"Brand Theatre": Awareness Does Not Equal Brand Equity

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In the new dream homes being built across the nation, the home theater has displaced the home exercise room of the '80s. Consumers want their TVs big, bright and sharp, full of Hollywood-level action and 5.1 surround sound. And they watch what they want, when they want it, with commercial interruptions optional, thank you very much. All fueled by digital cable, satellite, PVRs/DVRs and DVD players.

Big, bright and loud: To be sure, consumers are taking control. And believe it or not, that's a good thing for advertising and marketing communications. But for marketers accustomed to building brands using primarily television, this control shift demands they look at it differently, while still affirming the age-old need of every man and woman on the planet: to touch and be touched, to know and to feel more. Marketing professionals have indulged themselves in a number of assumptions over the years. One is that consumers will watch ads even if these ads don't entertain or reward viewers for their attention. Or, that 30 seconds is enough to move someone from awareness to actually purchasing a product. In a study of the automotive industry, McKinsey found that 90 percent of marketing dollars were split between awareness (traditional advertising) and huge incentives at purchase to induce sale. According to McKinsey, what's overlooked is consideration. Consideration, McKinsey asserts, is where the consumer's relationship is truly cemented with a brand. Awareness does not equal brand equity, and it's time we stop treating it as such. The myriad of media options wielded by consumers has only uncovered a truth that has been there all along. A brand becomes a brand only when consumers internalize brand attributes within the context of their personal experience. While this can be seeded with awareness, it takes genuine consideration to materialize it in a meaningful way-and move toward an actual transaction.

The way I see it, the instinctive extension of traditional awareness advertising is what I call Brand Theatre-the natural next step in the purchase process after awareness, into consideration and on to purchase. Given the dynamics of today's media array, what constitutes Brand Theatre? Again, consumers point the way. In essence, Brand Theatre combines the emotional impact of Hollywood filmmaking; the brand discipline of advertising; and personal choice and relevance.

The emotional impact of Hollywood: With decades of film and TV under our belts, it's only reasonable that consumers expect the engaging, sight-sound-motion experience of video. But this distinction pushes beyond the limits of the 30-second TV spot time slot. And, the internet certainly lacks the impact to create a resounding emotional experience. Today, companies spend years and billions of marketing dollars developing products, ultimately to be launched with 30-second bites. Brand Theatre has the capacity to tell the full story of a brand, engaging consumers in deeper, more experiential ways.

The brand discipline of advertising: As obvious as this may seem, it's the component missing from the frenzy of product placement schemes rallied by Madison Avenue and Hollywood. As bold as BMW Films may be, do they tell you anything new about the car or the brand? Subsequent attempts by competitors like Mercedes, Jaguar and Nissan have proven only incremental success at best-and for good reason. Brand in a cameo role is much less meaningful than brand woven within and throughout a story.

Personal choice and relevance: Like any theater, audiences enter Brand Theatre under their own volition and leave at any time. Brand Theatre engages the audience by encouraging them to explore and discover what interests them most, and in the sequence they wish to see it. For an automobile, that may mean reveling in the coachwork, assessing towing capacity or taking a simulated run on the test track. Brand Theatre lets customers plunge the depths to experience what really matters to them, or merely wade the shallows. While some content will undoubtedly be gatekeeper viewing, only a fraction of Brand Theatre needs to be viewed to be effective-answering the often ignored question, "What exactly, Mr./Ms. Customer, are you looking for?"

While we'll undoubtedly remain significant consumers of traditional media, no other existing mode has the combined attributes to be that single point of confluence where all rivers intersect like Brand Theatre. And to be clear: I'm not predicting that conventional advertising will disappear, nor should it. In fact, advertising will become more important, as it points consumers to a richer, more meaningful dialogue. Brand Theatre will continue the story seeded in advertising.

Joseph Ungari, Nike's director of research and development of global footwear: "Brand Theatre redefines how a brand can speak to consumers today. It's about engaging the viewer where it counts, i.e., connecting emotionally through entertainment, while simultaneously offering meaningful navigation through content, intelligently and simply."

I got into this business because of the ability to connect, the joy of delivering a message, and a sense of delight in the world around me. Brand Theatre has the ability to capture an audience like the best of Hollywood, create an emotional bond like the best in branding, and afford the depth and detail of the finest web site or brochure. Like most things, those bold enough to play will inherit the prize.

Paul Matthaeus is the founder, CEO and CCO of Digital Kitchen, www.d-kitchen.com. The above is adapted from They Say They Want a Revolution: What Marketers Need to Know as Consumers Take Control, an anthology he edited in 2003, published by iUniverse.

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