Creativity and insights: here to stay

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In advertising & marketing circles, there is unlikely to be an universally agreed definition of ‘insight’. Yet, it is common for marketers to ask of their research & ad agency teams: ‘what is the insight?’. In turn, the creative teams in an ad agency are likely to ask their planning and account management teams the same question. All this is usually in the context of planning for an ad campaign.

So what is an insight? Among the many definitions I have come across, I found these two to be the most evocative and useful.

An insight is a penetrating observation about consumer behaviour that can be applied to unlock growth.
Drake Cooper

The second half of this observation – ‘applied to unlock growth’ – is important when it comes to advertising because a good insight is not an end in itself. It has to make a positive impact on the business.

Why is a good insight like a refrigerator? Because the moment you look into it, a light comes on.
Jeremy Bullmore

This refers to the ‘a-ha!’ moment which flashes in our minds when we see communication based on a good consumer insight. This is strictly not a definition but more of an indicator of what a good insight is.

An ad agency planner friend of mine also defined it very well: a good insight is ‘unthought known’. It is unearthing an aspect of human behaviour which is not so apparent and on the surface. It is not just important to identify a good insight – it has to be crafted well – so that it evokes a personal connect (‘I know how that feels like’ or ‘I know what you are talking about – it happened to me too’).

Fact is, not every marketing or creative solution to address a business problem is based on an insight about the consumers. Very often, mere observations or facts will be written down as an insight (e.g. for a mother, a child is the apple of her eye). It is difficult to arrive at a good, relevant, usable consumer insight and to craft one in writing. Without any special training in these aspects it is usually left to individual brilliance to come up with great insights. And oh, very rarely has a good, usable consumer insight come from a conventional focus group. Broad societal changes and insights arising from those can lead to product launches or product innovations (wet grinders, on-the-go nutrition bars). Ditto with deep understanding of local culture.

When it comes to advertising, it is not necessary that the most noticed, memorable effective ads are based on strong insights. Ads can be merely entertaining and become popular and effective. But there are a few which are based on a true, universal consumer insight. The advantage of such advertising is that it provides a deeper connect and therefore longevity to the communication idea. It also gives a solid platform for the creative team to take a ‘leap’… it gives them an unfair advantage. If not, a lot depends on the creative brilliance and execution to create affinity with the brand.

Herewith a few examples of good insight-driven communication in my view:

Thank You Mom, from P&G: over the years must be scores of ads celebrating mothers and their sacrifice for children. The ‘Thank You, Mom’ campaign touched a chord because (a) it was based on a strong, universal consumer insight, and (b) it wasn’t merely a statement, but an act as it involved P&G sponsoring a contingent of mothers to the Olympics event. According to an AEF document:

Background & context

In 2010, P&G was a mid-tier sponsor of the Winter Olympic Games. This investment was so impactful that the company upgraded in 2012 to become an “Official Olympic Sponsor” of the Summer Games in London. This huge monetary commitment bought P&G the world’s largest communication platform, but the real challenge was how to best utilise it to tell P&G’s corporate halo story to an audience that did not see an obvious connection between the company, its brands and the Summer Games. Looking across P&G’s brand portfolio (Bounty, Charmin, Pampers, Gillette, etc.), it was clear these products are NOT designed to enable athletes to become Olympians.

The insight

Throughout their lives, all Moms play many roles, from teacher to friend, psychologist to chauffeur. It’s a universal truth that no matter how old or accomplished children become, to Moms their children will always be just that, their children. Like any other child, behind every Olympic athlete, there was a mom whose love, support and sacrifice made that dream possible. Recognising this powerful insight that ‘Moms were the unsung heroes of the Olympic Games,’ it was time to say “Thank You” to moms everywhere for doing their part to help their child’s dream become a reality.

While that was the overarching insight about the campaign idea, every piece of creative is based on an insight too. The agency which created the series interprets the Tough Love ad this way:

Inspired by the insight that watching a child struggle through obstacles is one of the most difficult things a mother has to go through. The natural tendency for a mom is to reach out and help, to do whatever it takes to protect them. But a mother also knows there are times when it’s more important to give their child the space to grow, to become independent, and to find their freedom. This fine line that all moms walk everyday is found in extreme measure in the mothers of Paralympians.

Snickers: ‘people consume chocolate bars or other snacks to satiate small pangs of hunger’ would be an observation or a mere statement of fact. But if re-phrased it thus – ‘when small hunger pangs strike people tend to be irritable and act out of character’ it is an ‘unthought known’ – an insight. Snickers used that superbly in their ‘you are not you when you are hungry‘ commercials. Is that insight true only of Snickers? Of course not . But the brand was the first to convey that idea in an interesting, unique manner, across media and platforms. The story was told interestingly on TV, print, Twitter and outdoor. What’s more the central idea not only allowed for thematic advertising but tactical ones too. The presence of a strong, universal insight gave the campaign idea legs, an unfair advantage – which would otherwise have not been possible relying only on creative brilliance and great execution. The ad is based on the insight that ‘people don’t leave jobs, they leave their bosses‘. When you watch the ad, a mental picture of your own boss or you as boss develops in your mind. And a deep connect with the proposition happens. The ad went on to become popular and deliver business results.

Santoor: The advertising proposition of ‘skin that lies about your age ‘s based on the insight that ‘women love it when they are mistaken for someone younger’. It is a high when you are thought to be younger than your real age. The advertising proposition has remained unchanged for decades only to be refreshed in terms of execution to keep it contemporary.

Got Milk?: in his fascinating book, ’Truth, Lies & Advertising’, Jon Steel shares background information on how the famous ’Got Milk?’ campaign was created. While all other previous advertising for milk focused on stating ‘drinking milk was good for health’ (a statement everyone could agree with) it did not motivate anyone to drink more milk. That’s when some innovative research and insight mining came into play.

Got Milk -1

Got Milk -2

Some of the other great insight-driven communication have been for Nike (Find your greatness), Dove (Evolution) and ‘Dirt is good’ for Persil (Surf in India). So advertising without insight can be fun, effective. But when coupled with a good consumer insight it makes life easier for the creative team, leads to a creative idea which can be interpreted well across many consumer touch points over time. Good advertising is based on human behaviour which hasn’t changed in millions of years – so consumer insights are here to say.

Bill Bernbach

Any other advertising campaigns based on universal, powerful consumer insights? Do comment in.

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