When Image Campaigns Don't Work in a Competitive Environment

Ad Audit: Korean Air vs. Singapore Airlines

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As magazine publishers are being asked to prove that the advertising in their titles actually drives sales, little analysis has been given to whether the creative executions of those ads are working. Ads must not only target consumers, but also persuade them to move closer to a purchase decision.

Image, per se, can often be enough to promote the start of a sale. But brand/product image is not built with pretty pictures or attitude alone; over time it's built on a brand's perceived superior performance. And in today's competitive marketplace, image and price often are the only real separating factors. So if you don't have a perceivable differentiating benefit, you better work really hard on image.
Korean Airlines Ad
Category Potential Score % of Category
Headline 25.00 12.54 50.14
Visual Impact 27.50 19.26 70.05
Copy 25.00 9.68 38.79
Consumer Appeal 22.50 8.33 37.00
Total 100.00
Start Over
© Grayson Associates 2007

Perhaps that's what led Korean Air to go with its campaign, which probably looked wonderful as a presentation on the conference room wall. But then it has to live in the very competitive world of hard-working ads with benefits --and there's not a category we can think of that isn't driven by the need to be better than the competition. And while "imagined or psychological" benefits do have value, they are most powerful when coupled with real benefits that are relevant to the target consumers. One of our oft-used expressions is "Consumers don't buy concepts, they buy products and product benefits -- real or imagined."

Korean Air is a good example of why "concept/corporate/image" campaigns may look great on a wall, but falter in the one-at-a-time page in magazines.

Korean Air

This Korean Air ad, and the other similar executions in this campaign, projects its "we-take-care-of-you" strategy. The first part of the headline initiates the strategy for every ad: "From departure to arrival ..." The second part changes for each execution. In the ad spotlighted here, the theme continues "... there's someone who knows me better than myself." An obvious question is, Who knows me better? Not given. And then from a credibility point of view, is that headline really believable? Some nameless and unseen person knows me better than myself? Really? Another ad talks about "the world is my destination" to tout Korean Air's global network of flights aimed at the business traveler. The best use of a campaign is to massage the given strategy with a variety of consistent executions to solidify the key benefits in the consumer's mind, using key tools -- headline, visual impact and copy -- to provide overall consumer appeal and, thereby, conviction.

Headline's Stopping Power
This campaign positions the headline at the bottom -- not in a power position. And the more news value, emotion, relevance and/or benefit in the headline the better. No wonder this execution only achieved half of the potential points it could have. Here, you have a good example of procrustean thinking. Sell the client on a clean and identifiable campaign look (to separate it from the competition) and then make all the elements fit, even if the overall ad doesn't work well against the competition.

Visual Impact
The campaign's look is dominated by a pure white-on-white graphic except for a signature aqua color (Tiffany blue, you think?), which is accented in a reverse "headline" and one other spot in the ad -- in a cocktail held by an arch example of the metrosexual male: white-suited, slender, unshaven, moderately spiked hair (target market?). Other ads with the same white-on-white layout feature an aqua bird on the hand of the female model sporting skin-tight white jeans, and a barely belly-viewing white strapless top (target market?) The fairly stark simplicity of the layout is the reason for its stopping value and logo identification. Thereafter, short-shrift is given to copy (the art director wins again?) to define the brand's message: "Excellence in Service."

Copy's job is to focus the target market on the brand's positioning and benefits (again). It's important to avoid talking about how great you are (patting-oneself-on-the-back syndrome) but rather how great the brand is for the consumer. To support "We provide only the best quality and services whether it be on-ground or in-air," show me or tell me how. Give me some permission-to-believe rationale for the claims. Just saying it does not make it so. Extremely poor achievement for this section of the audit.

Consumer Appeal
Not surprisingly, consumer appeal had the lowest overall appeal. One of the key factors in this section is "dissonance with existing product or service." Usually this is driven by benefits -- which are virtually not present in this ad. A very poor 49.81, the lowest of the audit's published scores.

Singapore Airlines

In total contrast, everything negative about the Korean Air campaign is positive for the Singapore Airlines ad.
Singapore Airlines Ad
Category Potential Score % of Category
Headline 25.00 23.78 95.10
Visual Impact 27.50 25.73 93.55
Copy 25.00 21.45 85.80
Consumer Appeal 22.50 22.50 100.00
Total 100.00
© Grayson Associates 2007
Here, a clear strategy to tout a new and spacious business class with larger seats is executed powerfully with this headline and in the other ads in the campaign. News value and benefit all in one -- hard to do better than that. Here are great examples of how to massage a singular strategy with different headlines: "Your Comfort. Our Business. The World's Most Spacious Business Class Flat-Bed Seat"; "Not Business as Usual. The New Business Class from Singapore Airlines." The slight variations in layout maintain the campaign's look and its "ownership" of the service image -- the flight attendant's slight "bow" -- presented in a service attitude. Showing the spacious seats in two positions just nails the benefits with its visualization. Very little copy, but enough to give the flight schedule (a key decision factor).

Obviously, it's much easier to create good campaigns and advertising when you have a compelling competitive advantage. On the other hand, it's the agency's job to push the client to find (if not, to create) a competitive advantage -- and then present it creatively, with impact. Image alone just doesn't do it.

Next week: Automotive.

~ ~ ~
Note: The AdAudit analysis is a tool to discern strengths and weaknesses in print advertising, prior to insertion. Its weighted score is based upon 31 keys to effective print advertising within four categories: Headline, Visual Impact, Copy and Consumer Appeal. Scores translate to: 90-100 Powerful; 80-89 Effective; 70-79 Improve; less than 69 Start Over. The total score reflects the combined average of the specific panel of auditors -- advertising and marketing professionals -- assigned to each ad. For full details visit TheAdAudit.com

Suzanne Grayson is a managing partner of marketing consulting firm Grayson Associates. Her partner and husband is Robert Grayson, Ph.D., who is also a contributor to this column. Comments are welcome, as are ads you would like to have audited. Contact [email protected]
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