What happens after we collect all the underpants?

July 3, 2010

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Too often in advertising, we don’t ask or answer the question “What happens AFTER we collect all the underpants?”

I was just rewatching this scene from South Park, where the leader of the Underpants Gnomes is explaining his brilliant three phase business plan. And it goes something like this:

Phase 1: Collect the underpants
Phase 2: Silence
Phase 3: Profit

Similarly, the advertising industry all too often is guilty of skipping over that critical step – how we think advertising specifically is going to increase company profit.

Ken McKenzie, who’s on the judging committee for the Irish AdFX Awards, has called for the marketing community to start doing proper marketing experiments. He is right. And it’s not a luxury either – developing an evidentiary basis for advertising is essential for our industry. We need to regain credibility at the board room table (and as Rory Sutherland says, you can’t do that with mood boards!). And we need to rise above commodity fees by demonstrating verifiable expertise.

In the UK, Binet & Field released a study of empirical generalisations about advertising success, based on an analysis of 880 IPA effectiveness awards.  They found there were a number of strategies which increase the likelihood of effectiveness, in terms of sales and profits.

1.    focusing on “hard” not “soft” objectives
2.    focusing on reducing price sensitivities instead of increasing volume
3.    focusing on increasing penetration not loyalty
4.    influencing consumers on an emotional level over rational
5.    creating “talkability”
6.    having a high SOV relative to market share
7.    including TV in the media mix
8.    having a multi-media approach – but diminishing returns kick in with number of channels

I think number one is particularly relevant to the Underpants Gnome scenario. Setting a soft objective “increase brand awareness or improve brand image” as Phase 1, is like skipping over Phase 2 and presuming Phase 3 “make profit” will magically happen.  Hard objectives make it clearer how the advertising is supposed to influence profits – “increase market share to 11% by recruiting 14,500 new users through repositioning ourselves as the most authentic Italian brand”.

We need to start putting more time and energy into answering those underpants questions.



One Response to “What happens after we collect all the underpants?”

  1. Jo Mackenzie said

    Great article.

    The setting of objectives resonates particularly strongly in digital media where an avalanche of data can easily blind us to the real results.

    A distinction between campaign are business objectives also needs to be made.

    By creating a hard set of objectives which are linked to the business objectives and not solely the campaign objectives, you automatically define the metrics for success and can then focus on the right data to vouch for the success or failure of a campaign or strategy.

    Site traffic is often a KPI cited on a digital campaigns but this focuses to heavily on the campaign objective and fails to recognise that driving traffic is just the start of achieving a business objective.

    An objective needs to be set for the traffic that is driven when it gets to the website – whether its lead generation, brochure downloads, sales etc. If those objectives are not set in advance then the likelihood is that the site won’t be optimised to deliver on them and that all the traffic in the world won’t help achieve the main objectives of the campaign.

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