There is an advert for a hair care product running on British TV at the moment. I’m afraid I can’t remember the product, or even the brand. If you recognise it from the description please let me know. It features an attractive reasonably normal young woman describing how she uses a product to make her hair look better. It sounds unscripted – which no doubt means that considerable care was put into the script – and there are numerous obviously deliberate continuity errors to give the illusion that it has been cobbled together from a number of takes. The lighting is subdued and the set is made up to look like a normal bedroom.
The ad is obviously intended to convey the look and feel of a youtube video made by an enthusiast rather than the expensive studio produced advert that it manifestly actually is.
You can see how the cogs and wheels must have turned in the ad men’s minds when they were coming up with this. Young consumers spend a a lot of time on Youtube and are more influenced by that medium than by mainstream adverts. So why not mimic the communication medium that seems to be working?
Well here’s why not.
It’s basically a dishonest and insincere attempt at manipulation that consumers will see before you can say ‘there’s nothing on telly, where’s my smartphone?’.
The thing about branding is that is an attempt to do, with varying degrees of subtlety what this advert fails to do. The object is rather similar to what Pavlov achieved in his famous experiment with dogs. He routinely sounded a bell shortly before feeding them. Before long they began to associate the bell with a good feed and started salivating in anticipation of the meal they had learnt to expect.
This was actually an honest exercise in branding terms. The bell did deliver the experience that was being promised. But all too often the marketing creates an elaborate promise by association without actually delivering it. That is what is going on here. This advert was an attempt to hijack beauty videos that offer genuine advice and opinions from real people and use it to get people to buy a product that hasn’t actually earned that trust.
Word of mouth is the best advertising because we instinctively know that people rarely lie when they pass on their experiences using a particular product.
But even with the help of Youtube building a brand by winning over people one by one is a tough and time consuming prospect. You can see why big brands much prefer to simply buy space on television. Creating a brand, as opposed to letting a brand evolve, is basically a way of taking a short cut. You are spending money to buy the recognition rather than earning it from delivering something special.
But the more brands are out there the tougher it gets. I think our brains are getting so overloaded with all the messages we are being sent that we are tuning more and more of this sort of stuff out. Making an advert that looks like a Youtube video is one way of coming up with something that doesn’t look like everything else – though the fact that I don’t even remember the name of the product might indicate that it doesn’t work all that well.
I don’t think it would have worked so well if Pavlov had a whole load of bells going off for all kinds of treats for his dogs. There must be a limit to how many stimuli any one brain can handle. Ultimately, it might well turn out that the only way to really build a brand in a crowded marketplace isn’t to ring a bell but to improve the dinner.