Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tiny Biz Tuesday: What Small Businesses Can Learn from Big Advertising Campaigns

Our Tiny Biz Hustle group is talking a bit about the mechanics of a large scale advertising campaign this week. I found this great post about the "10 best ads of all time," and I gotta say, this one is right on the money. I might add the original Apple Mac advertisement, but otherwise, I'd say yes, those are some of the most iconic, memorable, and best executed campaigns in history.

One more I'd add though is Mastercard's "Priceless" campaign. I know you know it. It launched in 1997, and it's been in use for 18 years. The formula is this (and I'm totally making this example up using a gratuitous shot of my own son, Zoom):

 Airfare to LAX: $300
Entrance to the Happiest Place on Earth for a 2 year old: $0
Iconic mouse ears: $15
Seeing your child's sheer joy of riding the teacups for the first time: Priceless

You get it. You know it. You might have even written your own version of this ad at some point.

So why does the Mastercard ad work so well, and why would I argue it's one of the best campaigns to date?


1. It follows a Simple Formula

It's a formula (3 things that you pay for, ending with an experiential moment that is labeled as "priceless.") that works for a lot of different situations and demographics. It sets up a simple story that we can understand, and the word priceless offers a satisfying resolution for the reader. We've come to expect and anticipate the priceless tag. It's satisfying.

What's also impressive about this formula is that it can be used with various situations; it can be serious, humorous, informational, and apply across a myriad of topics from family events, sports, cooking, vacations ... it has endless applications.

2.  It has a a Simple Message

In essence, Mastercard is telling us that while money is the means to get to our dreams, it is not the most important thing. It's the "priceless" event, memory, or situation that matters. And, by offering the message, they are insinuating that Mastercard can help pay for these special events.

3. It's Aspirational

A credit card has the challenge of not selling an actual product, but offering a service. So, unlike a shoe company that can show images of their sneakers, they have to find something else to focus on. They can show images of the card itself, but that can have limited applications in advertising (there's only so many static images of credit cards that people want to see).

And, in essence, they make their money by getting people to sign up for a card, or by having people use their card more.

The great way to get people to sign up for a new card or use the card? Show amazing scenarios of people "like you" that are enjoyed "priceless" moments that were brought to them because they were able to fund some of the experience with a credit card. They've tapped into an emotion, one that runs deep, and makes us want to experience that thing, too.

4. It's Ownable and Recognizeable for the Mastercard Brand

Perhaps its because of the fun, puzzle like nature of the campaign, people took to "priceless" quickly, and it led to it taking on a life of its own. As Avi Dan observes in his Forbes article, "In a sense “Priceless” became a viral, social campaign years before there was a social media."

Much like the campaigns of "Got Milk," and "I'm Lovin it," Mastercard had tapped into something that became a phenomenon on its own. As a campaign, "Priceless" stands on it's own, and has inspired many spinoffs (both serious and satirical).

The cool thing is that spinoffs only help to solidify the validity of the campaign, because each time someone presents the formula in a spinoff, or just the tagline of "Priceless," they are spending time with the Mastercard brand (myself included). And, subtly reminding those who see the spinoff of the original brand as well.

So what in the world does this have to do with a small business? Why spend so much time with these big campaigns?


I love the Mastercard example because it really does highlight what a good advertising campaign does, and these lessons can inform what a Small or Tiny Business should look to do with both their business plans and marketing plans. Let's break this down.

1. Big campaigns are clear on their objectives.

These big companies do a lot of work to come up with very clear objectives around a campaign. For many, it's to raise awareness about the brand itself. If we're looking at what a Tiny Biz is trying to do, the lesson here is to be clear on what you want to achieve. You can only go after success if you have defined what it looks like.

2. Successful campaigns present "brand attributes" that resonate with potential customers.

If you're running a Tiny Biz, it's good to think about what image you want to put out into the world. What are your brand attributes? Are you or your brand aspirational? Serious? Funny? Pick three attributes and use them. As we see with Nike and McDonalds, present an image, a feeling that you want your potential customers to feel when they think of your brand. Picking some attributes will help people identify with you.

For example, Ellen DeGeneres is humorous, inclusive, generous, and contemporary. I like this, and to put this into ad agency speak, I like that she "executes" on those "brand attributes." She's pretty upfront about WHO she is and WHAT her brand stands for, and so if you were to tune in to her show for the first time, you'd know pretty quickly what to expect.

Think about how you can use this for your own brand, or for that of our business. What attributes define you? You need to get specific about this and then start using them to inform how you present yourself to the public.

3. Sticking with a successful campaign over the long haul creates consistency in the mind of the customer.

The other reason people return back to Ellen, or to Nike, is because they know what to expect. I know what Ellen stands for, and it resonates with me. And in turn, she creates a daily show that is consistent to what each of us has come to expect of her. If she changed that formula drastically or suddenly, or didn't stick with a consistent kind of content, her audience would not know what to expect.

If you're a Small or Tiny Business owner, consistency is important.
From a customer standpoint, it's hard to remain loyal to something that doesn't have a consistent message or product or offering or theme.

Additionally, customers may take awhile to "get to know" your brand. If you're offering a service, they might need a while to understand what you're offering, and if you're a coach or consultant, it may take a while to gain the trust of those customers. Offering a consistent brand image, and aligning your brand with specific attributes, emotions, and topics can help potential customers become more comfortable with an eventual purchase.

Phew. So that's my take on what small businesses can learn from big campaigns. What do you think? Any favorite campaigns? I'd love to hear from you in the comments! :)

*this post is not an advertisement nor an endorsement for any brand mentioned here, nor am I getting any compensation for this post. The views are my own, and based on 15 years of working in advertising on a major credit card brand.

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