Big Ideas from a Small World

Change-vertising: Advertisings Parity Product

Posted in Uncategorized by Ryan Thomas on May 19, 2009

Phil Dusenberry of BBDO fame used to say that it was Parity Products that kept him up at night. These products perform their function just as well as the competition. Four wheels and a motor is after all a car. And though most of us can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi the slight difference in flavour is not enough to build a brand on. These were Phil’s nightmares and his greatest opportunities.

This idea has always stuck with me. It’s the bread and butter of the mass media advertising industry, where story and brand character make or break a product. It’s almost as if CMO’s waited for a market to become crowded with imitators and then shouted “Now it’s advertising’s time to shine.”

Yet as an industry we all offer a parity product.

We’ll turn your product around, raise awareness, raise sales. We sell ideas – that’s what this business is all about. Make no mistake, it’s what draws talent to this business – an opportunity to use creativity to fuel industry.

To our clients on the other hand, what separates one zany idea from another? What keeps a client brand loyal? Not much. Not when every shop is offering sales increases, great creative and out of the box solutions.

In short ladies and gentlemen, we have a parity product on our hands.

How can we break the parity that saturates our industry? Where do we go from here?

In over-saturated ecosystems Darwinian change is the order of the day.  Organisms adapt to fill specific niches where competition is less aggressive and adapted to take advantage of “low hanging fruit”.

Funny how these idea has also galvanized American politics from transparent government to environmental technologies. No one would deny that brand Obama strength comes from exactly this kind of adaptation to global forces.

Which led me to the question, how can this industry change and adapt to our changing times?

The simple answer is specialize – after all there is nothing quite like being the first brand into a new category.

Where can advertising become specialized? Where is the low hanging fruit?

Guerrilla advertising works differently in urban and suburban communities where the values and social relationships change drastically. What if an agency specialized in Urban markets or Suburban ones? It would certainly help clients decide on an AOR.

The Urban / Suburban Split:

These two markets require two wildly different approaches. They have become specialized ways of seeing. Each aspirational in their own right.

Yet almost every major agency is situated downtown core. Sure agencies offer strategists and big ideas – but these these markets have specialized and our story telling has not.

Let’s take Miracle-Gro as an example.

A Big Urban Idea:

In downtown markets this product has an opportunity to sell a small amount of product to a high volume of newly engaged and interested consumers. Consumers with worries about ecological safety and global seed diversity.

To create an urban big idea, an agency might need to hearken back to the hanging gardens of Semiramis. Setting up a massive vertical garden in a busy downtown core. Wowing locals and tourists alike with a place where the key word is community. Punctuated with a tag line like “Green is Good” a play on the old Oliver Stone film Wall Street.

Or perhaps to reach an educated twenty something market, the solution might be the renewed interest in graffiti and the political action of the sixties. Handing out thousands of guerrilla gardening seed bombs branded with the Miracle-Gro logo and a jingoist slogan “Let change blossom” could create thousands of new consumers and travel far and wide via the internet.

A Big Suburban Idea:

In suburban markets a lower population density and higher per square foot of personal green space mean that fewer eyeballs can be turned to purchasing larger amounts of products.Yet here bumper crops and greener grass are the order of the day. To address this market a whole different approach is called for.

Picture a Miracle-Gro dump truck with soil and fertilizer already mixed making a spring drive through a community. Offering every house on a single street free Miracle-Gro infused soil for their spring planting. In return all they have to do is put a simple sign on the front lawn”This lawn brought to you by the (Family Name) and Miracle-Gro. In the surrounding streets and neighborhoods, signs and advertising promise the Grass is Always Greener on (Street Name). This event could be documented and posted to a mircosite with banner ads in major newspapers’ home and garden sites directing traffic to Always Greener (dot) com.

This is just one way we could specialize an agency’s offerings to better service our clients – but there are thousands of specialized niches currently being under served in our global marketing world.

I’ll talk more about this in future, just look for the Change-vertising headline. For now, get back to work and keep asking yourself “How can I set apart my parity offerings?”


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