Editorial: Beyond standing out

From strategy's latest issue, editor Emily Wexler on how brands must really hone into consumers' lives to break through.

It can be hard to switch off your marketer brain and think like a regular civilian.

When I started working at strategy over five years ago, I noticed a change in my outside-of-work behaviour. I suddenly paid close attention to advertisements I would never had noticed previously. As soon as an ad came on TV my thoughts were, “Is this new? Which agency did this? Would this make a good story?”

Just as I’m sure you see billboards or end-of-aisle displays and think, “Should we be doing that?” or “I wonder what the ROI is.” It can be hard, if not impossible, to turn it off.

But just try, for a moment, to think like someone who has no vested interest in the marketing world. Now how many in-store promotions would you really notice? How many microsites would you actually visit? How many documentaries about soap would you watch on YouTube? Depressing, ain’t it?

As we all know, for every brilliant idea with legs, there are about a thousand that never quite get beyond the front door. So why not just stick to what’s worked in the past and never try anything new, because chances are it won’t be worth it. Even more depressing, ain’t it?

But there’s a reason bright-eyed ingénues keep moving to Hollywood with nothing but $5 and a dream. Because someone’s got to be the next Scarlett Johansson, so why not them? If they stayed in Arkansas, sure, they’d go on living, but they’d never stand out. You don’t make it to the top of the heap by staying in Arkansas.

So you decide to really go for it with an out-there idea. But if consumers are really blocking out 99% of the brand “noise” around them, what do you do to make sure they hear you?

Well, you get right in there and infiltrate their lives. I don’t mean in a scary Big Brother way, I mean become part of what they pay attention to.

Volkswagen did it by partnering with a super-popular band – Walk Off the Earth – with a massive YouTube following. They created an interactive video that was basically guaranteed to gain huge exposure. (Read more about VW’s strategies here and here.)

And pretty soon there will likely be a cartoon starring Koodo’s mascot El Tabador, meaning kids will be forming brand affinity without even knowing it, before they’re old enough to purchase their first cellphone.

Ikea could have gone the traditional route to promote its Winnipeg store launch, but instead it involved the city, sending citizens learning materials and having them interact with the brand for prizes, resulting in a super-successful store launch and a Shopper Innovation Awards Grand Prix.

So if you want to become a star, figure out what your audience is into and jump on it, lest you become part of the ignored 99%.

Forget about “standing out.” You have to get in.