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The Risks and Rewards of Bold Advertising

October 7, 2019

In today's sensory overload environment, for us as advertisers, getting a potential customers’ attention is harder than ever. Quality ad content and strong copy cannot sell anything without people reading or viewing it. The market research firm Yankelovich estimates that a person today sees an average of 5,000 advertisements daily while the same person would average 2,000 per day 30 years ago. This major change in landscape forces a change in how we approach our advertising campaigns.

Stop the scrolling

What advertisers have to focus on now more than ever is how to get the user to stop and read the ad. Billboard ads next to highways have kept their value because people (mostly) have to look out the window to drive and will generally see the ad. But while even they see many ads a day, there is less of an overload to the driver than there is on a phone. 

You scroll through your account and an image of a lump of dog feces on a white canvas background crosses your Facebook feed. This is a high-quality image, not your everyday shot of your cousin’s neighbor’s dogs marking his territory. So, you stop scrolling to see what it is. 

The caption on top of the ad reads Stop Getting Shit Market Research and the copy underneath explains that most market research delivers bad data because their sources are not quality and you can't rely on it to make business decisions.

Understand your goals

So the ad was able to get you to stop scrolling and read. But to measure its results we must know what the goals of the ad campaign was.

If the purpose of this campaign was purely to get the brands name more attention, then it has succeeded. But (almost) no campaign has just that finite goal. 

Do we want the viewer to attach a certain emotion to the brand name? Do we want the viewer to feel comfortable with using that brand’s product in the future?

While what shocked the previous generation does not shock the current generation, there is still importance on how we want to represent the brand. A large percentage of a person’s decision is emotional, and the disgusting sight of the feces will not play positively into this decision when the viewer in the scenario above needs a market research firm.

While you want your ad to stop that precious thumb from scrolling, it is integral to properly take into account the messaging the brand wants to present and who the target demographic is. 

An older demographic looking for a financial advisor may not want any humor in the ad. While a younger demographic looking for the same advisor may want some humor as it will signal to them that the advisor understands his lifestyle and is up to date with today's technologies. 

The same concepts hold true with ad copy but with some additional reservations. 

Expletives will be more accepted in certain demographics than others. Political mentions are generally avoided, but if used properly, can be a bold strategy to gain attention to your product and brand.

Additionally, with long copy, being bold or provocative can have additional effects outside of just causing negative emotions. 

Will starting a debate at the viewers kitchen table have any positive effect on our product? If the ad copy takes strong positions in anything, are we risking losing the population that feels differently? And lastly, will the copy bring the reader closer to converting or further away from the holy grail?

Cases for provocation

Todays targeting allows for flexibility in the use of provocative advertising.

The current advertising landscape allows for extremely targeted marketing. On digital platforms, we can target specific demographics, locations and even interests. This can allows marketers to serve specific as to different audiences. Therefore an ad that in the past may not have been shown because of its potential to alienate an audience can now be shown while limiting that risk. 

A financial institution that does not want its older demographic to view it as a fun and hip institution can show that demographic ads that portray it as prestigious and , while at the same time showing a younger demographic ads with a more of a relatable and technologically advanced feel.

Emotional appropriateness

A case where a grotesque ad will be appropriate is where that is the emotion we are trying to attach. An advertisement looking to spread awareness to the potentially deadly ramifications of leaving a child in a hot car would do well with showing a child in pain.

Focus on your core

With most products there is a core audience that is being targeted. If the boldness of the advertisement will alienate people but will attract your core audience, then the reward may outweigh the risks. Understanding your product and long term goals is necessary to make this decision as a pitfall can be stunting the future growth potential from the customers that have been put off by the ad. 

Nikes gamble 

In a recent, highly talked about campaign, Nike partnered with Colin Kaepernack to headline their holiday advertising season. One creative used was a headshot of Mr. Kaepernick with the ad copy saying, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

This caused strong reactions among one of Nike's core audience, sports fans. Mr. Kaepernick has voiced opinions that have had mixed and fierce responses. As he has become a polarizing figure, this campaign had a strong risk of alienating a large segment of Nikes base.

It has been a year since the campaign and we can analyze the results of the campaign. 

Edison Trends published its analyses of the campaign. They report that the campaign was a success. 2018 vs 2017 sales growth for the time period around the ad campaign was 14% higher in 2018. 

Cities that saw the biggest increase in Nike sales were Seattle at 20%, San Jose at 14%, Indianapolis at 10%, San Francisco at 10%, and New York at 9%. Dallas-Fort Worth showed the largest drop in sales, at -21%.

Now lets tie in what we have been discussing.

Nike has an enormous marketing and research budget. They definitely have short term and long term goals and strategies. They definitely understand who their target audience is. 

When the campaign was started, there was a lot of pushback that it will fail and hurt the brand. But Nike understood its audience. 

Either they understood that although they may lose some customers who were upset about the ads, the number of new customers or additional returning customers that they will gain will be a net gain. Or the research showed that the discussion surrounding the ad will bring the brand top of mind and peoples affinity to the brand will not be changed because of it. 

The results per cities reported by Edison highlights Nike’s understanding of its core audience. Other reports detail that Hispanic and African Americans have a “greater representation in Nike’s customer base than they do within the actual population of the United States itself.” This ad catered to that audience and is possibly looking at that audience as having strong growth potential.

If Nike’s research had shown that this campaign will not reflect well in its core audiences or that other large audiences would stop purchasing from the company, or did not properly understand its goals, they would not have run this campaign.

Use it wisely

Newton's Third Law fits perfectly as a guiding principle. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. However bold or provocative the advertisement, we risk etching our brand into the prospect’s mind for the wrong reasons. But properly implemented, bold advertising can be a great tool in our marketing toolbox. 

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