How to kick ass in advertising like a martial artist.
Advertisers, just as martial artists face many similar challenges when trying to achieve their goals. To deal with these, they both set up some form of strategy. In advertising, strategy refers to insight into human attitudes, beliefs and aspirations and the subsequent positioning of a message in the mind of consumers. In martial arts however strategic refers to insight into human motion and anatomy to bring forth desired outcome. In both cases it’s the job of strategy to define the “soft spot”, or where the smallest effort will produce the biggest result.
The Karate of ads.
Ad-messages that lacks insight into human attitudes, beliefs and aspirations are just as inefficient as a Karate-strike lacking insight into human anatomy and physiology. And in both advertising and Karate, insight comes from being tuned-in and perceptive of the world around you and of course having experience.
In the following commercial we see Cadillac looking for what they think is the “soft spot” of their particular right-wing conservative audience.
The Cadillac ELR ad has had it’s fair share of controversy as it’s be seen as an attack on Western European socialism, obviously spot on for the intended target audience, however not less so for those suffering from the financial downturn in the US. Furthermore, a silly ad such as Cadillac’s asks for trouble by leaving the arms wide open for ridicule, such as in this example from Ford featuring Pashon Murray, co-founder of Detroit Dirt which composts natural waste and distributes it around the city to create urban farms.
The Aikido of ads.
If we drop the Karate and stop throwing punches for a moment, we’ll go into less aggressive forms of martial arts (and advertising) where focus is rather on neutralising opposing energy and defences, as in the case of Aikido.
Instead of expending a lot of energy, Aikido uses a different approach. By utilising the motion of the attacker, redirecting the the attack rather than opposing it, masters of Aikido use this energy to their own advantage. In advertising, we can similarly see “attacking forces” and defences as audiences’ existing negative attitudes and beliefs towards brands/product messages. Something which has made the advertising profession not only more challenging, but also rewarding.
How to meet this challenge with vigorous Aikido can be seen in W + K’s Old-spice commercial, a great example of turning “attacking” negative attitudes into their advantage.
A “hopeless” product for many years, Old spice was considered only suitable for grandpa’s with its age-old “man-smell”, negative perceptions of the brand and product kept it in the least attractive sections of grocery stores and far away from any real action. Until agency W + K got their hands on the brand that is - turning an unsurmountable weakness to literal gold, neutralising defences with insightful humour and irony. The campaign “smell like a man, man” was born and its self-ironic take on male ideals utilising advertising-Aikido to it’s fullest, and the rest is history.
If you pardon my excessive martial arts comparison in this post, the genius martial arts of Old Spice was not only turning negative energy into positive as in Aikido, but also like in Karate - to strike the audience where they have been struck many times before (i.e. the ideal man), but in a new, surprising way (irony and humour) for which they had no defences. An strategy than subsequently was executed as tactics in various communication channels.
A similar example is Axe with their “Axe effect” campaign, or “Spray more, get more”.
Make sure you know your audiences attitudes, beliefs and aspirations before approaching them with a creative idea in various communication channels. Any Karate master would agree that it will save you a hell of a lot of time, energy and money not to mention give you the results you are looking for.
If your brand however suffers from negative energy and audiences have built defence mechanisms beyond compare, whip out some Aikido on its ass, turn a “Emotionless”, “Negative” and “Disorganised” product or brand into:
Disorganised —-> CreativeInflexible —-> OrganisedInconsistent —-> FlexibleObnoxious —-> EnthusiasticEmotionless —-> CalmBoring —-> ResponsibleUnrealistic —-> PositiveNegative —-> RealisticWeak —-> HumbleArrogant —-> Self-Confident
The list goes on.
Further Aikido mastery (as with Old-spice) is to accept your weakness and turn it into a strength, circumventing any defences with humour and irony.
The winning ad-agency of the future won’t only be the one who masters both ATL and Digital, but the one who manages to strike the right spot in peoples minds by understanding the nuances of attitudes, beliefs and aspirations of audiences and can craft compelling stories thereof. Great stories tend to spread by themselves into communication channels advertisers never even dreamed of. Advertising that moves people has a tendency to take care of itself.
Nicolas Makelberge [Strategic Planner]