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Oh, the Humanity: The Latest Ad Trend to Replace Focus

For a Creative Business, the Ad Industry Sure Loves Its Fads

By Published on . 5

For a creative business, it's strange how often the advertising community keeps falling for the latest fad.

A few years ago, thanks to Kevin Roberts, "love" was the hot advertising idea. Companies needed to turn their brands into "lovemarks."

"The more brand is loved, the longer it will live," was the thinking.

And many companies tried to do exactly that -- literally. Some examples:

ConAgra: "Food you love."

Johnson & Johnson: "For all you love."

Diet Pepsi: "Love every sip."

Hampton Inn: "We love having you here."

Sandals: "Love is all you need."

Zurich Insurance: "For those who truly love."

"Love. It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru."

Turning it around
Today, we seem to going in the opposite direction.

Instead of getting consumers to love our brands, many companies are trying to figure out how to love their customers.

Instead of "love," you might call this new approach "humanity," or "The Human Brand," the title of a new book by Chris Malone and Susan Fiske.

This is not a trivial switch. Instead of focusing on the brand, the authors recommend focusing on the company. If you want to have a successful business, you better have both warmth and competence. Of the two, warmth is more important.

In other words, love your customers and they will love you back.

But how does a company express its love in its marketing communications? That's not an easy task. Many companies are falling into the "purple prose" trap. Here are some samples from recent advertisements:

A two-page four-color Apple ad.

This is it.
This is what matters.
The experience of a product.

How it makes you feels.
When you start by imagining
What that might be like,
You step back.
You think.
Who will this help?
Will it make life better?
Does this deserve to exist?

After another 16 lines of similar prose, the ad ends with slogan "Designed by Apple in California."

Toyota's "Let's Go Places" campaign
Let's go places.
Not just the ones you can find on a map, but the ones you can find in your heart.
Let's go beyond everything we know and embrace everything we don't.
And once we've reached our destination, let's keep going.

Because inspiration doesn't favor those who sit still.
It dances with the daring. And rewards the courageous with ideas.
Ideas that excite, challenge, even inspire.
Ideas that take you places you've never imagined.
Ideas big enough and powerful enough to make a heart skip a beat.
And in some cases, two.

The ad ends with the slogan "Let's go places."

A full-page four-color Honeywell ad.

No one listens anymore.
Somewhere there's trash filled up to the rim. Because you son doesn't listen to you.
Shoes torn to shreds. Because your dog doesn't listen to you.
Dirty dishes fill the sink. Because no one listens to you.
Wouldn't it be nice if someone heard you?
Introducing the first thermostat built to listen. Your voice, your control.
Today, smarter living is all about speaking up, but stay tuned. We have a lot more to say.

The ad ends with the slogan "The wi-fi smart thermostat with voice control."

If she were alive today, Elizabeth Barrett Browning might have had a big career in the advertising business. When it comes to expressing their love for consumers, many companies try to echo her famous lines.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight.

Follow the leader
Many companies are taking a similar tack

"Volvo wants to be the most human company," according to Doug Speak, chief marketing officer. "The Germans are good at being precise, but they are cold and austere. Volvo can make you warm and safe."

A recent full-page British Airways advertisement uses just 18 words to demonstrate its humanity.

To pioneer. To engineer.
To innovate. To image.
To connect. To care.
To Fly. To Serve.
Today. Tomorrow.

The switch from products and their features to the company and its humanity is best demonstrated by the new campaign for Kohl's, a department store chain noted for sales and discounts. Instead of showing products or stores, the new campaign focuses on people enjoying life, such as a boy's first dive into a pool.

"Find your yes," is the slogan. Kohl's chief customer officer Michelle Gass says: "We celebrate choosing 'yes' and we want to empower our customers to embrace 'yes' in their daily lives."

Unilever is doing something similar in its social media program. Instead of pushing individual products and brands, Unilever is touting the company as a whole. Its "Project Sunlight" campaign includes a new website and a film starring singer Fergie and actor Shahrukh Khan. Said Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed: "We're doing this for the goodness of the future of Unilever, which is dependent on mankind."

Love or humanity?
Which is the better strategy: Trying to motivate consumers to love our brands or trying to convince consumers our companies are human with all the emotional traits the word implies?

In other words, should we focus on the consumer's relationship to the brand, or the company's relationship to the consumer?

How about neither?

The essence of marketing is "focus." Without a focus, a company is just scattering its marketing efforts in the wind. Sure, it's nice to have consumers love our brands and sure, it's nice to have companies from time to time exhibit traces of humanity. But neither love or humanity is the relationship that really matters in marketing.

The relationship that really matters is the one between your brand and the other brands in your category.

BlackBerry didn't lose out because consumers didn't love its phones or because consumers didn't think Research in Motion exhibited enough human traits. BlackBerry lost out because the iPhone pre-empted the "touchscreen" smartphone category.

Pepsi-Cola's problem has nothing to do with consumers. Pepsi-Cola's problem is Coca-Cola.

Hunt's problem is Heinz. Avis' problem is Hertz.

Forget love or humanity. Think "authenticity"
The first brand in the category to get into the mind is perceived by consumers as "the authentic brand."

Kleenex in tissue. Tide in detergent. Black & Decker in power tools. Campbell's in condensed canned soup. Domino's in sugar. Gatorade in sports drinks. Lipton in tea. Listerine in mouthwash. And so it goes.

After Red Bull became a big success in the American market, there were more than a thousand brands of energy drinks introduced.

So which brand became a strong No.2 brand to Red Bull? The brand that focused on "love?" Or the brand that focused on "humanity?"

How about the brand that focused on Red Bull and decided to do something about it. By introducing an energy drink in a different size can.

Monster, the first energy drink in 16-oz. cans.

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