The debacle over the Rob Lowe DirecTV ads and the accuracy of their claims is a reminder of just how much pressure marketers are under to get cut-through. Thing is – where’s the cut off point? How do you decide whether the claims you’re making are justified and how do you know you have pushed the boat out too far? Putting aside the legal considerations (not my space), here are four simple rules to filter what you should and shouldn’t say:
1. Prove-able – Can you substantiate the claim? This should be obvious, but it’s remarkable how many brands claim to be the market leader or the most advanced or the key influencer when in fact they are nothing of the sort. Their claims are hope or fantasy – and the proof that they are exaggerating comes in the plethora of small print that accompanies the statements or in the use of qualifying language. It’s disingenuous, for example, to say that over 90% of people think something when your sample size is tiny or to imply that drinking or doing something is going to achieve significant changes to weight or health when the get-out-of-jail disclaimer “Results may vary” is being used in such a way as to really mean ‘You haven’t got a hope in hell of achieving anything like this”.
2. Interesting – If you’re going to tell consumers something about your brand, tell them something they will be interested in. I’m always surprised at how many brands disappear down a rabbit-hole of self-indulgence or self-justification when it comes to thinking why people will find their stuff fascinating. Rule of thumb – your brand is almost never as exciting to buyers as it is to you. If you’re struggling to make your brand seem interesting, here’s a suggestion. It’s probably not. And the only people who can change that are you. Getting the ad agency to find a way to repaint that particular elephant in the room may prove their artistic and creative skills but can only do damage to the trustworthiness of the brand as a whole.
3. Symmetrical – A great paper by Suzanne Shu and Kurt Carlson argues that three has a symmetry that marketers would do well to follow. Three sequential claims make sense, for example, while three viewings of an ad is the sweet spot between awareness and boredom. Jamming your marketing with claims in the hope that some will stick simply confuses everyone. Playing the same message endlessly has people reaching for the remote.
4. Real – In the bid to substantiate difference, brands love to wheel out awards as credentials. I’ve lost count of the number of award-winning cars I’ve seen for example. It almost feels like everyone has won something. The thing is, stating what you’ve won is meaningless, literally, if it doesn’t mean anything to the people you are marketing to. When everyone is “X of the Year”, no-one is. Unless you have a credential that displays acknowledged distinction, the epaulets you are pinning all over your campaign are little more than wallpaper. They are as reassuring as everyone else’s reassurances.
All of this points to an obvious shortfall: the continued absence of compelling value in offerings across so many markets. I really do wish that more brands would spend more time working through what they really have to offer and why consumers would be interested instead of spending up large and faking it in the media. Everyone talks about differentiation and integrity and reputation as if they are givens, but sadly too many still devolve to cheap shots, desperate discounting or mischief when that search becomes too hard or they find that what they have to work with simply doesn’t cut it.
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