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February 2008

"Lights, Camera, Action!" - How Advertisers Use Movies to Sell Experience

Oscar_ceremony_posters_80_anniversaIn this month's issue of CAA magazine (Canadian Automobile Association), there's an ad for the association's Battery Assist program that features a photo of an old "Motel" sign sitting above the roof of a rather withered and ageing motel. The sign bears a resemblance to the type of motel one might see in a movie like Psycho or some other Hollywood thriller.

What's unique about this ad is the advertisers ability to put us in the picture through effective use of words and visuals. Most people can identify with the story in the ad through their experience and interaction with characters in movies. The copy and visuals serve to bring us closer into the experience, and as a result we remember the ad through our interaction with it.

The copy (resembling handwriting on a postcard) reads: "Ever feel like you're living in a movie? Picture this: The oldest, weirdest motel you've ever seen, and us, out front with a dead battery. For my part, I didn't know what we'd do. Then, the leading man at reception called CAA Battery Assist for us. Nice. They installed a replacement on the spot. Ready to go, we drove off in a cloud of dust while the motel man waved goodbye. Just like a scene from some crazy movie."

What is it about the movies that we find so engaging? Why is it we can identify with the plight faced by characters in a movie? Why is it we're so eager to forget our troubles for a while and lose ourselves in the experience?

Advertisers have been quick to capitalize on storytelling elements to sell products. The ads we remember the most are those that relate to us on a "human" level. We're drawn in by people who experience emotion, as we can identify the plight of those people by comparing their situation to our own. Their challenges become our own, as we're drawn into the 'mini-plot' or core emotion found in the ad. The challenges faced by characters in the movies become the same challenges faced by all of humanity.

Advertisers who have effectively used movies or elements found in movies (ie. storytelling) to sell products include:

  • BMW Mini (mini-films placed on web)
  • Oldsmobile (to advertise their "Silhouette" minivan - copy reads "Go places you've never been before...Movies have taken us places beyond our imagination. Now you can take those movies places you never thought possible with the Silhouette Premiere - the first minivan with a built-in video entertainment system")
  • Max Factor (described the story of Max Factor and how he created the make-up industry by focusing on glamour in Hollywood - tagline read "Max Factor - the man who made up Hollywood")
  • Tim Horton's - frequently uses stories that cater to viewers emotions (ie. the hockey Dad who shows up at his son's hockey game later in life)
  • Budweiser - "Hank's" attempts to become a Budweiser superhorse to the tune of Rocky in the Superbowl ad

Where else do you see movies (or elements found in moviemaking) used in advertising? Do you find it's an effective way to sell product? Why or why not? Are there certain products where the use of movies or moviemaking elements are more effective?

Selling Emotion In Advertising: The Psychology of Effective Ads

The advent of non-traditional distribution channels brought on by advances in technology has raised a number of issues for advertisers. The consumer marketplace has become a dumping ground of sorts for a bevy of messages from companies telling us to buy more - and buy "better."

To reach us, ad agencies have tried numerous tactics including: cool graphics and effects, gorgeous models leading globetrotting lifestyles (who are not an accurate representation of "Joe and Jill" average), and promises that the product will deliver and meet our needs on numerous levels. Billions of dollars are spent delivering the message, but is the message really getting through?

When I think back to my days as a corporate sales representative, my business challenges were not unlike those faced by advertisers today. How do I come across as being "different" than my competitors - and succeed at having my product stand out amongst others that deliver similar experiences?

Looking back, the clincher to my biggest and most successful sales was based on an emotional element that I was able to add to the selling mix. Customers could have bought a similar product elsewhere, but they bought from me. If I was selling toys, then I would be able to use the "cute and fuzzy" factor as a lead-in to the sale. Key sales decisions were always a combination of both rational and emotional elements.

Emotion is important in selling because it leads to ownership and involvement. Remember the breakthrough success of the pet rock? Why else would anyone pay money for a rock in a box, other than the "cool" - and pride of ownership factors? The fact that the rock came with a handbook increased the emotional attachment of the rock to the owner. The success of the mood ring was based on similar principles. The product was even able to "predict" emotion through a display of colour on the owner's hand. We all knew it was a crock, yet we all bought it. In some strange way, we became attached to the idea that the ring could actually predict or reflect our mood. The experience became personal.

Petrock_2 200pxmoodring1_2

Just as in selling, the most effective ads reach us through their emotional appeal. By targeting our emotions, we are able to identify with the characters in the ad. Their story becomes our own.

When I think about great ads, I think of ads that struck a key emotional chord. There was something universal and "human" to the story. Examples of ads that catered to our emotions include:

The key to customer awareness and engagement can be found in this simple truism...people don't buy from companies - people buy from people.

What other ad campaigns can you think of that used emotion as a way to sell the product? Do you think this is an effective way of reaching consumers? Why isn't it used more often in advertising today?


Whatever Happened to the "Leader" in Leadership?

I've worked for numerous organizations in a variety of industries, and it continues to amaze me that organizational challenges continue to be the same across the board.

The biggest challenge to organizational success today is lack of leadership. Companies that continue to operate using ineffective leaders will face increasing challenges both internally, as well as externally to the organization. An ineffective leader who lacks vision will fail to rally the troops, and will be met with numerous marketplace challenges as well as dissent from the internal ranks.

What accounts for this lack of leadership skill, vision and insight? In the 1980's, the bestselling book "In Search of Excellence" offered breakthrough ideas in terms of how companies could succeed. Today, a plethora of books and articles on the subject of business and leadership success continue to infiltrate the market. There's no lack of information and strategy out there, just a lack of willpower to implement the ideas that form the foundation of great companies.

Jim Collins "Good to Great" and "Built to Last" offer strategies on how to build and maintain great companies. Biographies of successful business leaders continue to inspire us and add new dimensions to our thinking. Magazines such as Fast Company offer innovative ways in which to inject a sense of creativity, imagination and inspiration into otherwise dull and lifeless organizations.

So, with all this information and resource base out there, why do I continue to see companies who a) fail to inspire employees through lack of vision, leadership and an inability to "care" about their employees b) refuse to correct their ways in spite of toxic work environments resulting in significant losses of intellectual capital and  c) companies that are so disorganized that even senior management is disconnected to the day to day activities of the organization?

Although there may be some companies who operate in a different realm - those who are fortunate enough to have real thought leaders at the helm who are able to inspire employees (if you are one of these companies or leaders please talk to me - I would love to work for you!), I believe that most companies in the business world just don't care. This lack of caring goes way beyond the confines of the building. It extends to shareholders and customers, and the customers customers.

I'd love to share your ideas and experiences. In the meantime, I'll continue my journey "In Search of Excellence" - wherever that may lead me.


Writing The Story Of Success - Why Does It Take So Long To Finish The Book?

It's easy to find a multitude of books and articles that offer advice on how to achieve success. From this week's bestsellers - "The Secret" and Wayne Dyer's "Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life", to the more traditional school of writing from Napoleon Hill, Anthony Robbins and Dale Carnegie, the self-help industry continues to be a multi-million dollar - perhaps even multi-billion dollar industry.

We all want to achieve success, yet for most it still seems elusive. How many of us wake up in our 40's, and wonder when we will finally start living our lives the way we envisioned it years ago? Why do some people achieve success in the material sense, yet others with equal talent don't?

If we could package "success" and sell it as a fail-proof formula, we would never have to work again. In our attempt to write the story of success into our lives, perhaps the secret lies in implementing the "little" successes (let's think of them as "sub plots") and working them into our lives at a deeper level. Perhaps we just need to see the little things, in our attempt to write the whole story. If the little things are taken care of, then maybe our chances of writing a positive outcome to our life story will increase substantially.

For example, if I look at what I did to achieve success in different areas of my life, the breakdown would look like this:

1) Success in selling...depended on...

  • writing a plan and following it through
  • knowing the product and the customer
  • visualizing what I wanted from each sales call (I literally "pictured" a successful outcome)
  • honing my people management skills
  • hard work, persistence and belief in my product

2) Success in marketing/communications/project management...depended on...

  • understanding my target market
  • doing the research
  • looking beyond the immediate task to see how each of my actions would affect varying stakeholders and touchpoints both inside and outside of the company
  • empathy and an ability to get along with people
  • ability to get "buy in" from stakeholders

3) Success in public speaking depended on...

  • an ability and desire to understand and engage the audience
  • research on the topic
  • organizing the speech to be sure it was clear in the audience's mind
  • practice, practice, practice

4) Success in my personal life depended on...

  • a decision that I would just "be myself" and see what happens
  • reaching out and maintaining friendships
  • honesty
  • a desire to share thoughts and ideas with others
  • staying open to possibility

In trying to understand what it takes to be successful, another thought occurred to me. Maybe we're already successful. Perhaps what we take for granted, is considered an accomplishment of grand proportions by others.

What is success to you? Have you achieved your level of material success? If so, what tips can you share with others? What do we need to do to write the story of success into our lives?