venn Diagram.
I get the feeling that too often marketers focus on category  – selling the product – as opposed to also concentrating on category  – designing the product to meet the consumer’s needs. And I believe Harvard Business School Marketing Professor V. Kasturi Rangan agrees with me.
He writes here about two fairly similar service providers whose primary mission is to provide check cashing, money transfers, and other banking services to the “unbanked” in Africa (i.e. those who live near, at, or below the poverty line, usually living hand-to-mouth and paycheck-to-paycheck).
Having spent a little time in South Africa, I’m intricately familiar with the services of Wizzit, and at the time, I thought it a remarkable service that had the potential to change the face of poverty in Africa. Wizzit provides bank accounts to the unbanked through a “second-tier” bank in South Africa (South African Bank of Athens). The account holder can then deposit his or her cash with any Wizzit agent in her neighborhood or “township,” who normally is a young adult from his or her area with whom she has some historical relationship (e.g. “the boy down the street.”) The Wizzit agent then “texts” a concordant amount of money to the account of the account holder, who can now use the funds in their account to pay for services at local vendors using a Wizzit-provided debit card, or to transfer money to friends or family by simply sending them verified SMSes from their mobile phones (mobile phones being one of the few “leapfrog technologies” around – one which went from being valuable and moderately rare for one generation/social class to being accessibly cheap and virtually ubiquitous for another, later generation/lower social class. For instance, nearly 80% of South Africa’s population of 50M has a mobile phone).
Perfect, right? Give the unbanked an account in which they can store their paychecks, give them ready access to deposits through trusted agents within their community, and give them easy access to the funds through a debit card and their ever-present mobile phone.
It’s brilliant… if you are used to having a bank account. But, it seems (or at least according to Dr Rangan), the unbanked aren’t looking for a bank account. They have no need for savings, or interest, or ATMs. They’re looking for a way to transfer their money, from the people who work in the urban areas, to the
people who live in the suburban townships.
Enter M-PESA. M-PESA provides the same services as Wizzit, but WITHOUT the accounts (and therefore, without the set-up fees, without a third party bank such as South African Bank of Athens, and without the overhead). M-PESA subscribers can go to any number of vendors sponsored by M-PESA, give the vendor cash, and get an immediate text message with the funds that they can then forward to whomever they please.
Even more brilliant is the fact that M-PESA is tied to a specific mobile provider, Safaricom, who must consider this a windfall – think of the surge in AT&T subscribers in the US when they got exclusive rights to the iPhone in 2007. This partnership not only increases the subscriptions to Safaricom and provides them revenue in the form of SMS/transaction fees, but it also ties the actions of using a Safaricom phone to the positive emotions of receiving money from someone you love.
Win, win, win!
Follow that up with the M-PESA advertisement below, which, in a brilliant display of category  marketing, further brings home the familial bond and empowerment of being a “provider” to the unbanked subscriber, and you’ve got a brilliant overlap of a service that meets the customer needs, and a marketing campaign that emphasizes the merits of the product:
If this is the future of “long tail” marketing, there are great things in store ahead of us.
Now if only I can figure out how to get Beickler to text me some PESA for these blog posts…
Philip Beickler touched on green marketing and it’s somewhat negligible impact on consumer behavior but I wanted to really “dig deep” and look at what the green movement affected us. Particularly how it affect our our car adverts.
When the “green” movement really picked up steam with the release of Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, there was inevitably a backlash. After all, movements that wide and that rapid (and that culture-changing) are always nay-sayed by those who are rendered uncomfortable by the change; in the case of the “green” movement though, just about everyone on the planet was culpable in contributing to the destruction of the world, save some native aboriginal tribes in the Australian Outback and the Kalahari desert. And Ben Malki.
This backlash took many forms: disputing the veracity of “global warming” (now: “climate change” because “warming” is a one-way street); arguing against those who would portend that we could hit “Peak Oil” – effectively the point at which more than half of the world’s oil has been extracted; pointing out the tons of CO2 Gore released into the atmosphere with his “green” mansion in Tennessee and traversing the world in jumbo jets to propagate his message; and perhaps most intriguingly, by positing that a tree-hugging, hybrid Toyota Prius was actually more detrimental to the environment than a rampaging, two-and-a-half-steps-shy-of-a-German-Panzer Hummer.
This set up for a fascinating ideological divide, between the tree-hugger apologists and the leave-me-alone skeptics which resulted in what most such debates do – ad hominem personal attacks and further entrenchment in their respective positions.
For every ad showing a sickeningly-over-the-top polar bear hugging the owner of a new all-electric Nissan Leaf…
…there was an ad blaring testosterone-drenched music while showcasing the rugged construction and cargo-carrying (read: gas-guzzling) capabilities of the Nissan Tundra:
Tugged emotional heartstrings vs. unadulterated machismo; each ad made the opposing side metaphorically hurl, and just as in the civilian debates, neither side (in this case, of the same company) was going to win this argument by being even more recalcitrant in their position.
Until, that is, Nissan upstaged itself with this brilliant new advertisement:
This ad changes the debate: the argument is now far less about the environment, and far more about how dumb and inefficient gas is as a power source. On a completely logical level, virtually every object you own in your house runs on electricity, from the most arcane incandescent lightbulb to the most Tron-inspired, technologically cutting-edge video game machine.
Why then, should ANYTHING you use on a regular basis still run on petrol – a stinky, expensive, dirty, and century-old power source that you have to go to a specialized service provider to get? Why shouldn’t you be able to power up your car when you power up your smartphone?
The underlying message here is that if you want new, cool, technologically innovative car that is as comfortable in your home as your 108” 1960p Plasma flat-screen 3D HDTV with new smell-scencts technology is, buy a Nissan Leaf.
(Also, just for fun, note at 0:45 seconds the quirky and subtle visual jab at the Leaf’s nearest competitor, the petroleum-fueled “electric-first” Chevy Volt hybrid being filled up at the gas station while the Leaf is electrically charging).
Will this brilliant and snarky ad galvanize the debate, or reignite it? Will it change the game, or go unnoticed? I sure as hell don’t know, but as all the marketers in the world do — consumers will vote with their dollar. And I’ll be making popcorn and watching from the front row.