Brand purpose, copywriting, Kumbh Mela and more: notes and observations from #ZeeMelt: Part 2

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I recently attended Zee Melt, a marketing & advertising conference. I shared my notes and observations through a blog post earlier this week, covering presentations from Mr. R S Sodhi of Amul and Dave Trott.  In this post, I share my notes on presentations from a few others.

Rory Sutherland: what are we missing?

I have been a fan of Rory Sutherland for a while now, following his TED Talks, other speeches and social media updates. In his presentation laced with wry humour, delivered as only he can, he made these broad points:

Advertising agencies are tasked with perhaps 1% of the problems they can solve, because of their poor positioning. The marketing & business world sees ad agencies as folks who create ads and place them on media – not more. However, advertising is truly ‘behavioural science & creativity’ and hence has the potential to solve larger business problems and even social issues. Currently such strategising is tasked to consultants and economists. 

While other professions have a ‘science’ to rely on, advertising does not. In my view, this could lead to a perception that industry professionals and their solutions are subjective and hence flukes. Rory also emphasised that consumer behaviour can be changed (isn’t that what advertising is all about, aside from changing perceptions?) by making very small contextual changes which can have enormous effects on the decisions people make. They can have a huge impact on the value we think we derive. For example, just being able to spot the location of your Uber car on a map, having a car waiting for you at the location (we often time our arrival to that spot) and not having any cash transaction for the trips add to the perception of a premium service, not a taxi.  When London’s St Pancras train station was re-designed, the press release had this listed among it’s features: ‘the longest Champagne bar in Europe’. While it’s presence has no real benefit to the functional aspects of train travel, it generated a lot of buzz and gave consumers a reason to pay a visit.  Rory also shared this experiment featuring Ed Sheeran in Melbourne to drive home the point that ‘context matters’. 

Fernando Machado: What the hell are you guys doing?

As with Rory, I simply cannot do justice to the brilliance of the presentation made by Fernando Machado – global CMO of Burger King. He joined Burger King a few years with a reputation of orchestrating some great work on Dove when at Unilever. His task at Burger King was to revamp the brand but he emphasised that it wasn’t just about making cosmetic changes. Fernando showcased the painstaking changes made to the restaurant decor, packaging and every touch point – all anchored in the core values of ‘authentic taste, authentic people’ and linked to the product benefit of ‘have it your own way’. While the latter had product customisation cues it could also be extended to reflect respect for an individual’s choices and beliefs. The before and after images of Burger King outlets after a design makeover were breathtaking. Another hallmark was that every initiative seemed to have these elements: a strong link to the brand, the potential to create buzz. 

A tactical packaging change for Christmas season cleverly cued both flame-grilled (a product feature) and Santa’s beard (providing the context). Consumers voluntarily shared images of these on social media. 

A BBQ flavoured black bun was introduced for Halloween and the packaging paraphernalia has design cues to match. This again generated a lot of buzz.

Over the last few years, there have been several initiatives which generated a lot of positive buzz for the brand. Fernando emphasised that since the brand is not a big advertiser, the communication has to work that much harder to deliver even more bang for the buck.

This reminded me of the quote ‘Don’t outspend competition, outwit them’ which the founder of Trikaya Advertising, Mr. Ravi Gupta believed in. However, Fernando emphasised that in the category they operate in, product -based functional advertising is still important. In this context, delivering a single minded, simple brief to the agency is also critical. 

Correlating great creative work (and awards) to sales, Fernando also demonstrated that all the positive buzz around the marketing initiatives & advertising has an impact on foot falls and sales. 

Vikki Ross: the robots aren’t coming

Creativity is what separates us from the robots, said Vikki Ross, copy chief. Allaying fears of AI-powered robots taking over our jobs and writing ads, Vikki showcased how robots can’t match human emotion. She also went on to show several (both hilarious and scary) examples of banal copywriting. A very important point she made was that today’s digital platforms provide ample scope for the common people to express their creativity – especially through words. She also urged brands and writers to respect the consumer. 

What marketers can learn from Kumbh Mela

A session which was a true eye-opener for marketers and ad agencies was the one on Kumbh Mela. A video highlighted the various opportunities, guidelines and initiatives from a select set of brands. Highlights for me:

  • The Kumbh offers a market the size comparable to Delhi for 45 days. The efforts from brands should be on sales; stunts have a limited benefit 
  • Brands and ad agencies have not fully exploited the opportunities. It was noted that in an agency of 15 account planners, not one had visited the Kumbh Mela. 
  • Brands have to follow guidelines of the event and cannot execute activities which cause disruption to the main event I.e. cause stampede, large static crowds etc. 
  • Sporting events like Olympics with far lesser crowds are television ‘events’ but Kumbh Mela is not

In my view, Kumbh Mela has historically never been in the radar of ad agencies as a platform or event to showcase creativity for business results. It could be because of a combination of factors: it happens only once in 12 years, maybe perceived as ‘uncool’ or maybe the agency teams are unaware of the opportunities. Nevertheless, a few on-ground activations have garnered buzz.

Fernando Machado: on Brand Purpose

The issue of Brand Purpose has polarised the marketing & advertising community into believers and non-believers. I too have written about this topic in the past (see here and here).  In his second presentation, Fernando shared his POV on the rationale for brand purpose. The work showcased include brand initiatives on bullying, LGBT cause and more.

He argued that numbers prove that consumers, especially millennials, like to associate with brands which take a stand. However he cautioned that the cause should be relevant to the brand and offered a 5-point guideline as a summary. 

I have attempted to capture a few interesting points I could remember from the event. I am sure I have missed out on several other insights & views. On a related note, I couldn’t help thinking senior industry professionals and authors who are seen frequently in conference circuits, essentially have a single theme or deck which they repeat or at best tweak across events. Your views?

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