How To Advertise In A World That Hates Advertising

We now live in the most over-communicated society in the history of the world.  It’s gotten so bad that it feels like people and companies are simply just constantly fighting for people’s attention.  I fight the fight every day in my own house.  Trust me, I’m not immune to this either.  But, I’m not quite the social butterfly that my wife is.  She’s got family, tons of friends and acquaintances, and she’s a teacher dealing with parents and community members in her profession.  She’s got more connections than I’d ever want to keep track of :).  Added on to that, she was voted friendliest person in her high school.  Not to brag about how awesome my wife is, but to make a point…

Because of this, she’s constantly receiving what seems like a never-ending stream of phone calls, emails and texts throughout the days and nights.  There’s simply too much communication going on for her to be able to adequately handle (and she’s not even on Facebook, whaaa!?!).  So she has to make decisions about what she’s going to pay attention to.  By default, some people get the shaft; and sometimes it’s me!

There’s no room for more messages

Although she does a stellar job staying organized, sometimes she altogether forgets to get back to someone and needs people to follow up with her.  Because the volume of communication she receives is above what a human can and realistic should be processing, her mind goes on the defensive.  It consciously and subconsciously screens and prioritizes messages as a defense mechanism.

Not only that, I haven’t even talked about the volume of advertising messages that get thrown at her each day.  Think about it.  There are now ads on the back of bathroom stall doors.  She can’t even do her bizness without having messages thrown at her!

When you add it all up, there’s no room left for more messages in her life.

But she’s not alone.  Pretty much everybody is being affected by it.  Scientists call this sensory overload.

That’s why my DVR system is one of the favorite things I have in life.  Because I live in the same overcommunicated society, I’ve come to see advertising as a waste of my life.  There’s so much communication now that advertising has become unwanted and unliked.  In their book Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trout claim that…

it really doesn’t matter how creative you are, there’s simply no space in people’s lives for more messaging. 

And this book was first published in 1980!

What’s their solution?  It’s the title of their book silly – positioning.

What positioning is all about

Positioning is a concept that’s all about abandoning the mindset that advertising effectiveness hinges on creativity, features or benefits.  It postulates that since the average person has disdain for advertising, it doesn’t matter how creative you are.  What matters is the position that you hold in the minds of your prospects.  If a competitor already holds a position, it’s usually better just to let them have it and find your own position to occupy.  This is because no matter how creatively you can scream “HEY, TRY US CAUSE WE’RE BETTER AND YOU’LL LIKE US MORE,” it just doesn’t work anymore.

A classic example of this is Pepsi and Bing.  At different times, they both ran a similar advertising campaign they called the “Pepsi (Bing It On) Challenge.”  The idea was brilliant.  Give prospects a blind taste test and see what percentage of people like Pepsi more than Coke (or Bing’s search results over Google’s).  Then take the data (since they both won) and present it wide and far proclaiming how more people prefer the taste of Pepsi to Coke and Bing’s search results to Google’s.  When all was said and done, neither became the #1 brand in their industry.

Why?  Because both Coke and Google own a position in the minds of their prospects.  People don’t call any type of soda a “pepsi,” they call it a “coke.”  They don’t Bing it, they Google it.

How to advertise today

So what should you do to compete?  The best answer is that you shouldn’t.  You should find a new position in the minds of prospects that you can be first in.  After all, who remembers the 2nd of anything?  Also, changing people’s minds is REALLY hard.

I think about political cable news shows as a good example.  They bring on 1 liberal and 1 conservative to debate each other about some piece of news and you know exactly what’s going to happen.  Each participant is going to bend the same information to their perspective.  They’ll yell at each other back and forth, we’ll all be entertained and nothing will have changed.  They’ve got positions ingrained in their minds that act as a lens to filter every message they hear through.

To be more effective with our advertising programs, we must jump into our prospects’ minds and learn how they work in the midst of our over-communicated lifestyles.

First, they rank products and brand in their minds on a ladder.  People associate products and brands with an industry or company and place them into positions relative to each other.  The tissue ladder has Kleenex at the top.  The office productivity software has Microsoft at the top.  Other brands fall into line underneath.

To take over their competitors’ position, a brand would have to figure out a way to dislodge the position-holder from their position.  Good luck with that.  Unless the position-holder makes a huge mistake, it’s not going to happen.

How you can work around strong positions

But, you can take other approaches that can work to grow your brand.  You just don’t want your strategy to be taking on a brand that already owns a strong position in people’s minds.

  1. Create a new category to be first in.  If you’re 7Up, you could advertise how your soda is a thirst-quenching, refreshing gift from God himself.  Or you could claim that you’re not a soda at all.  You’re the Uncola.  That worked much better.
  2. Relate your brand to the competitor’s position.  What made the Uncola campaign so successful was not only did it create a new category, it also related the new category to the old one.
  3. Relate your product to a competitive product.  Burger King is never going to take over McDonald’s position.  But, it did well for itself by relating their burgers to McDonald’s by advertising that they’re broiled, not fried.
  4. Stay consistent.  Changing a brilliant position once you gain it or are developing it can be your downfall.

Create a new category

How do you create a new category to be first in?  Here are some general ideas to start with that others have used successfully in the past…

  • Location.  Create the official product of a particular location.
  • Size.  Create something smaller or bigger.  Think the VW bug when big cars were all the rage.
  • High Price.  Create a premium version. Think Mercedes.
  • Low Price.  Create a value version.  Think generic grocery store brands.
  • Gender.  Create a version just for men or just for women.  Think of the perfume Charlie.
  • Age.  Create a version just for a particular age group.  Think Aim toothpaste for kids.
  • Time of Day.  Create a version just for day or night.  Think Nyquil.
  • Distribution.  Be the first product offered at a particular place.  Think L’eggs panty hose in the supermarket.
  • Specialization.  Other companies do X,Y and Z for you.  We only do X.

These are just some examples.

This may be a shameless plug, but our company Granular is also a great example of this.  If you want specialized PPC management in Milwaukee, there’s really only one place to go.  There are other companies across the country that specialize in PPC only.  There are other companies in Milwaukee that offer PPC management services.  But when it comes to positioning, we’re filling a hole in people’s minds that isn’t filled yet by combining these two segments – location and specialization.

So next time you’re thinking about your advertising strategy, don’t think about how you can convince people that you’re the choice to make.  Position yourself in a hole in their minds where you’re the only choice to make.