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Think BR: Brands and the pleasure principle

Do brands need to enrich people's lives, asks John Crowther, managing partner, Creston Unlimited.

John Crowther, managing partner, Creston Unlimited

John Crowther, managing partner, Creston Unlimited

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How does the thought of exploring under the toilet rim, in extreme detail, while eating your dinner tonight grab you? Thought not.

Yet fifteen years ago, when I worked on the advertising for a well-known toilet-cleaner brand (no names), that’s the sight that our advertising inflicted on our target consumers each night.

At the time, with TV channels countable on one hand and Sky+ years away, the unavoidable intrusion and consumption of advertising was an acceptable price to pay for free TV.

All of which is ancient history now. Choice proliferation at every stage of people’s interactions with brands means that the balance of power is now almost completely in their favour.

Show me a dirty toilet rim mid mouthful, and I’ll be on a different channel in a second. That’s if I’m even watching TV. Fail to grab my attention on a supermarket shelf, and in a flicker of an eye, I’ll have moved on.

The inevitable question is 'what’s in it for me?' What is your brand going to offer me in exchange for my engagement with you - whether it’s my time to watch an ad, download a free app, or pick you off the shelf?

Yet for all its importance, that’s a question that’s widely ducked.

Few marketing or agency people get down as dirty and basic as asking the fundamental question of what the brand deal is that rewards people for their involvement.

The consequence of that failure is the devastating annual cull of new product launches, the growing fast forwarding through TV ads, and the often dodgy economics of linking the costs of creating digital experiences to sales.

It’s a question that we set out to answer. What we wanted to do was identify and measure all the possible ways in which a brand in any category could efficiently and effectively transact with its targets, giving marketers a practical tool for focussing product, brand and communications enrichment.

Talking to over 3,500 people, we’ve been able to identify just eight brand enrichment dimensions which drive over 80% of brand choices - a single model which works across categories as diverse as social networks and session lagers, and across all adult consumer profiles.

And the most important dimension of all? The one that transacts most powerfully with people?

Pleasure

Almost a quarter of choices are driven by the ability of brands to offer buyers and users enjoyment, happiness and fun.

That’s true in obvious categories like chocolate  - where Cadbury’s Glass and a Half Full Productions is very clearly on the money - but also for brands as diverse as Xbox, Pot Noodle and Porsche.

At the other end of the spectrum, the least important dimension that we identified was Belonging - the ability of brands to offer people participation in a shared and separate identity.

Despite the popularity of the idea of brand tribes, we found that Belonging drives just 5% of choice overall, although in two categories, it’s massively more important.

No surprises that one is youth fashion - think Hollister. But the other, more interestingly, is media.

For both Radio 1 and The Guardian, a key reason for their success in enriching listeners’ and readers’ lives is their ability to offer a separate and definable identity. Polarising content seems to win prizes.

But what about brands in categories like petrol, insurance or sanpro - or indeed toilet cleaners - where neither of the extremes of Pleasure or Belonging seems likely to be very relevant?

Interestingly, after Pleasure, the second most important dimension, driving 17% of brand choices, is Confidence - the ability of brands to deliver security and reassurance.

And it’s precisely in this area that we found that many less obviously 'pleasurable' brands enrich consumers’ lives. Tampax, for one and, indeed, a toilet cleaner, Harpic, for another.

With the line 'what does your loo say about you?', Harpic’s TV campaign from a few years ago very directly sought to enrich its brand’s relationships with consumers by creating confidence. Use Harpic and spare yourself the social embarrassment of a nasty loo.

A strategy which dramatically enriched their bottom line.

John Crowther, managing partner, Creston Unlimited

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