Despite predictions from advertising experts that deploying Ron Burgundy to help sell Dodge Durangos wouldn't work, we now have compelling evidence (a healthy increase in sales) to the contrary. Upon the launch of the campaign, one of those skeptics, a marketing professor, wrote, "I could not, in good conscience, advise any of my clients to invest their promotion dollars in this type of approach. About the only thing that advertisers can count on to work reliably is communicating the unique benefits of the vehicle, and translating those benefits into time and money savings for the buyer." Ouch.
It looks like the good professor is wrong, and an idiot like Ron Burgundy is, well, "right on." Here are eight lessons to learn from this campaign (with some clips from it for good measure).
1. Stop trying to convince your audience that you're better than the other guy. Instead, be more culturally relevant than your competitors. A brand isn't so much competing for attention within its category; it's competing for attention, period. As much as we like to think that people make rational, well-reasoned decisions, especially with durable goods, they're actually more apt to make decisions non-rationally. Cultural relevance makes your brand current and gives it life. Remember, in most cases, it's more about how they feel about the brand and how it reflects on them, not what it does for them.
2. You don't always have to show your product doing its job. People have seen trucks driving through ranches, pulling logs and climbing rocks for decades. Another truck ad showing a full payload isn't going to stop people from getting out of their chairs to get their next beer.
3. People like subtle humor, and, they like "clever." Ad Age wondered in October whether Ron Burgundy's humor would go over the heads of its audience. Don't worry. While Americans are falling behind in math and science scores, we continue to be really good at watching TV. Let's stop saying, "I get it, but I'm worried that my customers won't."
4. Don't make any one ad too precious. People are busy and have lots more to think about than your product. They have the capacity to take away one singular thought per ad. Figure out what that one thought is and make the ad about it. If you have more thoughts, make more ads. Let those thoughts build upon themselves to create a larger picture.
5. Let talented people do their jobs. If you stop trying to micromanage the creative process, magical things can happen. While you might think that adding "just one little thing" to a creative idea won't change it, this can be like adding a virus that infects an entire organism, weakening it to the point of total destruction. Does that sound extreme? Yes. Will a creative person agree with the statement? Absolutely. When you're hiring great talent, set your ego aside and trust them.
7. It's ok to throw eggs at your product. Consumers (aka, people) understand context; they don't take an ad campaign as seriously as you do. Just because Ron Burgundy says, "It's a terrible car," don't worry that people will think that the real person, Will Ferrell, is trying to tell them that it's not a good car.
8. Approve something that scares you a little. If you're looking for 2% to 3% growth, you can likely ignore this one. But, if you're looking to make significant gains, you must break the mold. Yes, a campaign that has never been tried before will put you out on a limb. But it's also got the potential to drive sales more significantly than one that nobody will notice. Remember that greatness never came from playing it safe.
Well, that's it. Eight simple lessons to make your campaigns for 2014 as powerful as Ron Burgundy's hair spray. Stay classy, CMOs.