Adnalysis: SA ad strategies too weak and average
by Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) In South Africa, I’m convinced that the strategies on which creative ideas are expressed are too weak or average or both, in general. Either that, or the creative executions fail to embrace the strategic platforms that are meant to differentiate brands. Whichever way you look at it, it all goes back to the backbone of the communication: strategy.
Effective and distinct communication doesn’t require the need to see the thinking behind it. Keep in mind that consumers are only exposed to ads on TV, radio, newspapers, digital and any other marketing activities; they aren’t privy to the backend of insights and strategy.
Strategies that aren’t average
Let’s look at a couple of brands with strong strategies that enable differentiation and distinction (levels of which will, of course, vary)
What do the other players say about their brands or products in this category? Insecticides aren’t saturated, yet the brands in this category all speak about how fast their products kill insects or how long they last in the atmosphere to continue to kill. All product-focused.
Doom takes a different route and aims to be distinct by talking rational and emotional benefits; its key message is that Doom kills insects so that you get a good night’s sleep, and are therefore refreshed for the next day. That’s totally different from “kills faster” or “lasts longer”, which is good because ‘killing insects faster’, no matter how fast, is an expected product attribute; therefore, why invest so much money, effort and time in rehashing a point of parity?
Jameson’s ‘character’ brand ad is one of my favourite, not because of the ad itself but for the strategy behind it.
How do the players in this category communicate their brands? They seem to be defined or positioned around one platform: success. If you look at the majority of whisky brands, they are talking about success, albeit different variations and iterations of it. Jameson differentiates itself by taking success and making it a non-factor by expressing it as artificial. The individual is presented as the factor that’s authentic: ‘When all the fake life, women, money and awards are taken away, what’s left is character, which is inside’.
Jameson has since released a new brand ad in complete contradiction to what I’ve written above. It’s average and totally blends in — replace the logo with a Ballentine’s logo and it’s a perfect fit.
One notable brand worth mentioning that has differentiated itself from the category norm is Grand-Pa. While every other category brand shows how a headache tablet works, Grand-Pa has positioned itself in the emotional space and used the community-hero platform to illustrate the importance of not letting a headache interfere with normal life.
We need more strategies like these that help push brands outside of what is expected, especially within their respective categories.
Strategies that are weak and average
It would seem that most brands are obsessed with being safe and expected (although I hope that that’s not a real objective that they’re trying to achieve). But, when looking at communication in certain categories, the messaging may as well have come from the same strategists, creative teams and ad agencies.
As a strategist, it’s particularly frustrating to see communication all look, sound and feel the same:
- Omo, MAQ, Surf and Ariel — are you able to distinguish between any of the brands? They make clothes brighter and they all clean better than their nearest competitor. Even the executions are similar: they all demonstrate how well their products work. This is absurd.
- The formula for throat lozenges/flu products? You get a sore throat or flu symptoms, you take a lozenge or cough syrup and you get back to your normal self.
I’d love to see the positioning maps just to see exactly which space or gap these brands are trying to occupy. Based on we see, it’s as if these brands are neither trying to occupy any gap nor have identified an opportunity to disrupt their respective categories.
Why brands fail to differentiate and distinguish themselves
The purpose of any brand building effort is, or should be, to position a client’s brands in a favourable manner that sets it apart from the rest, thereby giving customers or people compelling enough reasons to choose them over everyone else. There are many reasons that certain brands in certain categories continue to do the same thing, being obvious, expected and vanilla (vanilla is very nice, though, especially vanilla ice cream), but it’s still no excuse for competing brands to all be premised on the same thinking. Here’s why some categories look as if they’re run by a single agency:
- Clients are too rigid to the stretch their imaginations
- Strategists and creative people obsessed with keeping clients happy
- Agencies believing they have no power and therefore cave in to give client “what client wants”
- It’s what has always worked
- Wrong or not strong-enough insights
- Lack of target market knowledge — no in-depth probing
- No guts to challenge the status quo
- No real intention to challenge the category norms
- No real effort to position brands uniquely
- No purpose behind the brand
Most importantly, strategists are confined and stifled by category conventions and therefore let these conventions dictate the way forward. For example, it seems that most strategists are tempted to portray the power of the (new) washing powder or the strength of the headache tablet or solution in the headache/pain relief category, because it’s what makes the brand ‘different’. Yet, if you’re going to be product- or feature-focused in messaging, you don’t really have a USP; these days, attributes are easy to copy and replicate.
Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) truly believes that advertising can really change the world. Every single day he tries to prove this. He shares his thoughts on the industry and sometimes has unconventional views. Bogosi is a committee member of AMASA, an Advisory Council member at Vega, and also does speaker management at TEDxJohannesburg. He is currently a strategic planner at McCann WorldGroup Johannesburg. He contributes the new monthly column, “Adnalysis”, which analyses adland from a strategist’s viewpoint, to MarkLives.com.