Marketing effectiveness is the holy grail we all chase as marketers. It delivers maximum results and return on investment. It keeps clients happy, shareholders satisfied and our bosses at bay. But effectiveness is more than just numbers on the P&L. Truly effective marketing has the capacity to create real change in individual lives and society as a whole.
The Effie awards are perhaps the gold standard in celebrating marketing effectiveness. Having served as an Effies juror for the last 7 years, I have become a passionate believer in brands as a tool for corporate and social impact.
Each year as the Effies approach, I ask myself - could there be a recipe to effectiveness to help brands be more effective and impactful in the world?
As I look back on all the campaigns I have come across and judged over the years, some commonalities emerge. Perhaps one could codify the principles that underlinean effective marketing campaign, so that effectiveness is an established practice, rather than a delightful outcome.
The effectiveness principles
#1 Be a lighthouse: shine the spotlight on uncomfortable truths
Brands can address uncomfortable truths and impact change, as long as the message is delivered with humility and respect.
For example, in India, gender discrimination and treating women as second rate citizens has been a persistent issue. But two brands have created inspiring campaigns that have struck a chord and sparked the right conversations to fuel change.
Star Plus, a mass general entertainment TV channel, has championed gender equality through their brand positioning of ’Nayi Soch’. The brand’s ‘Wear her name’ campaign challenged Indian convention and shone the spotlight on a mother’s contribution to building a child’s future that is equal to the father’s. It’s a powerful message, delivered well.
Another example is Ariel’s ’Share the load’ campaign, challenging conventional stereotypes on who should handle domestic duties. In a world where more women are taking leadership positions, and often surging ahead of their male counterparts at work, why do domestic duties still fall only on their shoulders? The campaign found universal appeal and has been supported by the likes of Sheryl Sandberg.
#2 Don’t get emotional where practicality makes more sense
Marketers are storytellers,and as such the temptation is to dial up the emotionin our brand stories. Sometimes this works beautifully, in other cases it can feel forced. One often sees this in financial services, where brands dial up the impact they have on peoples’ lives. This can create dissonance, especially if the on-ground delivery doesn’t match the promise.
An interesting counter-trend is that of ‘being real’ and practical about your offering, rather than emotional. IDFC Bank, a new kid on the banking block that is dominated by heavyweights,used a campaign that steered away fromyet another emotional narrative.By focusing on the ’transactional’ experience of banking, the brand was able to demonstrate how it delivers better than its legacy counterparts.
#3 Small can be very big
Marketers are often taught to ‘think at scale’ and back ideas that can capture the attention of society at large. As a result, sometimes the small but powerful ideas are lost. In an age of digital amplification, small, insightful campaigns can often be more powerful than grand executions that lack a powerful insight.
One example, which was showered with accolades at the Effies, is Dettol’s campaign to address an issue that claims the lives of thousands of children each year –ineffective washing of hands. On the surface, it seemed like a problem that education could solve quite easily, but then again, have you tried getting a five-year-old to do what you want them to? Dettol recognized the importance of injecting some fun into their message. In a multi-school activity, they used glitter as a simple device to demonstrate the importance of washing hands with soap before meals. The glitter worked as a great metaphor for germs and managed to create real impact by spreading the word on hygiene.
Another example, equally regaled at the Effies, was an exercise conducted in rural India to educate women about the importance of breast examination to detect breast cancer at an early stage. In a country where talking about private parts is still taboo, the activity utilised the inside of a bathroom to have a conversation with women. Using the simple idea of a door sticker, Narayana Health demonstrated how a breast self-exam is both simple and quick, and can be done within the privacy of a bathroom.
#4 Your tonality can often be your most powerful differentiator
In categories where innovation is easily copied and commoditisation is rampant, differentiation is a challenge.In such cases, a brand’s tonalitycan be a powerful differentiator, even when functional benefits are the same and there is no ‘new news’ to speak of.
A case in point is Ambuja Cement, a well-established cement brand in India that faces competition from multiple players, offering similar products. Ambuja’s long-standing claim of being the strongest cement is brought to lifeusinghumorous ways to illustrate the strength of the product, earning them recognition and love from customers.
#5 Real service > Lip service
Every strong brand is driven by a purpose. Purpose drives heart-warming narratives, but there are many brands that pay lip service to a purpose, without actually delivering any impact. The most effective brands are those that are able to look beyond ‘stating their purpose’ and focus more on ‘living their purpose’.
An example of a brand living its purpose is Sugar Free, India’s leading sugar substitute brand. Sugar Free is dedicated to helping health conscious people remove extra calories. In a country that suffers from two extremes of rising obesity and perennial hunger, Sugar Free found a powerful insight; there are those of us who find it hard to remove excess calories and those who can’t afford enough calories. With each purchase of Sugar Free, the ‘unhealthy calories’ each customer removesare donated in the form of a healthy meal. Using this simple idea, Sugar Free donatedthousands of healthy meals to underprivileged children in India.
Sanitary napkins brand Stayfree, lives its purpose of enabling progress amongst all women. While the category is focused on telling women how periods should not be an obstacle, Stayfree went a step ahead and turned periods into an opportunity. Commercial sex workers in India live in difficult conditions and are often forced into the profession against their will. For them, periods are actually a welcome break since they aren’t forced to work during their periods. Stayfree used this unique insight to present periods as an opportunity for sex workers to learn a different skill; something that could ultimately help them move out of the sex trade. Tying up with an NGO that provides vocational training to sex workers, Stayfree turned periods into ‘free periods’ that help them change their lives.
As marketing grows more complex the conventional formulas that governed marketing effectiveness have become obsolete. The new paradigm of effective marketing relies more on insightfulness, creativity, experimentation and the confidence to go against the grain. As a marketer in these interesting times, one must move away from the tried and tested and boldly go forth, where no campaign has gone before.