From Paul Harrington, SVP, Creative Director, Palio
You sit down to dine at a fine restaurant: it’s supposed to be the best in town, impeccable service, and the food is reputed to be out-friggin’ standing. It’s going to cost you a bundle, of course, but worth every penny, right? So, would you hand your menu to a stranger at the next table and let him order for you?
Of course not. While the anonymous diner next to you at Chez Fancypantz might have some things in common with you – after all, you both breathe oxygen, you’re in the same restaurant on the same night, and might both be able to afford a meal like this – you really are your own person, with your own tastes and objectives. Why would you let a perfect stranger order your dinner for you? Instead, maybe a better idea would be to lean over and confidentially ask, “Say friend, how’s the steak here?”
You solicited an opinion to help you make a more informed decision. That’s the American Way: free thought, individual choices. So why, for Pete’s Sake, do brand managers let a roomful of strangers choose a marketing campaign for them in research instead of choosing themselves?
Research/testing/interviews are just what their name implies: they are fact-gathering exercises. Fuel for making informed decisions. Yet all too often, advertising agencies sit back in horror and watch their client brand managers abdicate a marketing decision to a roomful of strangers. Talk about a case of indigestion.
Millions of dollars go into the preparation of concepts for the purpose of testing. And this litmus test of ideas is terrific, a crucible that helps separate the good from the bad, the better from the best. Opinions count, and understanding what your customers want is critical. Yet to let the strangers on the other side of the glass choose your marketing campaign is a recipe for disaster.
It takes guts.
However, a room full of gastrointestinal surgeons is not a room full of marketing experts. They don’t know your business plan, your competitive challenges, the looming FDA hurdles, and the rest. They know intestines. God Bless ‘em, they know intestines inside and out.
So let them tell you what they know about their specialty, their practice, their patients, and even what they think about the intestine medicine concept your ad agency created that uses the Gordian Knot analogy. That’s valuable information.
But their input is not a “get out of jail free” card. It doesn’t shift the responsibility for making the hard marketing decisions from our shoulders. We, the marketers, have to account for their tastes and opinions, but in the end, we have to have the intestinal fortitude to make a decision and pick a concept that will change behavior. (Sensing a digestive theme here yet?)
In the ‘80s, there was a great quote: “If your advertising doesn’t give you butterflies, don’t run it.” A quarter of a century later, we seem to have forgotten that advertising is supposed to be inherently risky – the old, “nothing ventured, nothing gained” mentality has gone the way of the dodo. Advertising must be daring and unorthodox, because we are asking the audience to change the way they presently think. Why would they do that if the ad you show them only reaffirms what they already know.
Ergo, if 4 out of 5 gastrointestinal surgeons liked the Gordian Knot concept, that doesn’t make it a good ad to run. Their appreciation may well mean that this concept made them the most comfortable and felt the most familiar. It didn’t rock their world too much. It was the safe choice. Sure, it’s good. It tested near the top. It makes everyone feel swell, and everyone up the corporate food chain will stamp it “a-ok.” Mission accomplished.
Run. Don’t walk – RUN from this concept. It doesn’t possess the power to change behavior. It doesn’t challenge conventional thinking, and it doesn’t challenge the audience to consider another POV.
You want your advertising to make people uncomfortable. They will then purchase your product to alleviate that discomfort. If everything is safe, happy, and bouncy, why do they need what you’re selling?! Disturb them. Rock their world. Shake their faith. Make them question their fervently held opinions. Then, in a true behavior modification model, reward them for doing what you wanted by giving them a savory treat: your product.
Listen and learn from your stomach.
This is a risk, of course. It takes guts, and might cause you some sleepless nights and a trip or two to kneel before the porcelain throne. It’s damn scary. But it’s scary good too, like a great carnival ride. Buckle up buttercup, cuz it’s gonna be a wild ride.
However, you will ultimately own the day. You, the bold one who dared to follow your inner voice and break a new trail, will be validated. You looked, You listened. You internalized and studied. And in the end, you trusted your experience, heard the counsel of your peers, and ultimately followed your gut instinct. Boo-yah.
An advertising campaign that “listens” to research instead of “obeying” it?
Mmmmmm: tasty. Order up, and dig in.
- Paul Harrington, Iron Chef
Palio is a full-spectrum global pharmaceutical and consumer advertising, marketing, and communications agency that excels in brand creation and specializes in brand strategy, product launches, global marketing, and digital and integrated media.