If someone mentions the word ‘post’ in front of you these days, chances are that you would automatically assume it must have something to do with posting a message on social media. That red colored post box in the corner of the street won’t even come to your mind, right? Unless of course you have either crossed, or are nearing, the half century mark in terms of your existence in this world! Similarly, the chirping of birds is the last thing that you would be thinking about when someone mentions the word ‘tweet’. And if you were told to fill in the blank for ‘status ________’, small chance you would be writing ‘symbol’, instead of ‘update’. In the midst of all these developments, what intrigues me most is the thought that in kindergarten schools across the world today, when the teacher asks ‘A’ is for ….., little kids must be answering ‘A is for APP’, instead of ‘APPLE’!
The ‘Appification’ of Everything
Welcome to ‘appy’ times – a day and an age where there is an app to eat, pray, love, travel, and almost everything in between. But the bigger question one needs to ask is, why are apps so popular these days? What is that one thing that is common to Uber, Swiggy, Tinder, Tripadvisor, Urbanclap, Justdial, Foursquare etc? That one common element is the fact that apps help you to get things done. It is this purely utilitarian aspect of apps that make them so coveted – apps are ‘useful’ to us and they make our lives easy. And it is time that advertising and marketing learned a thing or two from apps.
Back to Sausage Time
In its earliest days, advertising was all about brands trying to establish their functional superiority over competition by claiming faster, smoother, cleaner, whiter, stronger, etc. But as time evolved and product, or rather functional parity became the norm, brands started to resort to emotional story-telling in order to differentiate themselves. Advertising became predominantly about creating that larger-than-life emotional ‘sizzle’ around brands, the product and its functional role downplayed to being the oh-so-incidental sausage in the larger mix. A cute, innocent boy being followed by a cuter pug (Hutch/Vodafone), one gorgeous actress after another selling the allure and gold dust of aspiration and a beauty soap alike (Lux), that good looking man in great looking clothes who could do everything right and nothing wrong (Raymond) … you get the drift of the emotional sizzle, right? However emotional sizzle is no longer enough in today’s day and age of social commentary, where a 1-star product rating can severely undermine the marketability of even the most emotionally rich brands. Advertising and marketing has come back a full circle and the focus is shifting once again to the sausage – the tangible product performance over the intangible blah blah blah.
The Age of Brand Skepticism
Around the world, as one hallowed institution after another is collapsing, trust is at an absolute premium and marketers today are bearing the worst brunt of this trust deficit. The emerging consumer sentiment seems to be: “If a product has an ad, chances are that you don’t need it”. Or in other words, instead of the ad, the product should do all the talking. No coincidence then that Apple is the most loved brand of today’s generation – a brand that does ads which are mostly fantastic product demos and nothing more! Remember those memorable billboards – a beautiful picture with just one line on them – ‘Shot on i-phone x’. QED. No complex story-telling, no emotional razzmatazz, no laddering even from the product or functional benefit to a larger pay-off or emotional benefit! ‘How are you making my life easier and better?’ just tell me that – or better still, don’t even tell me, just show me!
Survival of the Useful-est
Remember Oscar Wilde’s famous quote “All art is quite useless”? A work of art, according to Wilde, was useless as a flower is useless, because its aim was simply to create a mood and it was not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. In short, all that he was trying to say was, that art is ‘use-less’, or in other words, has no utilitarian value (which is not the same as saying that it has no value). ‘The Art for Art’s Sake’ vs ‘The Art for Life’s Sake’ debate has been a very old one, and there have been supporters of both through the ages. The time has come for Advertising to pick its side in this ongoing debate once again. While advertising was never a pure form of art given that it always drove commerce, now more than ever it needs to firmly tilt the scales towards life’s sake and prove its utilitarian value. Brand after brand, in category after category, are adding new functionality to already existing functionality in this hyper-competitive and hyper-functional world:
Face wash + moisturizer + sunscreen
Shampoo + dandruff treatment + conditioner
Watch + calorie tracker + fitness guide + …
Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, had talked about the theory of Survival of the Fittest. Well it appears that in this rapidly evolving world of marketing, only those brands will survive, which are the ‘Useful-est’!
Source: Economic Times