Capturing consumer attention has become increasingly difficult in a cluttered and ever-expanding ad space. From the moment commercials blare from your TV as you’re getting ready for work to the countless ads that populate your news feed as you surf social networks throughout the day, you’re bombarded with advertisements. To expedite the path to purchase, savvy marketers have pivoted to instead focus on constructing memorable campaigns through creative messaging.
London-based department store chain John Lewis saw tremendous success with this approach over the holidays. Its ad featuring Buster the Boxer, in which a slobbering dog bounces on a trampoline, was scored as the most engaging Christmas marketing campaign on a competitive list of 15 retailers.
John Lewis went far beyond a simple TV spot to create a unique experience for customers. The narrative invited users to engage on multiple social media platforms, offering Snapchat filters of the dog, Twitter stickers, and a free week of behind-the-scenes footage on Sky. Burying competition, the brand even developed a robust landing page that allows users to buy stuffed Buster toys, listen to and purchase the video’s soundtrack, learn about nature from an expert, and donate to the Wildlife Trusts.
Many companies work to sell products by simply stating features, but narratives through creative messaging can dramatically influence purchasing behavior. A more creative approach does more than fuel aesthetically pleasing ads; it sells products because they’re viewed as authentic or original, demonstrates unanticipated uses, amplifies details, and often converges traditionally independent ideas.
Standing out from the crowd takes more than creativity, however. The most successful brands combine creative messaging with strategy. Brands must provide high-quality content and segment customers to ensure the biggest possible impact. Consider these strategies when planning your next campaign:
Generate positive emotions. They’re more important than conversion and retention. The overwhelming success of Buster the Boxer stems from positive emotions — the story is surprising and focuses on bringing cheer to consumers. This initial positive reaction followed by other positive emotions — amusement and joy — leads to a longer attention span, retains viewership, and boosts engagement.
Design an emotional roller coaster. Continuous positive emotion can disengage an audience. After all, every good story involves some sort of conflict. Create a variety of emotional experiences to keep people intrigued and invested. Introduce the positive emotion, briefly take it away, and close things out by reintroducing the positive emotion. By making consumers desire joy again, you can keep them involved and attentive.
Identify who will share the mutually beneficial message. Watching content is more emotionally charged, but sharing that content is a bit more self-serving. “Consciously or not, the sender intends to gain ‘social capital’ in the process [of sharing content],” said Harvard Business School associate professor Thales Teixeira. “It is not just about content. It turns out that while getting people to watch an ad is all about emotion, getting them to share it is about the sender’s personality.”
Between November 4 and 20, John Lewis received more than 203,000 mentions across social media for its Buster the Boxer spot. (In comparison, its closest competitor was Marks & Spencer, whose Mrs. Claus spot only garnered a little more than 43,000 mentions during the same period of time.) When you ask customers to share your content, create items that generate social capital. You want them to feel like trendsetters in their social circles by sharing the latest and greatest things.
Create brand ambassadors to effectively drive purchases. Once you’ve captured the attention of your customers, they’ll likely feel compelled to share information and perhaps become brand ambassadors. If you can create the sort of content they naturally want to share with their friends and family, your marketing efforts will expand organically and in a low-cost way.
To cope with the amount of advertising that pesters people daily, brands have reinvented how they sell products. Capturing attention is the first obstacle, but retaining and inspiring action is a much greater challenge. With the right combination of storytelling and strategy, your company can overcome the odds and build loyal brand advocates in the process.
Sarah Clark is the president of Mitchell, an award-winning public relations firm that creates real conversations between people, businesses, and brands through strategic insights, customized conversations, and consumer engagement. Mitchell is part of Dentsu Aegis Network, which is made up of nine global network brands and supported by its specialist/multimarket brands.