Opinionated advertising is a new idea about the role that advertising should play in the marketing mix and the form it should take. Implicit in this approach is a disdain for well branded entertainment and the language of talkability that pervades many creative debates.
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At any time there are a select bunch of ads that are being talked about in the playground, down the pub or at the water cooler. Commercials like ITV Digital’s ill-fated monkey and Peter Kay’s “no nonsense” ads for John Smith’s. These ads rely on the power of the execution to create fame for the brand. They win creative awards; they are raved about by the advertising industry and liked so much by people that they become embedded into popular culture.
They work by providing a 30-second slug of entertainment that is strongly attached to the brand. The belief is that people love the advertising so much that they transfer these feelings on to that brand, creating a predisposition to purchase. We call this approach well-branded entertainment. At its very best, its popularity means people actively want to talk about the ad. That’s not just free media but consumer endorsement and that’s invaluable.
But therein lies its weakness. What people tend to talk about is the ad rather than the brand itself. Which is not to say they don’t attribute the ad to the brand, but the conversations people have are about the gag, the celeb, the music or the effects, and few are about the product itself. The quest for and obsession with talkability that most agencies and enlightened clients engage in sells both parties short. What good is the fame that comes from people talking about your advertising if it isn’t accompanied by the fortune that comes from people talking about your brand?
So why settle for well-branded entertainment when advertising that ignites conversations about the brand itself is within every advertiser’s grasp?
One way to achieve this is to find a brand opinion. Give people an idea that they want to pass on, that engages them, panders to some, irritates others, but above all provokes.
Opinions can fuel brand talkability precisely because we crave them. They are the lifeblood of our conversations, and brands are now an important source of these opinions. A potent brand opinion should be a strongly held belief about the brand itself, the category at large or, in some cases, the wider world. It should cause debate and provide a new point of view but it also needs to be credible for the brand.
At best, a powerful opinion makes us think differently about the whole category. Saying that the AA was staffed by “very nice men” was undoubtedly true, but calling the organisation “the 4th emergency service” not only gave the AA a powerful point of view about its role in peoples’ lives, but also took emotional ownership of the breakdown category.
More recently both Pot Noodle and Honda have created advertising with an opinion. At the heart of Pot Noodle’s current success is the disarmingly honest and thoroughly unexpected opinion that it is the Slag of all Snacks. Conversations prompted by Pot Noodle’s advertising tend to be about this idea as much as its execution. Honda’s entire campaign is built around a point of view about the Power of Dreams. The most recent ads for the Honda Jazz offer an opinion on road rage, an issue on every driver’s mind, yet found in no other car advertising.
Advertising with an opinion is not about setting out to shock but it is about creating debate. How far you can go depends on the credibility of your brand in holding a particular point of view. In the mid-1990s BT tried to get the entire male population to change the way they communicated with the opinion that “it’s good to talk”. They got away with it because of the stature of the brand and the relevance of their opinion. On the other hand, when Benetton tried to talk to us about their opinions on a series of extremely important issues from racism to Aids they came a cropper since they weren’t believed to have a legitimate voice.
By creating a relevant opinion for your brand you elevate your advertising from entertainment at best and instruction at worst into a powerful conversational catalyst. In doing so it helps overcome the criticsm that advertising has ceased to be instrumental in the success of brands and is now purely ornamental. As such, opinionated advertising aims to restore the potency of advertising as an indispensable business tool for brands looking for a real change in destiny, not just a few more share points.