Sunday, April 07, 2013

Our Real Job Is Smuggling

It's often said that ads need to be entertaining because the entertainment allows us to 'smuggle in' a product benefit - the bit that is the commercially effective part of the ad.

I agree with the smuggling theory, but I actually think it works the other way round.

In other words, I reckon the function of the product benefit is to justify the entertainment. And it's actually the entertainment that is the commercially effective part of the ad.

Take this new ad in the Got Milk? campaign.

The product benefit is "if you drink some milk before bed, you sleep better." But this is just a pretext. The overwhelming volume in milk comes from kids drinking it, and adults putting it in their cereal and coffee. The reality is that very, very few people drink a glass of milk at bedtime and even if this ad were to double that number, its impact would have been negligible. No, the sleep enhancement may be a true product benefit, but it's not the business-enhancing part of the ad.

The ad will be effective because it's cool and funny. (Okay it's not the coolest or funniest ad ever, but my point still stands). So people will continue to feel good about buying it. The worst thing for any product is to become lame. Products that are seen as dated or naff don't sell. Period. This ad will do a good job of keeping milk seeming fresh, if you'll pardon the pun. So the effectiveness of the ad IS the entertainment.

Of course, that doesn't mean the product benefit is irrelevant. Far from it. As I said above, the product benefit is essential, because it allows the agency to smuggle in the entertainment. A comedy sketch (like this ad) has to be about something, and furthermore we find it satisfying when an ad is well-constructed around a product benefit, because it makes the sketch seem cleverer, and the comedy more justified.

I wonder if it would ever be acceptable to say to a client "the strategy we propose is that you do ads that are cool and funny." Probably not.


Anonymous said...

What about if the stated strategy was cool, funny and relevant? (Which is more like your description I think.) Combined with really good judgement, that would be an excellent strategy. The problem is judgement and trust therein.

Scamp said...

Yes, that would be fine. In fact I guess that would be a double win, to have cool strategy and cool execution.

Blonde Ben said...

How far can one push the boundaries of a "sell-able" and "legitimate" product benefit before it becomes obvious that the benefit, or selling point, were simply plucked from thin air to justify the nifty strategy?

Would you go as far to say that some agencies have a cache of super cool strategies or even near-complete campaigns that they simply try to fit a new product into until something fits?

Scamp said...

Of course! Though I think it's more commonly the creatives themselves who have a 'bottom drawer' rather than agencies. The most famous example is Cadbury's 'Gorilla' ad. The creative (Juan Cabral) had originally presented the idea to a drinks brand, who didn't buy it. He then presented it to Cadbury's, who did.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree.
Another great example is Orange's 'Please Switch Off Your Phones' cinema campaign. With this, it's almost obvious that the 'point' of the ad is a throwaway excuse to entertain.
And walking around to view your argument from a different angle, it's proof that every single thing you do for a brand is brand advertising of a sort, and should be treated with due importance.

Scamp said...

Yup. Orange is great example.

Anonymous said...

Being entertaining in one way or another (funny, interesting, informative) can't be an idea or strategy, surely it should be a prerequisite!
"Make it super cool" can't be an excuse not to have anything interesting to say. Especially not in a country where very few creatives (if any) have the ability to make something vaguely resembling cool, the way US and UK do so much better
Great brands stand for something bigger than themselves and worry less about rational product features and benefits

Anne Miles said...

I'd like to suggest that the strategy could have been more targeted than it seems - it may be to extend the life of a milk drinker by being a bit irreverent and capturing more of the teenage market. Only the agency and the client will truly know this.

I don't know that I feel an agency would be doing justice to their clients by only be about 'cool and hip' because it still has to have a purpose to be 'cool and hip' - what's the strategy that is leading to that (like my theory about extending the life of milk drinkers to teenagers who would otherwise think it is for kids).

I'd like to think that if had a say in what clients invest their hard cash in it would have more of a strategy behind it than simply be 'cool'. 'Why? be cool' is the big question.

Scamp said...

Ah, I didn't just say 'be cool'. I said 'be cool or funny' and what I meant was 'do whatever you need to do to stay fresh and relevant.' And I'm not saying strategy is unimportant! On the contrary. Without strategy to shape it, the creative work would just be a heap of blancmange on a table. Strategy is the bowl that holds the blancmange in place. Nevertheless, it's the blancmange people consume. Not the bowl.

Blonde Ben said...

So this add may be funny and have a cool vibe, and could lift the general image of the company. However, do you think it may miss out on actually transferring that coolness factor into more sales as the insight/strategy of drinking milk before bed doesn't really ring true for many customers?

Scamp said...

The coolness factor IS more sales, if people perceive milk to be more cool than alternatives like water, fruit juice etc. The 'drink it before bed' message is in reality unlikely to be a behaviour-changing/sales-increasing strategy, but that doesn't matter - it rings true enough to be an acceptable justification for the entertainment.

Unknown said...

Great post - I've unashamedly reused this already.

If there's a strategic consideration beyond merely entertaining people, it should probably be to focus around the associations the ad builds, not the message it communicates.

Kathy Reeves said...

Laugh or cry, if it grabs your emotion it's got to make the ad more memorable. The question then becomes have you tied that emotion back to the brand. Its a shame when people are taking about this funny ad they saw, and can't remember what it was for.

I don't know how you feel about links but here's a post with some Millward Brown science about the effects of emotion in advertising.