ADVERTISING LESSONS FROM JOHN LENNON & MARK TWAIN THIS RAMADAN

The holy month of Ramadan is with us so be ready to read multiple articles from many experts discussing its impact on advertising, media consumption, click rates and viewership. In this article, however, we are not going to talk about any of the above, we will talk about Brand Perceptions Versus Reality in Ramadan. What do people want to hear, what’s effective and what is just a waste?

 

The more I see, the less I know for sure”.

John Lennon

Year after year, more brands rely on Ramadan to solve their “stock” problem, aggressive campaigns and tactical offers swamp the scene, from online, offline, anytime, everywhere. And questions like ‘what’s effective and what’s not?’, became the prime concern for brands and marketing experts. 

At the same time, consumers grow tired of the extensive number of messages that they must face throughout the holy month. And those brands who are not considering purchasing media space or spending budget over Ramadan are more focused on entertaining content, comedy style commercials which is not always effective.  While comedy can work for some brands, it definitely doesn’t work for others, and that’s where brands end up with the same question again: what’s working and what’s not?

Stop running price tag tactical campaigns. 

It’s accepted that our well-equipped, tech-savvy and “always-on” consumer is very aware that every brand will have a Ramadan offer, a price reduction or a benefit on top of some kind, and if he or she is interested in a product they already have thought about it, and been waiting for Ramadan to purchase it! I’m not saying that a tactical campaign is useless or it doesn’t get any results, in fact, a smart tactical campaign can do great awareness for the brand.  

Although it’s not as easy as it sounds, and as most of the marketers know, it’s difficult to create a hard-selling campaign and deliver an emotional message at the same time, especially in the holy month when the scene is flooded with offers and prices. Therefore, setting marketing priorities is crucial.

As one of our clients puts it “A good tactical campaign creates brand awareness, and a good awareness campaign sells product”.

If a brand wants to run a campaign tactical or not,  the consumer's point of view on the matter should be a major consideration.  How many campaigns is every person seeing per minute in Ramadan play the emotions game and create relevant stories that truly resonate with them?  Marketing budgets and campaigns need to push ideas and content, rather than simply buying advertising space.

A brand’s production value is as important as its content.  The idea is to create an awe-inspiring content that people will talk about, look for and truly believe in;  the power of a well-told story should never be under-estimated, even if the brand is not a household name.   Author Mark Twain puts it best

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising”.

There are tons of successful pieces of work that Middle Eastern and international brands have created for Ramadan. To put this in a formula is not straight-forward, but if we boil it down to three core points that have made a campaign work, tactical or awareness, humorous or heartfelt it would be:

 

The uniqueness

Establishing a unique style of communication, tone of voice, message and look and feel is important, but more importantly is the story your brand wants to tell, in short, Standing out doesn’t always involve shouting to be heard; if the room is busy and everyone is screaming, sometimes being calm is the right thing to do. 

The relevance

Your brand needs to have a thorough understanding of the demographics of your target market in the region, what their interests are, and how they communicate. Ramadan maybe one month with set value themes, but it means different things to different people, Understanding your consumer is critical, it gives you a clear understanding of the tone and reaches of your campaign.

Consistency

Consumers will expect a high standard every time, they will wait for it, they usually expect to receive the same level of quality as they did the first time, so it’s vital that your Ramadan campaigns have a high standard of quality every year.

 

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of pleasure, reflection, and gathering for Middle Easterns; for some, the principle of “my offer is better than yours” might work during Ramadan, but you don’t need to limit your brand communication to the month of Ramadan only if “my offer is better than yours” is your brand’s message only. Following the three simple rules of uniqueness, relevance, and consistency, while utilizing national holidays and holy days can help your brand’s success. No campaign works without its principles – the same counts for the month of Ramadan: no Ramadan campaign works without the brand’s principles. No matter if and how your brand ticks the boxes, be loyal to your own brand values and have a pleasant Ramadan!

 

VIRTUAL IS REAL

Virtual Reality is not dead, it's here to stay and is very quickly moving beyond a “cool technology” that an entire campaign rests on, to become a valuable component in integrated communications and maybe a little bit beyond that.

Here's an important question, how can we harness the full commercial potential of VR, so it’s not simply a gimmick, but an effective tool for engagement with consumers, resulting in stellar sales success?

As technology advances, the way it is applied is crucial in ensuring its relevance and continuity. There are lots of examples of tech that simply died, after being very well received following the initial hype – think Microsoft Kinect, Google Tango, even 3DTV!

While Virtual Reality is certainly not dying away, how we use it to effect and drive content will be the key to ensuring its evolution.

“Talking about VR is like dancing about architecture”, Chris Milk

this is probably the best way of expressing how complicated the subject is, but in a simpler form, VR, like any channel, is a window to another world and what you show and how you show it is what makes the difference.

The technology was patented in 1962 and as it advanced, so did the way in which it was used. There are various examples of how large brands have invested billions in VR content and technology before coming to disappointing conclusions, and being embarrassed by the results, hence they started blaming VR for “not working”.

However, we must not confuse “not working” with “not understanding.” For many, creating a VR experience was simply confined to shooting some 360-degree content, but this approach showed a real naivety and lack of appreciation of the increasingly sophisticated tech-savvy audience.

For today’s marketers, enter the VR territory unprepared and you’ll find out very quickly that the rules of 2D digital content production do not apply.

Put simply, whatever the device – mobile, tablet, laptop or VR headset – it’s the quality of content that matters the most when it comes to audience engagement that’s going to effectively translate into brand adoption or subsequent purchase.

Some straightforward questions need to be answered before embarking on the VR journey, the most obvious one being, “why am I using VR – general awareness, product placement, an invitation?”

Also, “how is the audience’s experience going to unfold – through being entertained via gaming or simple engagement?”

Great examples of how VR has captured the imaginations of audiences and brilliantly conveyed the essence of a brand and its products include, Perillo Tours who launched Perillo Travel VR.

HUMANIZING CAMPAIGNS

Marketeers should be aiming for “Return on Emotions” rather than simply “Return on Investment” according to Moe Jawhar, Executive Creative Director of Dubai based, Serviceplan Group Middle East.

We live in a world where the C suite want proof of campaign effectiveness with numbers, clicks, sales, impressions, test drives, footfall, you name it.  If you work in marketing or advertising, before getting anything signed off, you probably need to show a feasibility study, ROI and so on. While this is necessary, it should not be at the detriment of focusing on the bigger picture; in some cases, you need to let ROI take a back seat and prioritize your focus on the ROE (return on emotions).

We know that changing opinions is hard, almost impossible in some cases, because our task is not a marketing dilemma, it’s a human dilemma.  But, there’s a lot we can learn if we simply look at behaviours rather than numbers. In the words of US investor and philanthropist, Charlie Munger -  "If economics isn't behavioral, I don't know what the hell is.”

We think that people will just believe what we tell them, because WE as their marketing advisors think it’s right. It’s an attitude that we have, obsession with control, because that’s how things were done in the past – in advertising at least. People were pinned in front of their TVs and whatever came out of this device - they just believed it. Things are a little bit different now, things have changed, we have changed.

We can’t influence people’s opinion just because we said so. It’s not because our brand is not genuine, it’s because every brand is saying the exact same thing. As renowned marketing strategist, Luke Sullivan says, “In a business where we all try to avoid clichés, a lot of people buy into this cliché-as-lifestyle. I can assure you it is illusion.”

Here’s some advice: next time you set up a brief with a basic target group information don’t start working straight away, assuming that this is enough to tell you who your customer is. Not all girls wear pink and not all rich people wear suits, and simply showing a man wearing a Kandura does not make your ad or your campaign “targeted”.

We need to try and understand who we’re talking to, as humans, not only numbers, figures and personas.

It makes sense to follow these three steps as part of the process:

1.     Know your host.
 
Think of yourself as a visitor in the region and you want to impress your host - you need to know him first.  The GCC countries share a common history and culture, yet there are also many differences in terms of social outlook and approach to business. Treating all Arabs alike smacks of arrogance, and coming across arrogant is just about the worst thing a brand can do in this part of the world.

2.     Value “emotional value” more than “numerical value”.
Invest in your brand – not financially – but where it sits in people’s minds and hearts.
There’s a measure on how fast a car can go and how many people it can carry, but no numerical measurement on how enjoyable the ride is or how annoying it is to find a parking spot. I think as advertisers we take some of the blame. We spent years pushing tactical messages and following clichés, listening to what the client wants and not what people want. If there’s anything you learn is that neither marketing mangers nor strategist or creative directors make brands, people do.

3.     Find an adjective.
It’s not simple, but you need your brand to stand for one thing, that people can relate to, on a human level. That one word that would be synonymous with your brand. If you ask a friend – not a focus group – to talk to you about cars he will strip it down for you to one word: “I’m going to buy me a Jeep - they’re tough. Porsche - they’re fast. BMW - they perform”. But finding an adjective is hard because like a Dubai parking lot most of the spots are taken, and you either have to take someone else’s spot or find your own somehow.

There’s a good deal more debate to be had concerning this topic, but as a starting point we would be wise to consider Plato’s words - “A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.”, let’s start our talk with humans before we turn them to numbers.

 

YOU WON'T NEED A TURTLENECK TO BE CREATIVE

We often ask our self the question, where do good ideas come from? and we seem to be sure that a great idea is born in a single incident, Eureka! .. like Newton’s apple.

Moreover, we think creative ideas come from the selected few, guys with turtleneck sweaters and rounded glasses, or it has to be written somewhere in their title, they also have to work in a special place, preferably with a lot of colors and bean bags .. and the occasional pool table.

The first truth is, ideas take time to be form, it’s usually the collection of everything we face in our lives, the problems, the challenges, the stuff we read online, a story our mom told us at a certain point, and although you may not know it, your brain files all these information for later use.

Ideas are created in our daily lives, in the cultures we live in, so if you are a creative person, an accountant, a photographer or a cook, you can find inspiration everywhere, and if you remember that ideas come from creative collaboration and the impact of and the role of users and consumers in creating your ideas are guaranteed to elevate to an upper level.

The second truth is, ideas are more likely to come from the combination of different thoughts that clash together, you see why workshops are important, for an idea to be born it needs a collision, a friction if you may, that challenges the single thought in a purpose of improving it or creating something completely new out of it.

Best examples of innovations around the world we created or only find its true purpose by costumes, end-users, people who created beautiful things that would not have been created by big corporations because they couldn’t see the need, the opportunity: they didn’t have the incentive to innovate.

This is a huge challenge to the way we think creativity comes about. The traditional view still follows in much the way with think about creativity – in silos.

Ideas are problem-solving, seizing opportunities, creating a change but ultimately selling a product. And if an idea doesn’t deliver on any of those goals, then it’s a waste.

Sadly, you see a lot of “waste” around us, beautiful execution and products that cost a lot of money and the most expensive media touch points, but no results, no sales, no test drives, no interest.

We need to have a mindset that allows everyone to contribute, under one roof or many, from any department, client or agency, small business or big… trust me it makes a difference. 

FOR THE LOVE OF WORK

More than 16 years ago I decided to change my career from finance to advertising, I really had no idea what I was getting my self into, you could say my choice to change was naïve, but i knew one thing, i'm not a finance guy.

The problem is that we spend most of our lives working toward something we’re not even sure why. Your family, friends, people you trust will tell you: “ be a doctor, be a doctor, be a doctor” and bam! You’re in med school, but trust me only trust yourself (ironic I know) and stay away from the "working hard" excuse, we are somehow convinced in that working hard will take us where we want to go.

You’de think you know what you’re going to do, because you have a solution. you have a strategy. It's the one Mommy and Daddy told you about. “Mommy and Daddy told me that if I worked hard, I'd have a good career.”

And it’s true, if you work hard, if you work really really hard, you will succeed and the work will offer you opportunity to work really really really hard.

Work hard and people will notice, work hard and maybe you’ll get rewarded financially. But, are you so sure that that's going to give you a great career, when all the evidence is to the contrary? Are you sure that it will bring you happiness, if you don’t love what you do, if you don’t wake up every morning looking forward to start your day. How far you think you’ll make it in your career?

FIND YOUR PASSION, I'm not sure why we sometimes decide not to do it. Maybe we’re too lazy to do it. And it’s It's too hard. We’re probably afraid if we look for our passion and don't find it, we’ll feel like idiots, so all what we do is make excuses about why we’re not going to look for it.

It’s not about what you want in life. it’s about what you need, and what you need is passion. It is beyond interests, Find your self a list of interests, and then one of them might grab you, or one of them might engage you more than anything else, and then you may have found your greatest love, in comparison to all the other things that interest you, and that's what passion is.

MEASURING THE IMMEASURABLE

“ Great idea but It won’t sell if it’s not measurable; we need to look at the ROI and make sure the risk is low for us to go for it.”

There’s nothing wrong with this sentence, except that it’s utterly wrong when it comes to coming up with new ideas.

Trying to measure ‘probable perception’ using number is highly unlikely, unless you’re a fortune teller, but sadly that’s what marketers want nowadays, they have people they need to report to and they need to justify spending a certain amount of money on a project that may seem completely oblivious to those who don’t know how to judge it.

I know that this does not apply to all marketers, there are “thankfully” still those who understand the importance of psychological impact on advertising and that know that spreadsheets can’t foresee something as complex mysterious as an idea that it meant to change perception.

Look at it this way, and this is the truth, most who work in creative know, the idea usually comes before the rational, it’s a gut feeling, it’s sometimes a risk, it’s not measurable, it exists because you know deep down inside that it is the right thing to do, and trying to put numbers behind it or promises, is most of the time impossible.

There’s a measure on how fast a car goes or how many passengers it carries, there’s no numerical measurement on how enjoyable the journey is, or how annoying it is to find a parking spot.

We tend to focus disproportionally on things that are numerically expressible, in physics you can measure density and pressure the stuff that matter in the physics experiments, but In the real world, in the world of economics and psychology though, you can’t measure the stuff that matter, these days it’s demanded of our ideas and theories to be formulated in such terms that they only refer to measurable magnitude.

And that’s where limitations come from, I hope we can start looking at things in a different perspective, the kind of perspective you don’t need ECXEL and pie charts to see.

IN BAITING A MOUSE-TRAP WITH CHEESE, ALWAYS LEAVE ROOM FOR THE MOUSE

I think you’ll find the saying useful whether you work in marketing or you’re an account person or a creative person, whenever we work on a new campaign or idea for launching a new product, we usually try to find the one thing that makes our product desirable, the USP, the thing that gives our readers, viewers, users Goosebumps, the thing that make them run to our showroom or store, make them click on our banners, buy our book, share or content, the thing that make competition look weak... We look for the bait.

Most of who work in advertising hate to admit that what we do is more or less setting traps – and not in the dark medieval evil sense – but to catch a mouse you need a trap, to make the trap work you need a bait. That’s simply how marketing works. It’s built on curiosity.

Sometimes you know what your product have, and the USP is obvious, it makes your job easier, you don’t have to scratch your head so much to make it work, and that’s good, though because it’s so obvious and easy to catch the first thing you do, you put it directly in your customers face, which in due course makes it un-attractive, too flashy, too obvious, too mainstream, you automatically eliminate all sense of curiosity that the customer may have.

That’s when you have to remember this saying:

"In baiting a mouse-trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse" 

Make room for those who are interested to ask questions, to think about it a bit, let them discover the benefit, they will feel rewarded and would want to show it to others, they would want to show the world how smart they were when they made a discovery on their own.

I’m not talking here about a teaser campaigns here don't get me wrong, that’s too obvious. I’m talking about not putting all your cards on the table before the game even starts.

We all know how horrible it is to know the ending of a movie before watching it, in many ways that’s how customers feel when you reveal everything for them, you will worry about competition and you’ll ask the question “What if some one beats us to it?”

If you have a good story to tell, a strong product, with enough suspense you don’t need to worry about that, by the time they figure it out, you would be long gone.

So choose wisely what you want to share, and when you want to share it. It makes a big difference.

THE POWER OF HUMOR

The problem with people is that they are so focused on the bottom line that they end up just focusing on efficiency. I love efficiency, don’t get me wrong, it does justify what I do for living, though just because something is efficient it doesn’t mean that it’s effective. Just because something explains the details, does mean it actually gets results.

If you’re thinking “Why would i listen to this guy?"

Because I’ve actually been there. In 2008 I was working for an ad agency in Dubai, I was so excited that I had to do my first presentation to a client without any support, it would be my chance to prove myself! So I created a presentation that was a “Killer”…  a killer because as I realized during my presentation, that it bored my audience to death.

But then I found out what my presentation was lacking: after the long, boring presentation the client approached me and said: “You know, you’re really good with PowerPoint.” So I said, trying to be funny: “I try to excel at it.” He smiled and asked: “Was that a Microsoft Office joke?” I replied: “Word!”

I found out later that he thought I was funny and liked me so much, that he actually convinced his team to give the campaign a shot. I never knew that people think humour in advertising is not efficient, I was actually told that using humour distracts the customer from focusing on the message and/or the product, and in the past I would’ve believed it!

Here’s what I learned: If you have a good product and you try to tell people with facts and numbers how good it is, nine out of 10 times you will lose. Humour is a great weapon that everyone can use to get a message across, comedians know that, and you can see that a comedian can tell you the most absurd and offensive thing and you accept it with a laugh. That’s the power of humour.

 

Today, people want their ideas to be adopted by people more than ever. The Internet has given people the hope that they can make their voices heard from all over the world. That could be anyone from advertisers to trolls. Something that psychologists have gradually come to understand is that there’s one way to make your message penetrate listeners’ defences: be funny.

But apparently, here in the Middle East, we are not good at being funny. A study done by Knowledge Point shows that in the Middle East only 6% of ads are considered funny and memorable, while in Europe and North America it’s up to 14%. This doesn’t mean that we are not funny, (at least I hope so) but I think it’s because:

  1. We are not being genuinely funny, we try hard to copy others rather than creating our own content.
  2. Our geographical and cultural background makes it difficult.

A joke can be hilarious to a person but the opposite or even offensive to another, depending on where he comes from. I know that there’s no way a Lebanese joke can be as funny to a Saudi for example, and vice versa.

A couple of years back I was jury member in one of the international advertising awards held here in the region, we had to look at work from all around the world. One of the challenges we faced was that we, the jury members, were from multiple nationalities, and whatever half of us found great work based on humour, the rest didn’t get it.

What –in my opinion– we actually need to do, is encourage humour in the industry. It will make creative people enjoy their work more, it will definitely boost the creativity and last but not least it will ensure that the message will get across. But for this to work it should be done on a local not regional level, where jokes become generic messages that are not funny.

 


WHEN IN DOUBT ADD A PET

We don’t need to draw upon representative surveys to confirm that pets have become serious business for marketers – thus more and more brand managers take notice.

Even if you don’t own a cat or dog – you are surrounded by pets every day: on TV, on Social Media, in magazines… By creating brand campaigns not only for pet-related products but also for automotive, apparel as well as food and beverages brands, pets are everywhere. Remember Ikea’s cat viral? Or Subaru’s ‘Dog Tested’ TV commercials? They made our four-legged friends the hero of their communication, thus made a stronger connection with their potential customers. It’s a genius move – who wouldn’t love a furry friend?

But this is really the crux of the matter: Besides the fact that some people tend to like dogs more than cats or vice versa, there are countries where displaying a dog in advertising is completely out of question and would not have the desired effect as described.

Even though pet dogs are generally accepted or – depending on the specific country – rather tolerated in many countries in the Middle East, especially in cosmopolitan cities like Dubai, displaying them in advertising is considered a big Faux Pas. Dogs are considered ritually unclean in the religion of Islam. So even if you see families with dogs on the street – never even think of showing a dog in a campaign. You would be considered ignorant and offensive. If you were a client would you hire an agency that doesn’t seem to understand your culture and is too ignorant to make a proper research before working on a campaign? Probably – not.

That is why it’s so important for us to work in teams of advertising professionals who come from the respective cultural background or have at least lived long enough in the region to know what’s a ‘Go’ and what’s a ‘No-Go’! It’s also much more fun and keeps our job interesting, right?