, November 30, 2022

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Edge of the Cliff Marketing


  •   7 min reads
Edge of the Cliff Marketing
Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash
By Vincent R. Pozon

THE HUMAN MIND GRAVITATES towards extreme positions so naturally. Black against white arguments make for spectacular battles, wars even. Clearly defined brand stories make for products that sell themselves.

How clearly defined is your product? Or politician?

In the world of advertising, propositions and sales are made in seconds. Literally. 30 seconds for television, 6 before you can watch what you intended to watch on YouTube. The bumper sticker, the billboard, or the dropdown banner on the road gets 1 or 2 seconds. Succinctness of the message isn't just a factor for sales and survival, it's a minimum. And you cannot hope to be succinct with a product story that is writ by a complicated marketing plan, with moderation, and, yes, with fear.

The Brave Wins

Here is an instance of  a bravely managed supermarket product from way back, decades back. Tasked to write an ad for this vinegar brand, we brought it all the way to the edge of the cliff, and told the viewer, in seconds, that it was 'sourest'. And then we gave it a Big Picture, (which is what we call the image that we want embedded in the mind of the customer), and it screamed 'sourest'.

Nothing else was said, no other attribute was touched, "sour" was the only word that needed verbalizing. In fact, the ad could have run without sound.

NO ACTING INVOLVED. The product proposition: "Datu Puti is the sourest vinegar you can find in the market.

With a promise like that, expect pushback, from marketing people, from respondents in focus groups, and from your mother and aunt and from the classmate of the daughter of your barber: "Asim lang?" (Just sour?) "What about other attributes of vinegar?" "What about color, purity, flavor?" "What about the prestige of the manufacturer?"

Give anybody the time to push back, and they will. They will provide you sensible responses asking for a larger, more comprehensive story, for a thesis, one that will, unfortunately, not survive in the restrictive world of advertising.

It helped that the spot was designed to be honest. I have come to call them non-ads. The non-ad is subversive; it walks into a consumer’s living room on tiptoe, and then whacks him: the product is presented and exalted. Always with a proposition that is persuasive and hard to ignore, even by the most jaded.

The non-ad -- by definition -- is bereft of abused techniques, bereft of addiness. No attention vampires. No celebrities. It is sincere in texture and feel. Absolutely not a smidgeon of acting – not a wink -- was involved in the production of this particular commercial.

I found a small copy of an ad we did that promised "balanced" and "not too sweet" and "not too sour". While well written, (with a terrific tagline "Juice Right"), it has no story bigger than the hardsell on tasting "just right". It is a 30-seconder; shorter – 15s and 6s – would be difficult to create. A promise of "just right" isn't just ineffectual (versus less moderated claims), it is unwieldy, weighty.

ANOTHER COMMERCIAL from decades back: while well-written, the commercial is encumbered by the many attributes it was tasked to point out.

Politicians are no different from products on a supermarket shelf

In a media landscape where your message is flashing mutely in a corner of a news site, the need for edge-of-the-cliff positioning becomes even more necessary.

We could have sold JV Ejercito differently: In his words, “sana yung universal health care, maalala nila. Yung Department of Housing, sana maalala nila. Sana maalala na lang nila ang mga performance.” ("I just hope they remember Universal Healthcare, the Department of Housing. I hope they remember performance").

We told him, unfortunately, no; the customer — the voter — does not choose what to buy after reading a marketing plan thick as his palm.

THE POLITICIAN IS BORN with original sin, branded corrupt from day one. Politicians are portrayed as crocodiles. Exaggerated, yes. It’s clipart. It's fodder for satire.

Our campaign for JV Ejercito was blatantly edge-of-the-cliff

We all know and recognize, and can even name, bad people in politics. It is stereotypical, and stereotypical globally: politicians are even portrayed as crocodiles. It’s clipart. It's fodder for satire. "The politician is born with original sin, branded corrupt from day one".

While we had a "reason-to-believe" -- evidence of the JV Ejercito's worth, achievements and viability as a senator, we juxtaposed him against the stereotype. We claimed 'walang bahid, masipag, maraming nagawa' (unblemished, hardworking, with achievements) — but succinctly.

We had the gall to say it, and to sing it: "Doon ako sa mabait, Doon ako sa magaling, (I'm voting for the good guy), JV Ejercito. JV good, JV good. JV is the good one”.

IF ALL POLITICIANS ARE SUSPECT, we dared label the candidate as 'The Good One'.

Trump is strategically farthest from the middle ground in values

Trump sold himself to his core base as extreme right, with "Murika First" as a paramount value, and he proudly strode to the edge of the cliff. There he stands, arms locked with the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, and apostles like Steve Bannon who said, on air, that he would like to see Fauci's head on a spike on the White House front gate. As a response to the far right stench and feel and declarations of "taking back America", The Democratic Party decided to try to woo the "reasonable Republican", and so offered candidates who were centrist, or middling.

WHILE TRUMP AND ALLIES embraced all the values and emblems and words of the extreme right, the Democratic Party was protecting itself against the Left. /Trump, Clinton and Biden by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Aye, there lies the rub.

Against someone who was as clearly drawn as the devil, the Democrats offered Hillary Clinton, who is more establishment than progressive, and lost. Then they settled on Joe Biden, so-so, moderate, white, old, traditional, civil society and humdrum, and most probably would have lost if Trump hadn't mismanaged the pandemic so spectacularly.

Biden spoke of unifying the country, and of harmony and decency. Again, the caveat: the human mind loves and wraps itself around extremely drawn ideas. Both ends of the pendulum of any issue are always easier to sell. If promises of "just right", "balanced", "perfect" are weak or seldom viable when selling supermarket items, the same is so with public servants.

When Donald Trump rode the escalator that day in June, 2015, the vilest of racists crawled out from under rocks. Racism, long simmering and hidden in the underbelly of America, is now legitimate and loud.

Against that, harmony looked like a boring option.

Imagine if Democrats had chosen candidates from the other end of the spectrum. If they had nominated Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, they would have had starker products in positioning, better candidates to pit against a Trump.

After the black, liberal, intellectual, professor (Obama) came the white, conservative boor and bigot. Juxtaposition intensified the dissimilarity. Trump was that swing to the other edge; he became the champion of a white America aching to protect itself from dissolution just a little longer.

/DeSantis by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

In the next election, it's either the Donald or Florida governor Ron DeSantis, and DeSantis, today, has the clarity of being extreme. If he manages to replace Trump as the Republican contender, he makes Biden more washed out, more white, more unappealing and middling.

The campaign period is story-telling time

After a candidate is elected, expect the slide towards the middle. Moderation and balance and middle-of-the-road positions become more sensible, and grey, the more acceptable color. Whatever the burning issue of the day, the solution embraced by people in office will be found somewhere in the middle, far from the edges of cliffs. Come election time though, they know they have to work with the limitations of the human mind, and they will prepare their arsenal of what to say and what to promise, and they will head back to the edge of the cliff.

If you're managing a commercial product, cause or candidate, while campaigning, eschew the hardsell, the appeal to reason, and, unless you're making a documentary, avoid propositions with several bullet points.

The inflexible, stern filter is brevity. Can your story be told in a sentence? In seconds?


About the Author:

Vincent is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists and causes, and co-founder of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through vpozon@me.com.


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