The Press, February 2005

A few days ago saw one of the United States' biggest annual televised events. Powerful giants went head-to-head in a confrontational, controversial and sometimes bitter battle for huge rewards. It was of course the annual Superbowl advertising showdown, those 30-second television commercials which seem to get more attention than the actual American Football these days.

At $US2.25 million for a single 30-second slot the attention is unsurprising. Along with industry giants like Budwesier, Pepsi and Ford, a relative minnow called spent $5 million on two slots, around five percent of its annual turnover.

The jury is out on the effectiveness of this spending. Forbes magazine marketing writer Allison Fass, says the event, with 90 million viewers, is probably good for brand recognition but "you can't trace increased revenues back to any Super Bowl ad."

For GoDaddy, an internet domain name provider, it was a particularly big call. To bet such a large chunk of revenue on two fleeting spots was an enormous risk. (Ironically their TVC was deemed too risqué by National Football League commissioners and pulled after airing once in the first quarter, resulting in more publicity and consumer interest than they would have ever anticipated!)

The pressure on GoDaddy's marketing decision makers must have been immense, and I'm sure they went through some rigorous thinking before making the call. For marketers closer to home the challenge is no less formidable. Local entrepreneurs will often be faced with the prospect of spending a significant proportion of revenue on promotions.

What sort of things need to be thought about when making the big decision to communicate with your market? Audience reach, cost, frequency, brand associations and the threat of ambush are all important. But one element is often forgotten - does the long suffering consumer actually want to receive this communication?

Look at a few of these examples of communications from brochures, adverts and websites in the technology market:

  • "Value chain collaboration requires collaborative business processes so that you can exchange and integrate your business information with that of your partners."
  • "Portals provide convenient single point access to aggregated content of interest to specific communities."
  • "[product] provides a comprehensive suite of scalable, and cost effective end-to-end business management solutions specifically designed for mid-sized enterprises."

Poor reader! Typically the receiver doesn't want your communication, they don't want to read your brochure, don't want to read your letter or look at your advertisement. They are busy and impatient. You are the receiver's enemy because you are trying to steal their time.

A crucial, and often unasked, question to ask is: what does the receiver get out of this communication? Why should they actually pick up this brochure, or read this advertisement? Will they get some useful information relevant to a need they have, help them access something they want, make them feel better about themselves?

It is not easy to think this way. As the US writer Anais Nin said, "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are."

Briefs for communication activity are almost always couched in what it will deliver for us as the marketer - awareness, sales leads, web traffic. Thinking about it from what the receiver might get out of a communication is the secret to producing original and compelling messages.

An example is a recent government campaign aimed at reducing drink driving, in which fake driving licences were scattered randomly around the floors of urban bars late at night. Patrons would pick these up thinking someone had lost them, and then read a safety message. It was amusing, non-intrusive, demanded little of the receiver and delivered a useful message to them.

Asking yourself a few simple questions can really help the effectiveness of your communications:

  • Who is the audience - what are their typical attributes: gender, age, ethnicity, attitudes, social position, location?.
  • Why would they want to receive this communication i.e. if they read your advertisement would it contain information that was useful and relevant to them?
  • What outcome does your company want out of this communication i.e. what do you want the receiver to do after encountering it? Simply become aware of you, call a freephone, visit a website.
  • Given the above what is the best tactic or tactics - in terms of cost, logistics, fit with your brand.
  • Are there any particular messages you want to send, and how can you ensure your company's standard messages come through.

The whole process is a lot easier if you have defined a market that you can focus your attention on. While it's fine for simple consumer products like Pepsi to promote their brand to the 44 million people watching the Super Bowl, the more complex your product the more focus you need. Otherwise your communication is a bit of punt, or field kick, as they say in American Football.

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