Remember the case of XUV-500 the Mahindra SUV which was sold out even before the first ad broke? The advertising agency must have banked upon a huge ad campaign only to be told by the client that ads are not required now that the product is sold out. The agency very cleverly released an ad in the leading dailies, saying: ‘The XUV500 is out. Sold out’ subtly conveying the launch and the success. So what drove the enquiries and the bookings for the vehicle even prior to the launch? I am guessing it was the strength of the product story and the promise the product held out thanks to the PR prior to launch. The consumer did not need any product positioning or a story to buy into the brand. The specifications, pricing and the brand equity were good enough. On the other hand, some great advertising has happened for automobile brands which were utter flops in terms of sales. So can we conclude that if a brand is great it basically sells itself? And no amount of good advertising can sell a great product? Well, no and yes.
Even if a product is built great, it needs a clear and correct positioning to get prospective consumers to buy into the brand promise for now and in the future. And yes, no amount of great advertising can sell a bad product. In fact, it is believed that good advertising for a bad product will only hasten its death. It is different in categories where the inherent product is a me-too (soft drinks, for example) – there, advertising is the only differentiator. What does all this have to do with tech & gadgets, you ask? Plenty.
Many a times, a gadget launch is preceded by tremendous amount of PR and the sheer expectation of a great product drives curiosity and buzz. As we speak, OnePlus One has become the darling of tech media globally. Expectations have been set sky high and it remains to be seen if the product meets the hype. The advent of social media & tech blogs has given regular paid advertising a fillip – a significant sell job is already done before paid advertising begins. Obviously, it can be a double edged sword.
A few common themes can be observed in advertising for consumer-facing tech gadgets over the years. Here are a few:
Product as a life changer: When a brand or service believes that it can transform lies, address pain points and present a ‘this is what is possible’ scenario the advertising reflects it. Apple’s famous ‘What’s on your Powerbook’ ads featured both celebrities and regular showing off what was possible with that device.
Feature-specific advertising: a common approach in this category and also potentially the most boring. The fault is not with the approach but how marketers interpret it – a laundry list of features meant to dazzle the potential buyer into submission. But it doesn’t work like that in advertising.
Marketers may want to say a lot in their advertising (and usually do) but consumers can only take away one thing. However, ‘it packs in a lot’ is not a memorable, unique or relevant ‘one thing’. The trick is in highlighting one hero aspect of the feature list and convey its story in an interesting way. Samsung has taken to this route in their new ads for the S5 highlighting individual features like water resistance, camera quality and so on.
Celebrity endorsements: as with other categories, a celebrity is used primarily to garner visibility. Sometimes it also to attract an audience segment which the brand hitherto was not addressing – a case in point being the Micromax ads featuring Hugh Jackman. Use of celebrities has its own set of risks – sometimes it is apparent that the brand is desperately trying to build credibility through that route and the concerned celebrity will not be caught dead using the brand being endorsed.
Competitive advertising: comparing your brand with competition directly on facts (read, specs) or knocking your competing brand with innuendo is another common theme. Mac vs PC, Samsung’s Next Big Thing and now OnePlus One’s jibes at Samsung come to mind.
Mindless ‘lifestyle advertising’: and then there is the mindless ads – a montage of smiling, happy, high-fiving, air-pumping individuals shown using the product. Such ads were dime a dozen earlier and thankfully, marketers have realised their futility.
Unlike some other categories (say, personal care or home care) where advertising claims are taken with a fistful of salt (no one really believes that spraying a particular deo will make them girl-magnets) advertising for tech gadgets stand a lot more scrutiny. Consumers expect ‘works as advertised’ in this category much more than others, simply because the claims can be tested (or so they believe) by the user. If a mobile phone claims blazing fast speed, consumers expect it to be so irrespective of conditions. Ditto with ‘great camera takes great picture’ claims. To that extent, tech gadget advertising is always under the lens. Maybe a 1/2.3-inch 18-megapixel sensor paired with an f/3.3-5.9 lens.