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Touch. Pause. Engage

August 12, 2014

I recently spoke at a PR-Net conference about the intersection between advertising and PR. Here are a few outtakes from the experience:

“We’ve moved from telling, to storytelling” – Gordon Ray, ECD of M&C Saatchi Abel Cape Town.

As customers become more attuned to blocking out our all-important messages about which washing powder to use, our industry has had to evolve. It’s advanced from one of pure interruption, towards one of engagement that interrupts. And perhaps most fundamental, is the shift from hard-sell to soft-sell.

As tellers, we’re boring. Nobody likes to be “told”. They like to hear, to know, to converse and contribute, but not to be instructed. As storytellers our jobs are far more interesting, as we weave insightful observations, human truths and mythology – towards starting a conversation.

Benetton vs Dove, an example.

Benetton were the kings of interruption in the 90s. The images were clean, simple, beautifully shot – and intentionally, controversial. It was standout print and out of home advertising for its time. But in terms of what modern social media “virality” can achieve, unfortunately for them, it was possibly 10 years too soon. Think of how those ads would work today. And indeed we have to think because we hardly see Benetton.

By comparison, Dove has continued to build their story.

The product intrinsic of this humble bar of soap was and still is, that it’s more moisturising than other soaps. Simple. However, they started on the path of natural, REAL beauty. They outed the fake beauty perceptions and proudly feature every day women as models in their campaigns. It’s real, human and truthful.

Brian Searle-Tripp would’ve referred to it as, “nobility through humility”.

The brand developed online content showing how much effort, both make-up and technological, goes into creating these gloriously fake images that women and men idolize. And so began one of advertisings greatest parodies where consumers poked fun at the brand, in a lighthearted and fun way, by creating their own “ads”.

Budweiser’s “Wazzup” campaign and Volvo’s “Great Split” had similar traction with millions made though publicly generated content.

But Dove continues to evolve their story. Their last award-winning campaign featured an FBI type sketch artist who drew women as they described themselves, without looking at them. He then draws the same woman the way someone else describes her.

The profound observation is that women see themselves as far less pretty than others do. A sad insight on the state of self-esteem – we’ve become so programmed by fake images masquerading as real beauty.

This is the stuff of great story telling while doing good – and Dove know, understand, and leverage this.

Differentiate and let go.

Brands today need to provide a very clear and differentiated proposition – and then provide the customer with a blank canvas and paint to do their own storytelling.

In what I’ve described above, there’s no divide between advertising and PR. The one is the other. They’re inter-linked. To create effective campaigns today, this is the way forward.

Touch the consumer and all relevant stakeholders in a unique way. Unique to them, not to you. Give them the story in a way that is relevant to who they are and what they need, be they bloggers, journalists or everyday influencers.

Let the media and customers then own the story. Watch what they do with it. That will show you how and where it’s relevant to pick up the conversation.

Once you’ve see how your audience takes the ball and runs it with, engage with them. On their terms, not yours.

The Street Store, an example.

If you look at our client The Haven Night Shelter’s global success with The Street Store, the problem we set out to solve was a lack of dignity. How could we clothe the homeless in a dignified way, allowing the haves to make a conscious decision to donate to the have-nots – while the have-nots have a genuine shopping experience and choose clothing they want and like from hangers, versus rummaging in the trash.

We TOUCHED the media and bloggers with this big idea. The world’s first rent-free, premises-free, free, “pop-up store for the homeless” and left it there. They loved the thought and ran with it.

Then we stopped. We put the word out there and PAUSED. The world got to hear about The Street Store via social media and then television, radio, press quickly got onboard. It received over R27 million in free media within two months.

Then it was time to ENGAGE. Not just by communication with our audience, but on a much larger scale – by going open-source. We had no intention of retaining control of the idea – what is the point of helping people, if you only help a select few? By going open-source, we gave people around the globe their canvas to own, shape and host Street Stores in their communities.

Touch. Pause. Engage. Globally.

Cannes 2014 was jam-packed with brilliant examples. Newcastle Beer’s social media approach built a massive campaign off supposedly not being able to afford to make an expensive Super Bowl commercial. They managed to out-superbowl the biggest ads with the largest budgets. PR? Ad? PR?

Then there was the brilliant organ donor campaign where a billionaire was going to bury his Bentley. The outrage on social media for it’s vulgarity, largesse, lack of moral compass escalated dramatically – ending with a reveal that it was simply a stunt to get people to realize one very important thing: every day we bury things far more valuable than Bentleys – our organs, which could save the lives of so many. Profound. Brilliant.

What now?

PR? Content? Advertising? It’s all one and the same today. But you need deep skill in the delivery of the Big Idea that always has to underlie whatever we do.


One Comment leave one →
  1. September 16, 2014 9:02 am

    Hi Mike

    Great read. Another example of this storytelling direction advertising is moving towards springs to mind. That is the Budweiser advert that was screened during the Superbowl (Bud Light Superbowl Commercial 2014). Although more than 40 million households saw the ad during the initial screening, millions more went out and looked for it on Youtube, Facebook, etc. Its this move away from interrupting what the consumer is watching to becoming what the consumer wants to watch and wants to see. This “virality”, this engagement with the consumer has become imperative.

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