Marketers should stop playing entertainment at its own game and trade fiction for fact to make more impact, says Alex Smith, planning director at real world marketing agency Sense.
Most marketing copies popular media, usually consisting of a fictional story or vignette residing behind four metaphorical walls. These might be the four walls of a page, screen, or in the case of experiential even the four invisible walls of a site space. Within this space, we try to put on a show, communicate the brand message, and hope people notice.
Entertainment works in the same way. Movies, TV shows, theatre and sport all take place in their own world behind these same walls. But as marketing tends to play the same game, the TV ad is compared to the TV show that surrounds it, the magazine ad is compared to the adjacent article, and the brand experience is rather like that show you watched last week – only not as good.
By putting itself in competition with entertainment, marketing has been fighting a war it can never win. Each battle demands more creativity, better production values, more budget, as marketing tries to beat entertainment at it’s own game.
So how can marketing break out of this self-defeating spiral?
Simple – play by its own rules.
Searching for relevance
It’s time to break down the walls and present brands through activities integrated into a relevant real-life context, not some theatrical interpretation. Marketers should not be providing entertainment for entertainment’s sake, but rather solutions – real advice for real people.
This means everything we try to say will have a relevant context somewhere in people’s real lives. The answer is to find out what it is, then tap into. By combining message and context we can open up a creative opportunity that’s both obvious and original.
Take the Economist ‘Ignore Obstacles’ example (pictured). In a fictional format, such as a print ad showing, say, a car that had just driven over the middle of a roundabout, it wouldn’t attract much attention. But integrating this unremarkable concept into the right real-world context turns it into a powerful piece of work.
Savings and scale
Placing the creative in the right context also has massive potential to save resources. Real-life scenarios are free, and allow you to achieve scale you’d never have realised with a fictionalised version.
Sense worked with Sky on its Rainforest Rescue Discovery Trails programme, laying permanent interactive walking trails in forests across the UK. Practically speaking, this whole campaign amounted to a handful of printed bits of wood, and the same budget would have made for a pretty tame ‘forest experience’ in a shopping centre. But then why bother faking it when the real thing is right there for the taking? A forest on its own is just a forest. A forest with a sign in front of it is an idea.
The beauty of this approach is its simplicity. The genius comes in matching concept to context rather than constantly striving to be the next creative super hero. The seemingly most mundane idea can shine in the appropriate setting delivering an amazing, believable – and real – experience. The key is finding the real life moment or location where your message is relevant, and then for you to put the two things together.
So it’s time for brands and marketers to leave the entertaining to the entertainers and get back to what marketing should be all about – winning over consumers by delivering advice, solving problems, providing solutions and creating authentic experiences.