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Salience overloads advertising

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Salience is the buzz word of the moment in advertising circles.

What is salience?

According to Siri salience is a noun. It’s definition:

the property of being particularly noticeable or important.

Historically, when you tested an ad through the likes of Kantar. One of the attributes that an ad would be measured on is salience. Relatively recently salience has become a more important attribute in advertising from a marketing science point-of-view. But this shouldn’t be to the extent of eclipsing other attributes such as distinctive brand building.

Salience becomes pre-eminent

But now you see campaigns where salience is pre-eminent. I had only seen this in Asia in the past, where random endorsement choices looked to drive impact.

At one stage in the early noughties you could see Jackie Chan side-by-side with over 20 products including:

  • Canon cameras
  • Mitsubishi cars
  • An anti-hair loss shampoo that allegedly contained carcinogens
  • Zhongshan Subor – games consoles with a basic home computing capability. Subor ‘Learning Machines’ had educational programmes, games and provided Chinese children with an opportunity to try computer programming. Think of it as an analogue the Sinclair range of home computers in the UK
  • Fenhuang cola drink
Jackie Chan-branded Canon Rebel T2i / 550D
Jackie Chan branded Canon Rebel T2i / EOS 550D via M.I.C Gadget

A classic example of an ad that personifies salience is Burger King’s The Moldy Whopper.

The campaign is a one-off stunt designed to drive water-cooler talk. Some colleagues were at a breakfast event last week. The outtake that they took from the event was that the future of advertising is PR. Or to be more exact the publicity stunt.

I get it, creative directors are measured on memorable award-winning campaigns. They are less worried about effectiveness and brand lift. It’s sexy. And it moves things away from soul-crushing digital disruption-driven work. Big data, A-B testing that’s just aimed at sales conversion.

But publicity is just a short term effect, contrast this with effective advertising that can keep paying off for decades!

But when you’re doing stunt-after-stunt what does the brand stand for? I agree that a brand has to be distinctive, but to make a brand distinctive you need to reinforce it. Think about Coca-Cola; distinctive and instantly recognisable.

Don’t believe me, here’s what Mark Ritson said about it. Ritson uses ‘brand image’ as a way to discuss brand distinctiveness and visibility at a granular level in the ad:

The new global campaign from Burger King features a month old burger complete with the mould and decomposition that comes with it. Supposedly, this is a campaign aimed to promote the absence of preservatives. But is it good advertising? No. Showing a disgusting, mouldy version of your hero product to target consumers is – believe it or not – a really bad idea. So why are Burger King doing it? First, we see the ultimate exemplar of the focus on salience over image that is sweeping much of the advertising world. “It got me talking about it, so it is great marketing,” has been the response of many addled marketers to the new campaign. While it’s true that salience is a much bigger goal than we once thought, there is still a need to focus on brand image. All publicity is not good publicity. It’s also the latest in a long line of marketing stunts that Burger King has pulled. Hiding Bic Macs behind Whoppers in all their ads, asking consumers to order a Whopper online from a McDonalds, the list is long and stupid. It wins awards and gets marketers talking but it is eclipsed by KFC and McDonald’s less flashy, more enduring and more effective tactics. Same store sales growth over the last two years tells its own story. This is flashy, ineffective fare.

Mark Ritson on LinkedIn

Or Phil Barden who wrote Decoded:

From a behavioural science point of view this is a bizarre use of marketing money; Firstly, our attention and perception are implicit (‘system 1’) processes that are stimulus-bound. System 1 can’t imagine, it responds to stimuli. Kahneman uses the phrase ‘what you see is all there is’ and it is the stimulus (what you see) that will be decoded using our associative memories. The brain metaphorically asks the questions, ‘what is it, what does it represent, what’s in it for me’? The answers to these questions are ‘rotten food’ and ‘nothing’ because rotten food is a threat to survival. This triggers ‘avoid’ behaviour. Secondly, this image is highly likely to trigger ‘reactance’ which is emotional arousal with negative valence ie it’s unpleasant. Thirdly, memory structures are built on the basis on ‘what fires together wires together’. In this case, Burger King and rotten food. Fourthly, the category is hedonic; it’s all about enjoyment. Rotten food and enjoyment have no implicit intuitive association. The only saving grace for BK may be that their logo is such low contrast and the food is so salient that the brand may not be attributed to the image.

Phil Barden on LinkedIn

Many of Barden’s points are very specific to the mouldy burger creative. But points like attention and perception are implicit processes that are stimulus bound works against salience. It triggers related memories, which is distinctive brand building allows you to tap into. The importance of hedonic enjoyment plays against a lot of shock tactics used to get salience.

I am not saying that marketing campaigns shouldn’t have salience. Some of the best ads of all time use salience like Coca-Cola’s ‘Hilltop’ advert.

But that they shouldn’t be salient at the expense of other attributes of brand building. A side serving of salience adds cut through to consistent distinctive brand building. But balance in different attributes for an ad is needed.

For more on how to achieve a balance in attributes, I can recommend Building Distinctive Brand Assets by Jenni Romaniuk. The book is based on research by the Ehrensberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science.

More on advertising here.

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Things that made my day this week

Reading Time: 2 minutes

American infrastructure is critiqued in a Vice documentary. In order to make it fit for purpose there would cost $4 trillion. That’s the cost of a couple of Afghanistan conflicts. It is stunning how bad American infrastructure is. The video is well worth watching in a grimly fascinating kind of way.

Before Vin Diesel was an actor, or a night club doorman, he was a dancer. He made an appearance in a video on how to breakdance. It is a symphony of old school Adidas.

Mark Vincent aka Vin Diesel in How to Break Dance video

The other week, Larry Tesler died. Tesler was a technologist that spanned Silicon Valley from Xerox PARC to Web 2.0. He is best known for non-modal computing. The move from modal to non-modal computing was Apple’s Lisa. The Lisa was an expensive workstation version on many of the concepts that went into the Apple Mac. It failed for a number of reasons. Part of which was cost and third party software support. Without the Lisa, Apple couldn’t have developed the Mac. John Couch and David Larson discuss the development period of the Apple Lisa.

I am a huge fan of The Avalanches. So I was going to give We Will Always Love You a listen. It is interesting that they’ve gone with an iTunes / WinAmp visualisation for their video. Ten years back iTunes and WinAmp used to have custom visualisers made. Brands like Relentless energy drink did really interesting things with them. I’d love to see visualisers become an area of further innovation.

The Avalanches – We will always love you

nendo designs coffee beans gacha gacha capsule vending machines at self-serve cafe | Japan Trends – we can have the argument about the relative merits of capsule coffee. I am not a fan, but this self service cafe is beautiful.

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Tablet demand in China gaining momentum from epidemic | DigiTimes – compared to global demand drop of 20% predicted for tablet computers. This is a fascinating change. Any explanation of this tablet demand is just a hypothesis. My own guess is . More tablet computer related posts here.

Great mix by Andy Weatherall. It is interesting that for a considerable amount of time there was destination radio and a loyal taping culture. Some cassette decks featured timers similar to a video recorder. People would set them up before they left. Prior to digital formats becoming commonplace, I remember die-hard fans using VHS Hi-Fi audio recording to capture these shows in as high a quality as possible. More listening material here.

Targeting v context | Campaign Live – really interesting article by Dave Trott. I’d argue (like Dave has) targeting and context together is what matters, rather than targeting or context.

Experts react to Google’s Brexit-driven decision to move UK data to the US – Business Insider – also probably Google trying to avoid double-jeopardy between EU and UK law presented by UK consumers being out of the EU

Victoria's Secret
Victoria’s Secret by Eternity Portfolio

WSJ City | Victoria’s Secret goes private at $1.1 billion valuation – this is down from over $7 billion. This marks the end of an astonishing destruction of value. The company was also quick to get the power of online. Designers now think live-streaming their show is a matter of course. Back in 1999 I worked at an agency where we did their first live stream. They were also quick to get into e-commerce.

WSJ City | Grocers Wrest Control of Shelf Space From Struggling Food Giants – is this really news? Interesting that Clorox and General Mills are called out though

Hackers can trick a Tesla into accelerating by 50 miles per hour – MIT Technology Review – MobilEye complains that it would also fool the human eye, but most humans would at least question it. Artificial smarts isn’t intelligence

Banned recording reveals China ambassador threatened Faroese leader at secret meeting | Berlingske – the problem might not be Huawei but the Chinese government with Huawei just a conduit – but yeah

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Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Reading Time: 2 minutes

DingDing – a Chinese equivalent of Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Skype was getting 1-star ratings in Apple and local app stores. Many school children are in lockdown due to the corona virus Covid 2019 and having to use the app as a virtual class room. DingDing was the most downloaded app in the Apple app store on February 5

They weren’t happy and bashed the app across app stores. Some of it was acting out and some was trying to get the app removed from the stores all together.

With its ratings dropping rapidly across app stores. Marketers put out this meme literate video. In it the DingDing mascot cries and begs children not to penalise it. It seems to have worked in terms of stabilising its rating.

Click to expand the video and wait through the short advert (sorry about that). There is an international version of DingDing called DingTalk that is often used by cross-border teams. The iOS and macOS versions are nicely designed. And unlike WeChat it doesn’t send your messages in the clear. But as with any software designed for the great firewall, use with care.

Back when I worked in-house at Yahoo!, Google seemed to get media coverage with ease. The Google Maps campaign around the Oscars reminded me of this. Google Maps collected famous movie locations and showcased them on Google Maps. Trendwatching has a great case study on the campaign.

Chinese brand Yili-owned baby milk formula brand JinLingGuan (JLG) decided to make its own smart speaker for parents. Which I found a bit odd given the amount of voice products available in China. But it seems more like skill-building and product giveaway in conjunction with Xiaomi. It built a parenting skill that featured 1,200 questions.

Key parental insights according to Mindshare:

  • 62.5% of young parents in China worry they are not good enough for their children
  • 70+% of mothers experience postpartum anxiety

Results according to Mindshare

Programme drove over 55 million Q&A sessions, 210% more than expected

Over USD$2.2m (RMB¥15m) in sales and all 10,000 smart speaker gift sets sold out

This is just tremendous – Legendary Disco Producer Cerrone Walks Through the Making of his 1977 Hit ‘SuperNature’ | WhoSampled 

Cerrone 3 Supernature record cover
Record sleeve cover for Cerrone 3 Supernature

Stories of Apple – John Couch on Lisa’s software revolution and the perils of market research – more posts on Apple here.

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Things that made my day this week

Reading Time: 2 minutes

SAS – What is truly Scandinavian? Nothing. This was an ad done by &Co of Denmark. It’s an ad that was meant to challenge the audience and promote the benefit of travel. But I felt it got its tone wrong.

What is truly Scandinavian got backlash online. As it went towards 13,000 dislikes on YouTube, SAS took it down. This is where things get crazy:

  • SAS blamed the reaction on right-wing (possibly Russian) botnets, which it doesn’t seem to have been the case. Which begs the question can SAS be trusted?
  • The ad agency &Co had bomb threats made against their office

Update SAS have reposted the ad, it currently has 94K down votes and 10K upvotes off 782,885 views. Comments are turned off.

I have never got the chance to see Hall & Oates play live, this recording of their 1984 July 4th concert in New York shows them at their best. It’s called the Liberty concert because of the US independence day, it was held in Liberty national Park in Jersey City and one of the main sponsors was called Liberty. The event was put on to raise money for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty.

Sony goes against the romantic grain for Valentine’s Day with its latest PlayStation campaign. More information here (paywall).

South Korean TV broadcaster MBC did a documentary on a family that lost their daughter at just 7 years old. The mother agreed to say a fine goodbye to her daughter in VR. The child’s death in hospital left a big hole in their grief. Now I know it sounds mawkish but the mother said that it helped her come to terms with her child’s health. It also brought home for me the power of VR to drive emotion. I think that this is really important give how uncomfortable VR’s fit with storytelling as we understand it. More VR-related posts here.

Liam Young gave a great talk on using his art of film making to shape the future. This is particularly interesting given William Gibson’s feedback on meeting fans who worked in the tech sector:

“They’d read a book in which there didn’t actually seem to be any middle class left and in which no characters had employment. They were all criminal freelancers of one sort or another. So, it was always quite mysterious to me.”

William Gibson quoted in William Gibson — the prophet of cyberspace talks AI and climate collapse | FT

Gibson’s experience implies that steering the future through art, requires a lack of ambiguity and subtlety than good film frequently has.