Irreverence Or Irrelevance?

July 11th, 2009   •   no comments   


An extreme example of sex selling in NYC (courtesy of lickyoats)

The unassailable growth of consumer clutter has led to two things for marketers to consider.

The first is the need to conceive increasingly innovative and creative ways to attract attention. Most of which are so “In Your Face” that your senses have to be incredibly inured to ignore them. Witness how the outdoor advertising environment has blossomed significantly in the past few years, as well as the rise of online ads that not only pop up or pop under, but also animate themselves, generate annoying noises, and just plain irritate the hell out of you.
Just so that you know of their existence. Whether you like it or not is another matter altogether.

The second phenomenon? The increasing propensity for marketers to embrace anything that is naughty, saucy, controversial and sensational. Sexual innuendos and double-takes have become so prevalent in advertising that one wonders if its possible to be a moral marketer in this day and age. Just witness the leading topics in this community oriented blog aggregator to see what I mean.

What does this mean for marketers? Should we simply go with the flow and pander to the lowest common denominator?

Here’s what I’d do.

1) Be willing to push the envelope as much as possible, but be mindful of the cultural contexts in which you operate in. Humour is a funny thing – go one way and you’d end up pleasing one group but raising the ire of another. Certain jokes may be appreciated by a more liberal crowd but frowned upon in conservative societies. This really depends on who you are reaching out to and what their preferred moral positions are.

2) See if there is a way to approach a taboo topic with sensitivity and ingenuity. I like the way MCYS has done it with the Funerals advertisement by auteur Yasmin Ahmad. The ability to balance between generating attention yet being sensitive to age-old cultural traditions is an art that few could master.

3) Invest in forging strong and enduring relationships with your customers in every which way, paying special attention to their needs and desires. Build a community and let them be your mouthpieces and advocates, rather than attempting to out-sensationalise the next marketer in the street. Over the long-term, such an approach helps to endear your brand more strongly to both current and future customers.

4) Stretch the boundaries of your brand promise and corporate values, but don’t overdo them beyond the point of believability. Trying to do a Richard Branson stunt when your CEO is just plain fuddy duddy wouldn’t quite cut it (however, even nerdy billionaire Bill Gates can be cool when he tries). However, don’t be surprised by how far a seemingly “boring” product can be repositioned. Just look at what the Public Utilities Board (PUB) in Singapore has achieved marketing plain old water from the tap!

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