Have you ever wondered why you have a deeper relationship with some brands and don’t with others? Why do some brands become more emotionally connected to their customers? Why do people line-up for an Apple brand and not for a Microsoft brand? Where does the passion start – with a brand or with a customer?
Brands lead by a visionary, or focused on a cause or belief, start their relationship from a level of passion of doing something that is right for their customers and for the world. Steve Jobs didn’t talk about how they build the iPod mercury-free LED-backlit display or its recyclable aluminum enclosure or it’s Mac: OS X v10.6.8 system requirements. He talked about the “why” of changing the digital world forever. As he said “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” I guess he was crazy because he and Apple changed the music and the smartphone world forever. I think Microsoft talked more about the “how” they were going to dominate the computer world with their Windows operating system.
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group of over 300 companies worldwide, had a simple goal to give people something to believe in and someone to identify with. Branson says “companies must be more than just moneymaking machines. They must become a force for good, they must use their entrepreneurial skills to make a real difference in the world, and they must use their financial resources to make a real difference in the world.” So it’s not surprising that Virgin Atlantic Airways mission statement explains the why “to embrace the human spirit and let it fly.”
Sam Walton a frugal man had a simple dream of providing people with affordable products to make people’s lives better. “If we work together,” Sam said, “we’ll lower the cost of living for everyone…we’ll give the world an opportunity to see what it’s like to save and have a better life.” “Saving people money so they can live better” is the driving force and the why behind Walmart, the retail chain that Sam started. Walmart retail network has over 11,400 outlets in 27 countries with more than 260 million weekly customers and over $482.2 billion in sales in 2014.
“Start something that matters,” is Blake Mycoskie’s motto and the foundation to his shoe and accessories company, Toms. His business concept of buy-one-give-one is well-known and has been copied in many other business ventures. His advice is to “stay true to what you believe.”
Making a difference in people’s lives seems to be the starting point for all successful brands. To elevate the purpose beyond the functional wants and needs of a consumer to a higher-good of fulfilment, identity, affiliation and societal or environmental altruism is the ultimate.
Mark Addicks, former CMO of General Millsexplained how Cheerio’s brand was stuck on the functional benefits surrounding heart health. A noble benefit but it didn’t inspire anyone nor did it connect to the consumer. It wasn’t until they probed deeper into the emotional insights that they found the “why” to the brand. The brand’s why is based on “nurturing.” Remember the first powerful moment of an infant learning to feed themselves with Cheerios. Today, nurturing is the driving force behind the Cheerios brand.
When Unilever Dove Soap brandwas launched in 1964 it talked about its unique selling proposition which was its formulation with 1/4 moisturizing cream. Facing stiff competition from P&G (Oil of Olay and Ivory Moisture Care) in 1991 Dove shifted gears but still within the functional benefits positioning Dove with a very rational campaign called the “litmus” test. In 2004, Dove finally understood the important of the “why” and shifted from the “what” to the purpose of supporting the “real truth about beauty” in women. They went from ¼ moisturizing cream to a discussion of what defines beauty and started a movement about self-esteem. Advertising Age reported that Dove’s sales increased to $4-billion in 2014, compared with $2.5-billion in 2004. The “why” is a beautiful investment.
A brand purpose must be simple and clearly understood by everyone in the company so they can emulate it every day. It must be single minded in its focus and speak with one voice. It doesn’t hurt to have a leader who is passionate about what the brand stands for and believes in its purpose. A powerful leader can inspire and rally behind the brand purpose
It is this passion of “why” the brand does what it does, that gives customers a reason to embrace a brand. In the book Starting with Why author Simon Sinek explains that successful brands communicate the why’s (beliefs, causes, visions) before they communicate what they do and how they do it. Martin Luther Kings, Jr. said “I have a dream” not “I have a plan.” It was all about the why.
To start to understand what your brand stands for here are some why questions that can help guide you:
Can you clearly and simply explain “why” your brand does what it does?
How do your marketing efforts support the “why” of your brand?
Does your brand communicate the “why” to your customers?
Do you maintain a client-focused emotional brand that support the “why”?
Allen Adamson author of BrandDigital, BrandSimple, and The Edge says “A company that looks at its brand and asks not simply what promise does it make, but what purpose does it serve, to its customers and its shareholders, and brings this purpose to life through every customer experience will be the company most likely to beat its competition. When an employee can answer the question “Why am I here?” in a positively motivating way, everyone benefits.”
Power to the people, as the saying goes. Thanks to the internet consumers have a say in everything a brand does, good and bad. Today, we are seeing more and more people crowding together as a force to be reckoned with – a force that can turn into a destructive attack and can cause a brand serious damage. These attackers, or dare I say terrorists, can be competitors, disgruntled employees, unhappy customers, extortionists, activists or others more sinister who want to cause a brand harm or even ultimate assassination.
Richard Torrenzano, co-author of the book Digital Assassination, says “Crime and ideology have integrated. Diehard activists and unscrupulous business rivals are engaging in digital combat marketing.”
Last October on CBS 60 Minutes FBI director James Cormey was recorded saying “there are two kinds of big companies in the United States … those who’ve been hacked by the Chinese and those who don’t know they’ve been hacked by the Chinese.” Then there are those who have been hacked by North Korea. Hacking big brands are a big problem. Robert Herjavec, founder of global IT security firm The Herjavec Group and star on the TV show Shark Tank says “The higher profile your brand, the more value it carries and the bigger a target it is.” No surprise major American brands have been significantly effective.
A very memorable attack was just prior to Christmas in 2013 with over 70 million credit card customers’ files hacked at Target. The Wall Street Journal estimates the Target hack cost over $350 million including replacement cards and IT expenses. But the fall-out went beyond direct costs to the departure of the company’s Chief Information Officer and the Chief Executive Officer. The actual cost of customer’s losing confidence in Target was never part of the equation.
In a study done by RedSeal, a cybersecurity company in USA, found that almost 80% of 350 C-level executives admit that a cyberattack can inflict “serious impacts to business profitability and growth,” and bring about “serious brand damage.” If you asked Sony Pictures senior executives they would whole-heartily agree. This last Christmas season Sony Pictures experienced one of the biggest online data heists to date. Earlier in 2015 Sony Pictures downplayed the massive hack as only a 15 million dollar inconvenience. Their revenues were down by 11.7% for that quarter partly due to not fully releasing their controversial movie The Interview, thanks to the threats from Kim Jong-un.
How about the hacking group Rex Mundi who demanded over $40,000 from the fast-food chain, Domino’s Pizza for ransom of 600,000 Belgian and French customers’ personal data records including their favourite pizza toppings. As the story goes, Domino’s refused to comply and the hackers never released the information. Maybe they paid them off with free pizzas for a year.
Herjavec believes that hacking has entered a more sinister stage where it is less about money and more about a brand assassination. “We’re no longer dealing with individuals who want to steal your money. We’re dealing with foreign national governments that want to hurt America.”
False Claims, Reviews and Rants
A 2014 study by BrightLocal found that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (vs. 79% in 2013).
The popular review site Yelp.com contains over 70 million reviews of restaurants, barbers, mechanics, and other services. Roughly 16% of reviews are removed by Yelp because they are deemed fake both positive and negative. Vince Sollitto, VP of Global Corporate Communications at Yelp says their “job is to find and filter out fake reviews. At the same time we let our audience know that this system isn’t perfect. Some legitimate content might get filtered and some illegitimate content might sneak through.” Over two years, Yelp caught 400 companies trying to game the system – sounds like they weren’t very good gamers.
The New York Times reported on a case of a business hiring workers on Mechanical Turk (an Amazon-owned crowdsourcing marketplace) to post fake 5-star Yelp reviews on their behalf for as little as 25 cents per review. I’m sure 1-star reviews are even cheaper, which would be a deal to take down an adversary.
Bing Liu, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has estimated that about 30% of the reviews online are false. He also says that a substantial percentage of those false reviews are negative. Can one review kill a brand? Chris Anderson, co-founder of Cyber Investigation Services says “a single Ripoff report that ranks high under a brand search can drop a business’ revenue by as much as 75%.”
The scary part is there are so many places you can post malicious, false rants or claims beyond the traditional review sites that are monitored. There are a number of gripe sites people can share their hateful brand story. If you have a gripe, there is a website.
According to research by Ponemon Institute, 43% of companies reported security breaches in 2014 which is up from 33% in 2013. So what can you do? Mailguardexperts in online security says you need a “Brand Guardian” to oversee monitoring and reporting system to scan and monitor your website for hacked pages, potential malware and security risks such as phishing links.
Research firm Gartner warn that one in seven posted reviews are likely false. How do you respond to these reviews? First you have to keep your cool. Fighting fire with fire doesn’t work here. Check out the website policies and contact the website support team with your concerns. If they can’t help, then respond directly to the review in a professional and civil manner and if possible offer a solution.
To further heighten the brand negativity, the assailants, armed with creativity and talent, will associate the attacked brand with something or someone consumers would consider offensive (examples below). The sad thing is these images don’t have an expiry date and will pop-up whenever and forever on the internet.
During a recent highly publicized gruesome murder case, the killer Luka Magnotta was found on the Montreal Gazette’s website holding a bottle of Labatt Blue beer. Labatt Breweries of Canada threaten to take legal action against the paper if they didn’t remove the photo. This ignited Twitter and Facebook followers to engage in the conversation creating more negative media for Labatt. They used the hashtag #newlabattcampaign to post fake negative advertising for the beer. Not a successful outcome for Labatt.
From all corners of the internet, conversations about brands are taking place both positive and negative, whether the brand participates or not. The real trick is understanding when the brand should and shouldn’t engage in the conversation. But, what’s really important is that your brand be visible online when people want to hear your side of the story.
Shaming – the Digital Lynch Mob
On Mike Ewing’s blog, he quotes a study that says 90% of people believe brand recommendations from friends. That is a strong endorsement for word-of-mouth.
Social media has become the future version of public flocking, stoning, lynching and the people’s court – all in one. But, it is also the best word-of-mouth when people are raving about their brand experiences. It’s a two edge sword.
People can lose their jobs in minutes or find themselves on the nightly news after being captured on video doing something regrettable that can never be erased. Most brands are represented by people – fallible people; therefore, brands quickly get implicated when an employee is captured at work or off work doing something unsightly for some. There is no longer a line between church and state. The righteous understand that they have more power pressuring the employer to get the appropriate action they are looking for. The scope, reach and speed which harmful content can move around the internet is truly alarming. Six years ago, Domino’s Pizzasaw this first hand as two employees posted a prank video of unsanitary and disgusting food preparation practices in one of their stores. I am sure you saw it on Facebook. Within a few days (today it would be hours) there was over a million views on YouTube. Here is a news report of the event.
Domino’s President, Patrick Doyle, responded with his own YouTube video to apologize and reassure customers’. He said there was nothing more important and sacred to Domino’s than its customer’s trust. That being said, the damage was done. A study done by HCD Research found that 65% of respondents who would previously visit or order Domino’s Pizza were less likely to do so after viewing the offensive video.
NGO’s also understand the power of social media to not only get their message out, but to activate people and supporters. They have two objectives: to raise money and to stop brands from doing something they deem bad through the power of amplification (i.e. using concerned citizens who are trying to do right). In some cases, they will take a fact about your brand grossly out of context or exaggerate it, making an ordinary shortcoming seem horrifying. In most cases it’s about terrifying the public to take action. Mark Twain said “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story”.
Greenpeace has been very successful in launching social media attacks on brands. Here are three examples:
The first is an attack on the Nestlé’s Kit Kat brand to stop them from using palm oil from Indonesia where many animals were threatened by unsustainable forest clearing for palm oil. Nestlé now has a goal of using only palm oil certified as sustainable.
The next attack was on Shell Oil and the toymaker, Lego. Since the 1960’s, Shell promoted a Shell-branded Lego sets at gas stations. Greenpeace protested Shell’s plans for Arctic oil exploration via the Lego’s partnership. The campaign was successfully in ending the partnership between Lego and Shell. I believe Shell is still perusing its plans in the Arctic but are more dependent on oil prices at this point.
And finally, the attack on British Petroleum after their major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Greenpeace launched a “Rebrand the BP Logo” contest. They asked supporters to “…create a logo for BP which shows that the company is…up to their necks in tar sands and deepwater drilling.” Here was the winning design by Laurent Hunziker.
There is a good chance that strong leading brands who have beloved followers also have the detractors – activist who hate everything the brand stands for. These brands become the focal point of what’s wrong with the world. The terrorist’s goal is to damage the brand’s image which ultimately will affect its market share and profits. Ironically, they treat large brands as though they are the terrorists and in true stately fashion, they’re not into negotiating. In 2004, mi2g estimated there were over 10,500 hate sites against major global brands on the internet. My guess is that number has more than doubled since then with the help of social media. Here are some examples:
Umit Kucuk, an authority on anti-brand sites says “The majority of companies might be choosing to ignore these sites while others are spending money developing websites or filing lawsuits to combat them. Companies need to realise that these sites can direct extreme criticism to companies and bias-driven broadcasting to markets and consumers.” He says it’s important to investigate ways to shift this hate towards “a more productive and positive form of communication that helps to maximise both company and consumer benefit in markets.”
Protect – Monitor – Defend
Have an action plan ready for scenarios like the ones described in this article. If anything you do or offer has the potential to be used against you, be prepared to address it.
Have experts available at a given moment to provide support and advice.
Have a digital and social presence with consistent messages that can be easily found.
Continue to build brand trust online like you do in real-life.
Start listening today on what is being said about your brand on blogs and social media
Understand who is saying what and who are the influencers.
Setup Google Alerts to notify when you brand is mentioned somewhere on the internet.
Google your brand name once a week or more.
Understand your environments (industry, political, geography) to catch trends that put you at risk (i.e. consumer opinion, fads and referendums).
If you find your brand under attack, take appropriate action. I say ‘appropriate’ because sometimes no action is the right action.
Activate your plan quickly.
Be honest and sincere, even when the attack isn’t.
Remember you are protecting your relationship with your customers – respond to them and not the attacker.
Seek expert help when necessary.
“Don’t think that if you are not participating in the social media conversation that your reputation can’t be ruined online by a digital attack,” said Richard Torrenzano. “Others will create false information or blogs about you or your brand that can cause significant damage with a keystroke. And you have to know how to thwart or respond to those attacks.”
Be Afraid and Be Ready
With the help of social media and a couple of million friends, consumers and attackers have a lot of power, more than any brand will have, because people will believe people first. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising.
Generally, most consumers can distinguish between facts, hate and fiction. The problem today is more and more hate and fiction is being packaged into well-crafted emotional stories that become viral sensations before any truth hits the web, which is too late. The collective world has made their verdict and has moved on to the next terrorist attack, while the brand tries to regain trust and fix the damage. For small businesses and individuals, the damage may not be repairable.
A few brutal reviews on Yelp may destroy a small business, but may not have the same effect on a BP or Monsanto (two of the most hated brands based on market research firm Harris Poll). Both companies have received their fair-share of NGO’s attacks, Facebook boycotts and bans, Twitter hashtags like #monsantoevil and #boycottBP, YouTube videos, protests and marchers, and Halloween costumes. But, they are both still in business and doing well. As a matter of fact, Monsanto’s 2014 sales were up 7% over 2013 for a total of $15 billion, while BP Group’s 2014 sales dropped 11% compared to 2014 for a total of just $214 billion.
Consumers have a short memory and if you respond quickly and fix the problem (if one exists), they will forgive you and come back. More importantly, if you brand is strong, your loyal customers will come to your rescue and defend you. I can’t emphasize the importance of being prepared for all possible situations. If you don’t have all the right answers now, at least make sure you have a clear crisis escalation organization chart of who needs to be involved when the attack occurs. Time is the biggest challenge when the verdict is immediate.
Be alert and ready for any possible brand terrorist attack.
First, I must disclose that I am not a Millennial. I like to think I’ve helped shape them but they are neither me nor I them. If you are going to successfully build a brand relationship with the next biggest consumer group, you’d better start orchestrating your brand today to fit their needs, wants and desires.
Collectively, they spend about $300 billion annually on consumer discretionary goods. And in five years, they will make up 50% of the workforce. In 15 years, they take over at 75%. The Center for Generational Kinetics defines Generation Y–a.k.a. Millennials – as those born between 1977 and 1995, so today they’re 20- 38 years old.
Millennials are a technologically connected, diverse and tolerant generation. They have witnessed and experienced countless world-changing events that have shaped their lives, from acts of terrorism, catastrophic weather and environmental disasters, financial crashes, to international political upheavals – all brought to them in a media-saturated environment.
So what does this all mean? I went online to find out what research had been done on the next wave of globally-dominant consumers. I discovered this group has been researched to death. Everyone is trying to figure them out from every possible business and marketing angle.
After muddling through all the information and misinformation, and Wikipedia was no help, I came up with five traits or trends that brands need to be aware of if they want to build a relationship with Millennials. Here’s what I have discovered:
They have lived most (or at least half) of their life with a cell/smartphone around them, staying connected 24/7 with friends and family. Their ability to consume digital content (emails, texts, tweets, video chats, websites, apps, videos and images) while at the same time producing their own digital content is admirable; but what is truly amazing is they do this sitting in meetings, visiting with friends, eating, running, walking and driving a car. They sleep with their cell phone on and ready. Three-quarters of Millennials are signed up to a social network site likeFacebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube orInstagram, compared to only half of Generation Xers and less than a third of Boomers (Pew Research Center). They also account for about four in 10 digital video viewers. The Wall Street Journalreported that this is the first generation to also have tech savvy parents, who were always in contact with them via texting and online chat throughout the day. That’s me.
As they consume services, products, food, beverages and entertainment, they are sharing their experiences, good and bad, via social media as photojournalists, comedians, critics and just plain participants. Boston Consulting Group reports, “The vast majority of millennials report taking action on behalf of brands and sharing brand preferences in their social groups.”
Social and online reviews have supercharged traditional word-of-mouth and some brands live and die from these reviews. Not only do they like to share but they like to feel informed and involved not just marketed to.
A great example is the fatal Kryptonitebike lock that was shown on YouTube being opened with a simple Bic pen. According to hotel booking Getaroom.com and ReviewPro, Millennials rely on user-generated peer reviews to help make their travel bookings. A survey by the market research firm Dimensional Research showed 90% of respondents said that positive online reviews influenced their buying decision. On the other hand, 86% said that negative reviews have a direct impact on shifting their purchase choices. One of Amazon’s cornerstones to its brand identity is its customer’s reviews. They even have a collection of the Funniest Reviews.
Alex Castellarnau at Dropbox, the popular file transfer service says “Millennials are a generation that wants to co-create the product, the brand, with you. Companies that understand this and figure out ways to engage in this co-creation relationship with millennials will have an edge.” Some brands that have figured this out is Uber, Airbnb, VICE, Red Bull Entertainment.
Me to We
Brother’s Craig and Marc Kielburger, both Millennials, made the “Me to We” famous with their international charity and youth movement called Free the Children. Their website describe their goal “to empower a generation to shift the world from me to we – through how we act, how we give, the choices we make on what to buy and what to wear, the media we consume and the experiences with which we choose to engage.”
In a survey done by the Intelligence Group, 44% of Millennials try to practice being green in their daily lives. “Millennials view social activism much more as it relates to their overall persona than the generations before them,” says Joe Kessler. “Our research indicates they are significantly engaged, but are less active in [individual] actions. [Their social activism] is insinuated in every aspect of their lives.”
Millennials have high expectations for brands to make the world a better place, like Tomsshoes and Soapbox Soaps who have one-to-one giving models, or Starbuckswith their C.A.F.E. sustainable coffee production practices, and even Ben & Jerry’s fair trade ingredients and farm sustainability program.
This is the generation that didn’t (or isn’t!) leave home soon. I should know. According to Pew Research (2014), hours spent parenting have increased for both fathers and mothers, tripling for fathers by 180% since 1985 and increasing by 60% for mothers. What this means is parents are spending more time with their kids because they want to and their kids reciprocate that feeling. But there is also an economic reality that they can’t afford to live on their own because of the high cost of living and the lack of affordable jobs. For some, it could be that leaving home means leaving the comforts they can’t afford today – a harsh reality.
While they love to share they also trust the social online environment to show the world (quite literal) who they are – the good, the bad and the drunken. They share intimate details and show off where they are and where they are going. They see themselves as friends and pride themselves when they have thousands of Facebook friends or Twitter followers – or better yet, when they get hundreds of “likes” on one of their posts. They want to surround themselves with brands they believe are friends, like Nike, Apple, Samsung, Sony and Walmart (based of the 2015 study conducted by Moosylvania agency). This is a group that will adopt brands,” says Norty Cohen, founder and CEO of Moosylvania. “If you can create a friendship with these consumers, you really take it to the next level. They will go to great lengths to support you.”
It is no surprising that Nike is a top brand for Millennials. This is a brand that has embraced technology and done a great job utilizing social across all touch points and engagements with its Nike+ ecosystem. The Nike+ Running app allows users to sync and share their fitness goals and achievements with their social communities, but also helps to keep them motivated. Nike+ FuelBand’s integration with the Path social network takes things a step further by allowing Path users to map their progress against their daily activity goals.
Millennials want to be loved and appreciated as an individual customer and if they have a problem they want the brand to fix it. In a study conducted by Edelmanover 70% of Millennials said they would come back to brands they love.
This is a generation that is entering the workforce during the most pronounced downturn since the Great Recession. At the darkest period unemployment rate for youth in USA was 13%. Other regions are still battling unseen rates of over 65% in Greece, 57% in Spain and 44% in Italy and 14.5% in Canada (with Ontario reaching 17%). Generally, they are more educated with over 60% of Millennials attending college compared to 46% of Boomers (1946 – 1964).
Millennials have been labeled “the cheapest generation” for their propensity to avoid large-scale purchases such as cars and houses. While this generation might be a price-conscious shopper, technology has allowed them to research every purchase, and has more options and pricing-models than ever before. Before they book a hotel online they generally check out at least 10 sites before booking, reading reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, gauging price predictions on bing travel and Airwatchdog, then cross-referencing hotels between myriad online travel aggregators like Travelocity and Expedia.
In a survey conducted by Harris Interactive (2011) of Millennials over 77% participated in loyalty reward programs and 44% were willing to promote products or services through social media in exchange for rewards. Ipsos reported in a survey that 92% of Millennials said they use coupons either digital or paper ones. One of the favorite coupon websites for the latest deals is Groupon.
They can also see value in non-traditional business models such as Uber connecting riders to drivers replacing taxicab or Airbnb providing travelers with unique accommodations around the world replacing hotel chains. Other examples of disruptive marketing is the very popular Dollar Shave Club, a monthly subscription service for razors that rocketed to success with its “Our Blades Are F***ing Great” viral ad campaign starring 33-year-old founder Michael Dubin. Netflix has also changed the way movies and TV series are consumed. I spent five months consuming five years of Breaking Bad.
I read an interesting posting on LinkedIn recently that stated: “In 2015 Uber, the world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicles, Facebook the world’s most popular media owner creates no content, Alibaba, the most valuable retailer has no inventory, and Airbnb the world’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate.” Scary times for some brands.
Millennials grew up on entertainment starting from the early days of VCRs watching the full library of Walt Disney movies over and over, and sneaking in the odd National Lampoons reel. Then there were the endless Jim Carrey movies and video games. They had instant access to be amazed and distracted. World-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal estimates that a 21-year-old has spent 10,000 hours gaming — about the same amount of time they spent in school from 5th to 12th grade.
Tanya Giles, the executive vice president of Strategic Insights and Research at Viacom Media Networks says comedy is intrinsically intertwined with Millennials identities. A study of 4,000 Millennials by Edelman research confirms that 80 percent of Millennials like to be entertained by advertising – that is, as long as the brand is current and the offering is appealing or relevant.
Procter & Gamble’sOld Spice has been around for 70 years. I remember buying the stuff for my dad for Christmas. I have always thought of the brand as an old man’s product. But that all changed when they launched one of the most successful rebrands to young men in 2010 with the “Old Spice Guy”. Their video “Mom Song” has had over 3 million views on YouTube.
No generation is a homogeneous group and like any customer we are all different in some way. The purpose for this article is to identify some key macro trends that have shaped the lives of Millennials, but you must not forget to serve the individual tree from the proverbial forest. That is what each Millennial wants is to be treated like: “me” – not a group we call Millennials!
It’s a known fact that sex sells. But does it build lasting brands? If you ask Calvin Klein, he would say yes. Over a 2.5 billion dollar Calvin Klein business was built on provocative and sexual images over the last 40 years isn’t a bad example.(1)
For years, cars, beer, perfume and recently, deodorant and fast food have been sold to males through images of scantily-clad, perfectly sculptured woman. Tapping into the basic instincts of man – sex is a universal interest. Sexy images drive eye balls especially men’s who think about sex every 7 seconds! (2)
Sexual Content Get Noticed
“Advertisers use sex because it can be very effective,” said researcher Tom Reichert who conducted a study at University of Georgia on sexual advertising. (3) “Sex sells because it attracts attention. People are hard wired to notice sexually relevant information so ads with sexual content get noticed.”
“Some young men actually think Axe body spray will drive women crazy,” he said. “But, brand impressions are shaped by images in advertising, too. Arguable, Calvin Klein and Victoria’s Secret are not much different than Hanes, Jockey or Playtex, but perception studies show those brands are perceived as ‘sexy,’ and some customers want that.”
Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitchmarkets its sexual brand image to college-age adults but ends-up attracting many younger teens (including my kids). Not only do they show beautiful youth in their advertising, but they hire the best-looking, young people to model their clothes in the stores. They made sure the brand lives not only in the advertising but in the stores. I wish beer stores respected their brands the same way.
Scientists claim they have discovered exactly why sex sells – and it isn’t just because consumers think that if they buy the car they can get the girl. Researchers found seeing an attractive man or woman in provocative clothing and positions in advertising excites the areas of the brain that make us buy on impulse, bypassing the sections which control rational thought. Their study found that advertising using logical persuasion – simple, convincing facts – are less effective in making us buy than advertising using non-rational influence – feel good, stimulating images.(4) Did we really need research to tell us this?
The fact that using sex to sell in advertising has almost doubled in 30 years isn’t a big surprise. (3) But what was deemed sexy 30 years ago has changed drastically today where pornography is main stream in our culture.
Sex comes with many risks (including rashes and bumps in areas that we don’t want to talk about). Klein doesn’t apologize for pushing the envelope in what is deemed decent and what isn’t. “Sometimes people look at the advertising and resent it or feel threatened by what they see — but in the end, if the sales are good, the images must be OK,” Klein said. The fact is CK’s men’s underwear owns the underwear market ever since Mark Wahlberg wore nothing but.
Both Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch continue to walk the fine line between sexy and soft core porn. Consumer groups have launched boycott campaigns against both companies over the years and have successfully had campaigns removed from public viewing. To the point that the Virginia Beach police seized photos from an Abercrombie store that were deemed indecent.
The fact is beautiful airbrushed, naked people can help sell products and build a sexually compelling brand. Dove soap took a different approach by showcasing their products on naked, everyday, wholesome women, so maybe we’re not as superficial after all. They did get bad press when it was leaked that they digitally enhanced some of the women’s images to make them better looking. OK maybe we are superficial.
Eat It Up or Spit It Out?
It makes sense to use provocative sexy brand images that is closely associated to the product brands such as underwear, perfume and maybe alcohol but selling a hamburger is a stretch.
Hannah Ferguson’s and Paris Hilton’s hypersexual ad to sell Carl’s Jr. Texas BBQ Thickburger is an easy way to accomplish edginess and draw attention, but does it fulfill Carl’s Jr. brand promise and is it sustainable? I don’t think so.
Make sure you use this power wisely and don’t flaunt it unnecessarily or it could do more damage than good to your brand. Remember; over-promising can only lead to disappointment and negative feelings which aren’t brand builder. Using sex to sell a product that is unrelated to sex can be seen as a gimmick that cheapens both the image of the company and the product brand.
Your audience will always have the final say and they’ll tell you at the cash register. So provoke, shock and engage, because as long as your audience has given you permission, they’ll eat it up like a CoolWhip® bikini.
The title image was taken from a Body Shop ad to sell soap on a rope. For real.
(1) 1996 was the only sales figure I could find as the company was private until sold to Phillips Van Heusen Corp. in 2002.
(2) Kinsey Institute’s disputes this claim; they state that 54% of men think about sex every day or several times a day and 43% a few times per month or a few times per week.