Worry about the competition, not the consumer

by Parvez Sheik Fareed

What does the consumer think of our brand? How does she feel about our product? What values does she associate with our brand? What’s her brand experience?

The answers to these questions result in the same song over and over again: Finally people can live a meaningful life because they can worship a brand that enriches their life. We are that brand! This fantasy leads to advertising that tells people how they should feel about a brand or a product instead of why they should actually buy it. It’s the opposite of commercial-minded street smarts ignoring one harsh fact of life: the competition you’re up against.

Here’s why: nobody buys in a vacuum. People choose from a range of products and services within a category. The challenge is to get people to buy from your brand and not from your competitor’s brand. To be a considerable choice, you need to be noticeably different from the brands you’re competing against and persuade people to spend their money on you. Ally & Gargano had a timeless mission statement that fuelled the advertising they created: to impart useful consumer information in an executionally brilliant way. The tough part is to spot the useful bit and not default to the trivial bit. Useful is a question of context. It’s defined by the brands you’re up against and the category you’re competing in. The context is not people’s feelings or thoughts towards your brand.

Now some advertising people claim that products and services are the all the same. That they don’t have a USP. So therefore no distinctive differentiation is possible. To be honest I find that lazy thinking. If products have a USP it’s easy to advertise them: just show the USP in a fresh way. But all the others without a USP can’t be advertised: Please shut down your business, you already happen to exist by someone else. This thinking fails to understand that this is exactly what defines advertising creativity: to beat the competition despite all the odds against you. To look very carefully at what the competition is doing and then do something completely different. Or as Fallon McElligott Rice stated: there’s no such thing as “me-too” products, only “me-too” advertising.

The belief that advertising has to educate people how to feel about brands is total fucking bullshit. Witty salesmen are needed, not brand drunk preachers. If brands want to survive they need to worry about the competition. Not the consumer.