Advertising Week: Gendered Advertising: Why Do We Do It and Why Does It Matter?

By now, most of you have heard the story of McKenna Pope and her 6-year-old brother, a little boy who only wanted a dinosaur and an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas.

Click through to read the rest of my post on gendered advertising – my first post published on Advertising Week!


Buying “Cool” and how MTV died with TRL

Today in my consumer behavior class, I watched a documentary (Frontline’s Merchants of Cool) that I’d seen before, probably in Comm 101 and possibly again in Understanding Media Industries, I don’t remember. Half paying attention because I could have recited bits of it, I started thinking about what it all means. Hey, at least it was productive daydreaming.

Three things stuck with me:

First, buying cool means killing cool. In other words, once something from a so-called niche hits the big time, the trendsetters move on. Fast. Can we talk about hipsters? Yes, I know, you were hipster before hipster became hip, but what’s that all about? Why does it matter? I liked the All-American Rejects when their self-entitled album debuted in 2002. Why does that mean I shouldn’t have liked the earworm Gives You Hell six years later? Maybe it’s mental, but we all do it. We love to be on the cutting edge – and we hate it when our thing becomes everyone’s thing.

Take house music. Majority of the pseudo cool kids today love it. Those who jumped on the bandwagon first? They’re pissed. Because all of the sudden their thing is parading itself around Lollapalooza and being blasted at so-and-so’s frat party pregame. It’s not theirs anymore, it’s everyone’s.

It’s the same reason we get annoyed when “x” song plays on “y” radio station over, and over, and over again. Sure, We Are Young by Fun. was great the first 15 times we heard it, but by time 467? Not so much.

So what does that mean for brands, for marketers, for advertisers? It means you need to know your consumers inside and out, you need to be able to spot the trends before they reach the mainstream, and you need to spot the next trend while you ride the wave of the first.

There’s a reason consumer understanding is such a vital part of account planning and strategy – and why I find it all so interesting. Without that knowledge, how can advertisers hope to develop a meaningful connection with consumers?

Second, Sprite has done really well. What do you remember about Sprite from your childhood? What do you associate with the Sprite brand name? For me, I’m thinking about hip-hop music and the NBA. I think every brand should strive to create a connection as strongly as Sprite has with urban culture. The Coca-Cola spinoff has activated this relationship by sponsoring the NBA Slam Dunk contest, pairing up with MTV for the “Sprite Step Off” series, hosting parties featuring big name artists, and producing spots that feature artists and athletes at the top of their respective games.

While Sprite was used as an example in Merchants of Cool, I think Mountain Dew has done an equally terrific job at ingratiating itself in the culture of extreme sports. Not only do they sponsor the Dew Tour – but they activate using the tour outside the tour. Just glance at the Mountain Dew website – you’ll hardly be able to separate the soda from its cultural identity.

We ourselves don’t necessarily have to buy into the culture in order to consume the product, but we do hold the association. Sprite and Hip-Hop. Mountain Dew and Extreme Sports. We remember that; and maybe that’s what makes the difference.

Finally, MTV died with TRL. For at least an entire generation and much of my own generation’s childhood, MTV defined cool. It’s where the music video debuted in an age before Youtube, where people stopped being polite and started getting real, and where the non-manorexic Carson Daly had quite clearly the best job in the world.

When TRL ended, MTV should’ve changed its name, having replaced music with so-called “reality” programming almost entirely. Since TRL’s demise in 2008, what has MTV been known for? Snooki? Awful dating shows? Also-rans from previous hits like my favorite, Laguna Beach, now call MTV their permanent home.

The “M” in MTV is what made it what it was, a cultural magnate that was able to determine what would be “cool” for millions of American teenagers. The culture that surrounded the music was equally as important, but music was at the heart. Without it, we’re left with GTL and not much else.

So what now, if not MTV, defines “cool” for the largest and most marketed-to generation yet? 

In this age, with social media, globalism, and segmentation down to the smallest of characteristics, it’s possible that no single entity could be so culturally significant again. My takeaway is this: understanding your consumer is now more important than ever. Generalizations are harder to make, trends are harder to find and faster to fall, and for a generation who thinks its smarter than advertisers? We have to be that much better.

Consumer Behavior: Learning From the Toddler Crowd

Brian Millar, strategy director at Sense Worldwide and co.Design contributor, spent a couple of years as a stay-at-home dad and learned a few things that proved valuable to his career as a creative strategist.

His insights are remarkably dead on. What that says about consumers, I’m not sure; but the 5 lessons he mentions can certainly go a long way in teaching consumer behavior.

1. Emotional benefits sell better than rational ones. 

Rational: “Eat your spinach, it’s good for you.”
Emotional: “Kids, tonight we’re having…pasta presents!” – also known as spinach ravioli.

2. Don’t ask your consumers whether they want something new. 

He cites two really smart guys in talking about how he got his kids to watch Laurel & Hardy in black and white, an impressive feat when they were used to watching the Tellytubbies.

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink (a book I highly recommend): “We’re programmed by evolution not to like unfamiliar stuff (me, especially). So if you ask people whether they’d like something completely different to what they already have, they say no.”

Steve Jobs – in a quote that was ironically talked about in my marketing class just this morning – acknowledges that he knew better. “He didn’t ask us whether we wanted to lose parallel ports, floppy drives, or DVD writers. He just stopped putting them on his machines, and gave us something better.”

Consumers don’t always know they want something until its put in front of them. Did you know you wanted an iPhone before those first commercials came out? It’s more likely that on June 4, 2007, you had no idea such a phone was even possible.

3. Bonuses are better than bribes. 

Sales promotions fall into 2 categories: bribes and bonuses.

Bribes: think vouchers, money-off deals, etc. When the bribes dry up, everybody moves on. Millar uses the example of airline-loyalty schemes: when you pay for people to like you, you shouldn’t be surprised when they demand more.

Bonuses: getting something extra for doing something you’d like to do anyway. Think 2-for-1, discounted upgrades, etc. Bonuses increase loyalty after the promotion ends, where bribes do not.

4. Move beyond functional equivalence. 

For toddlers, everything is a toy. The toy itself, the box it came in, pots and pans, or a pile of rocks – it hardly matters. As a toy maker, the goal is to make something that’s especially fun.

That’s what marketing really boils down to. All cars are basically functional nowadays, and a Rolex tells time as well as the $20 watch from Target. Price has to be justified with better design, luxury, and superior service.

5. Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.

It doesn’t matter how good your ad is, if the product is crap the product is crap. Telling his kids The Louvre would be better than Star Wars may have gotten them through the door, but skepticism quickly reared its head.

Lesson: “Don’t write checks in your communications that you can’t cash with your products and services.”