What works best – softly, softly or pushy, pushy?

2907292736_40951a05a9 (1)I’m puzzled.  On the one hand we’re being told that content marketing is the way to win customers and influence people.  Yet on the other we see big brands throwing millions into commercials that take interruption marketing to irritating new extremes.   Who is right?

The caring-sharing approach

A few Sunday afternoons ago I was reading “Valuable Content Marketing” by Sonja Jefferson and Sharon Tanton (of the Valuable Content consultancy).  It’s hot off the press and talks a lot of sense.

They remind us that the internet has tilted the axis of the marketing world away from dying sun of traditional media and towards planet digital.

An idea whose time has come

By way of explanation they point out that when people and businesses get into buying mode their behaviour is increasingly influenced by the following factors.

  • The internet – this is where most people tend to do their research.
  • The fact that trust is at an all-time low – so when buyers encounter the hard sell they are very sceptical.  Many shy away and are drawn to companies that share genuinely useful information that is helpful in the decision making process.
  • The rise of social media – given the lack of trust, buyers use social media to get recommendations from their friends, other buyers and independent sources.

When you consider these three trends it’s easy to see why providing consumers with truly valuable content proves such an effective marketing tool.  Sonja and Sharon quote a tweet from rapper Kanye West: “Don’t try to sell me on anything.  Give me ALL the information and I’ll make my own decision.”

So, there are sound reasons for taking content marketing seriously.  But the list goes on.

More reasons to believe

Shortly after Sonja and Sharon completed their manuscript another seismic shift occurred in the online world.  Google started to penalise sites that try to manipulate search results through SEO techniques and has begun to favour those sites with fresh content that is enthusiastically shared.

Then there’s the fact (covered at length in the book) that the emergence of digital media makes it easier for businesses and individuals to create and disseminate their own content.  Instead of begging or buying space in traditional media, companies and individuals can freely self-publish whatever information, stories and articles they like – it enables everyone to create and distribute content with ease.

So, this book has further persuaded me that the convergence of all these forces is creating a perfect storm for content marketing.

Yep, I say to myself, marketing has changed.  It’s about generously sharing genuinely useful and entertaining material with people who are willing to receive it.  It’s about getting likes, followers and friends then influencing them – but slowly, gently, patiently.  It’s about wooing, rather than screwing.  SELL has become a four letter word….you get the picture.

Invasion of the brain snatchers

By now it is Sunday evening.   I have a warm glow as I look forward to helping my clients on Monday morning embrace this brave new world of caring and sharing.  Pouring myself a beer I settle down in front of the TV for a few hours of undemanding entertainment.

Everything is going swimmingly – until the commercial break.  I get three minutes of brutal and sustained “interruption marketing” – attention-seeking advertisers crashing through my living room with desperate and clumsy attempts to force their way into my consciousness.

Beam me up to a better job

I did my best to screen out most of the commercials, but one was so crass that that I made a mental note to file it for future use (and here goes).  It was for Reed, the recruitment company, and involved a Star Trek spoof on the theme of Love Mondays.  I note that they’ve disable the comments button/feed on YouTube, presumably because they got so much abuse (?).

I haven’t been in the job market for a few years (20?) but I had the impression that Reed are pretty professional and credible players in the recruitment industry.  Their website suggests this is still the case.  It’s very straight and tells us that this is “The UK’s #1 jobsite”.  It lists almost 8,000 jobs for accountants, almost 10,000 jobs in IT and Telecoms, plus 8,282 jobs paying £50k+ and what you’d expect from the market leader.

So why this intentionally silly commercial, featuring candidates that range from the sensible (engineer, accountant) to the downright daft (beefeater, judge, jockey and lobotomist – the one who operated on all those people at Reed who signed this commercial off?).  The answer has to be that Reed is just too sensible and was starting to lose out in the attention-seeking stakes to the likes of www.fish4.co.uk  and www.monster.co.uk.  Someone took the decision that irritating people is preferable to being ignored by them.

Hate me, but don’t forget me

A number of other big brands have opted for a similar strategy, and persisted with it, despite the fact that the collateral damage to their brand is huge.  Take Go Compare.  The intention to irritate has been forward and centre in their strategy from the start.  Now they are “saving the nation” (pun intended) from their annoying opera singer.  Assorted celebrities from Sue Barker to Stephen Hawking do us all a favour by taking him out.  So, we’re meant to thank them for removing an annoyance that they inflicted on us in the first place.  And we’re supposed to take this as some kind of indication that the wonderful people at Go Compare are responsive to customer feedback.  Like they want to have their cake and eat it, and think we are stupid enough fall for this twisted self-serving logic.

Other brands that have chosen to go down the in-your-face at all costs route include Money Supermarket, (although I must confess I quite like their 80’s style epic commercial from last summer) and confused.com with their YMCA/Village People homage.

The ultimate interruption

The one that takes top honours in the interruption marketing stakes has to be Ladbrokes.  They employ the football commentating equivalent of Go Compare’s opera singer, Tiziano Crudeli.  In the latest Ladbrokes commercial he literally interrupts a (spoof) ad for ManWave ProScalp featuring fellow commentator Chris Kamara, and starts screaming at the viewer about Ladbrokes free bet offer.

It’s not either/or – you probably need to do both

I can’t argue against content marketing – it makes perfect sense in today’s market.

But I don’t think traditional interruption marketing can be written off.  There are situations where it still proves very effective – when launching a new product or promotion, when you need to give sales a quick shot in the arm, and when there’s a requirement for heavy and constant traffic on your website.  Of course you can use content marketing in these instances, but if you require a short sharp impact, and/or mass market coverage, I just don’t think it will reach enough people in the short space of time required.

This doesn’t mean I’m all for the likes of Ladbrokes, Go Compare and Reed.  I think that annoying the heck out of people in a desperate bid for attention is a very expensive way to cause huge collateral damage to your brand.  Nor does it mean I’m all for content marketing, to the exclusion of other options.

The intelligent approach (IMHO) is to see both approaches for what they are, and to judiciously combine them – that way you get the best of both.

Traditional advertising still going strong

I’ve been really busy in January helping a number of different clients with traditional advertising campaigns.  Are they ignoring content marketing?  No – they’re doing that as well.  Are they wasting their money by spending it in traditional media?  No – there are very good reasons for going this route.  I’ve listed three here (but there were more).

The first project was for London City Airport.  They wanted to target business travellers at the likes of Geneva, Barcelona and Edinburgh with posters in the departure lounge about how much quicker it is to fly direct to Docklands than Heathrow or Gatwick.  Makes perfect sense.

The second project involved announcing the launch of a revolutionary anti-fouling paint that can cut over $1 million+ off the running costs of a single supertanker in over just one year.  All of the main fleet owners and all those interested in this news subscribe to a couple of trade magazines.  Ads in these publications will get the good news out to all the people who matter in a couple of days.  Makes perfect sense.

The third project was for Cotswold Outdoor and their 65+ stores, helping them with window displays, online banner ads,  direct mail and press ads in niche publications read by huge numbers of walkers, climbers, fell runners and general outdoor enthusiasts.   Again this makes perfect sense.

So, in my own very small personal world traditional advertising has been helping me pay the bills (thank you to the agencies and clients concerned!).  I don’t think it’s dead (despite what so many people are telling us).  I just wish a few more big brands would work a little harder to attract our attention without annoying us in the process!

Picture credit Christopher Macsurak

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4 Responses to What works best – softly, softly or pushy, pushy?

  1. Bill Maslen says:

    I think there is a place for interruption marketing – but it has to be entertaining, and it has to be humorous (not necessarily synonymous!). Ads that still make me laugh out loud – even though I’ve seen them dozens of times – are the Mars-bar-eating monks ringing the bells, and the many excellent and often very funny mini-stories told in the (now defunct) ad series by Stella Artois (you know, the ones that all used the ‘La Forza del Destino’ overture); their advertising has been much less impressive since they abandoned this brilliant theme. The trouble is, there are a lot of ad executives out there who believe ‘silly’ = ‘funny’. Hey, guys, newsflash: it doesn’t. The latest comparethemarket.com ad (with its pitiful twerp in a dressing gown) is a perfect example. One is left slack-jawed with bewilderment at the end of it, wondering who in Hell signed off this 60s execution (well, that’s how long it feels) that must have cost a fortune when they could have got so much more for their money (and for much less time: viz. the Mars-bar-eating monks ad, which is max. 15s). Length + Silly does NOT equal quality. Brief + Witty DOES equal quality. A lesson the TV programmers could also benefit from, in fact.

  2. Jim says:

    Hi Bill,
    Thanks for taking time to read/comment.

    I totally agree – who approves this stuff? I’m glad you mentioned the comparethemarket chap in the library…obviously aimed at those who don’t get the central premise of this campaign, which has been running how long? Talk about treating the viewer as a moron. I wanted to cite that one, but I didn’t know where to start and was just left lost for words!

    Maybe there needs to be a module on marketing courses entitled “Humour – how it works”?

  3. Caroline says:

    As an ordinary punter, I’m very often sat scratching my head wondering what the point of an Ad was..so it’s good to hear that it’s not just me wondering this. Great post as usual Jim!

  4. Jim says:

    Hi Caroline,
    Glad you enjoyed it. Hope you are well?
    Jim

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