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October 28, 2010

For heaven sake

by Howard Fox Chartered Marketer

“Bring the blind, the lame, Aids and cancer victims. 43 crutches! 25 walking sticks! 2 white canes from blind people! Already left behind!” so reads an ad in the Northcliff / Melville Times, recently banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Marketing intangibles – we’ve all learnt at least a little about it on a marketing course – just after ‘services marketing’. So what fundamental principles can we learn from marketing intangibles such as religion?

The religious organisation concerned has been ruled offside by the ASA on five previous occasions for failing to substantiate its claims, although the press showed an evocative photo of abandoned crutches hanging in the church’s window. And that’s exactly the point – when marketing intangibles, you have to present substantiatable proof. It’s why those (cringe-worthy but effective?) testimonial ads are so widely used. The crutches photo frankly fulfills this purpose wonderfully – if only the church had documented evidence to back its claims to the ASA.

Liberty Life "Get a Plan get a Life" campaign conceived by howard and his team.

From my experience, creating compelling advertising for intangibles is difficult because (clearly) you can’t physically show “ a pack shot”. As a result, building the brand linkage isn’t easy. The point here is that under these circumstances a surprising number of your target market may not connect the ad to your brand. Without creating very strong brand linkages, at best your advertising will be inefficient, at worst it might actually be associated with competitors – to their benefit. The fundamental issue is that while adverts should offer value to the viewer by entertaining, amusing or informing, it remains the professional marketer’s responsibility to ensure consumers actually recognise who sponsored the wonderful piece of commercial art.

I collect flyers from Traditional Healers. I’m not sure if you have ever been offered any – they are usually A5 or A6; often on coloured paper or with coloured print, promoting a particular Healer in the area. They’re truly a piece of marketing art – presumably because the Traditional Healer gets far quicker effectiveness feedback than formalised marketing’s ad-tracking studies received only months after the event. And because the Healer has a direct financial interest in the business, decisions are driven by efficiency and effectiveness rather than a desire to win a winged statuette for best-traditional-healer-flyer-of-the-year.

So what can we learn from the marketing of this intangible?
1) Cost effectiveness – a single colour print isn’t flashy, but it’s a far cheaper medium than most.
2) Effective targeting of the market- I’m not sure, but given the surprised look from the person distributing the leaflet when I take one (I suspect I’m outside the bell curve of the target market) suggests they specifically target those likely to take up the service.
3) Geographic specificity – no unintended “media spill-over” here, they are only distributed within the market’s catchment area.
4) Flexibility – oh to have a medium which can be dialed up or down, or stopped – depending on business flows.
5) Credibility – the healers are universally billed as “doctor” or “professor” or even “ a member of the herbalist control council”.
6) Use of strong (often religious) symbols – erm, sorry ‘somatic markers’ (ref: Buyology; M Lindstrom).
7) A wide, comprehensive offering, but still within valid bounds – i.e. no crazy brand extensions.
8 ) Just a touch of creative magic “just arrived from the mountains of spiritual powers”, to build and retain consumer interest.

So the point is that these apparently simple flyers tick-off far more of the fundamental marketing principles than a lot of very expensive, complex marketing initiatives. As marketing professionals, we should never be too arrogant to learn from the experience of others.


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