Marketing with Giles Thomas: Feeling warm this winter

Were a fantasy Marketing Olympics held any time soon, Team Cable, Satellite and IPTV should feel quietly confident that they might return home with a medal, based on their consistent performance over the last couple of decades.

The team has, through a relentless blend of entrepreneurial tenacity, marketing dogma and cash, managed to persuade the ordinary people of Europe and beyond to part with bucket loads of their hard-earned cash, month in, month out. In return, we have filled their living rooms with endless transitional technologies, most of which have provided reasons for families to sit at home and avoid talking to each other. Marketing genius. A medal performance, indeed.

But I predict that the medal would not be the glorious radiant gold of the winner, but a slightly dull bronze. This is because I fear that too many of our marketing and branding teams and their agencies have been sharing a handbook that appears to be missing the most important creed:

Thou shalt excite people, engage their hearts as well as their minds, make them feel!

In today’s marketing world of oceans of data, metrics and real-time analytics, this attitude might appear somewhat cavalier (old-fashioned, even). But the most effective marketing, branding and communications have always been those which engage our emotions not just our brains, and which make us feel something we didn’t feel before.

That we are in technology-based businesses is no excuse.  Some of the finest examples of mould-breaking marketing are to be found in technology businesses. Apple has consistently led the field, from the astounding 1984 launch campaign to the irreverent PC vs Mac ‘People’ series. The world stood still when Orange launched with John Hurt, a swimming baby and the promise of a brighter future. Google has the confidence to surprise and delight through so many of its touchpoints, from the ever-changing home page to the remarkable office environments.

As for the content providers, MTV and Channel 4 are past masters of positioning, packaging and communicating themselves so that viewers genuinely feel engaged with their brands (if you haven’t seen Channel 4’s ‘swearing’ promo you should).

So in our industry today, who is making us feel what?

Cutting a thin slice through recent communications reveals a few, but only a few, who really try to engage consumers with their brand, rather default to the unarticulated protocols of product features, price and token celebrity endorsement. However, I’ve found some shining examples that prompt a mixture of surprise, disgust, fear, anticipation, amusement, courage and joy.

Everyone should catch Sundance Channel’s Christmas promo last year for The Walking Dead. Horror set to the music of Silent Night was startling enough, but the ‘For Xmas Adopt a Zombie’ plea was comic magic. You don’t know whether to laugh, cry or hide behind the sofa, but I challenge you not to feel something.  And you end up warming to an intelligent, witty channel brand.

You should also catch a viral video for TNT’s Benelux launch. It makes absolutely no sense performing a stunt in the square of a small Belgian town, except that at the last count it had achieved over 41 million hits on YouTube.  This impressive virality is down to the sheer brazenness of the act and genuine responses from members of the public, feelings that viewers recognise and share.

However, if you only get a chance to see one, watch Virgin Media’s very literal communication of speed in 2012, using the world’s fastest man.  Simplicity, shameless irreverence, and an outrageously confident tagline ‘Keep up’ combine instantly to share with customers the slightly smug glow of feeling part of a winning team.

All these are examples of effective communications that encourage us to feel warm towards the brands.  We want to like them, so we are considerably more likely to buy something from them once our rational brain kicks in.

And the more we do this, the shinier our medal prospects will be next time round.