What it says on the tin
By rational messages I mean selling points that deal with the physical and tangible features of a product or a service. We tend to assume that a product has to perform better than its competitors on one or more of the key drivers of its category, but this, of course, is far from a prerequisite for success provided you have a strong brand.
Yet, advertisers keep hammering home these points, wasting millions of dollars on drowning consumers in arguments they neither notice nor recall, and if they do, don’t believe in.
This isn’t to say that no decisions are made rationally, only fewer than we like to admit. Humans are irrational creatures, and more often than not let our instincts and emotions drive purchase decisions, while cognitive dissonance takes care of post-rationalisation. Which means there’s a place for rational messaging; we need assistance when time comes to justify our decisions.
I believe the most commonly made mistake with regards to advertising messaging is the assumption that rational messages must be spelt out to the consumer. If a brand wants people to believe their product is better than their competitor’s, they tell us. E.g. The burgers are better at Hungry Jack’s. However, brands saying it’s so don’t make it so! Due to the incurable tendency of marketers throughout history to over-promise and under-deliver, brands have to work progressively harder to earn people’s trust.
It is thus infinitely more powerful when the customer herself arrives at the conclusion that your brand is superior; e.g. that she herself decides she prefers Whopper to Big Mac. And for this to happen, she must want to believe this. Hungry Jacks must create desire for the product and a connection with their customers.
I think this mistake is reinforced in the creative brief. A rational message shouldn’t constitute the proposition, or “what we tell people about our product”, but rather “what we want people to believe is true about our product”. Only if the customer wants to believe something to be true about a product will she truly believe it and potentially act on it.
If the messages are created in the minds of the consumer, it means that brands must trust their customers with their messaging! They must empower us, at the expense of their own power.
Truths about product features are relative; they are subjective and vary according to taste (“I really like the toilet smell that flows out on the street from Subway restaurants”), and priorities (“Your car may be faster, but mine is safer. And it looks better. Although yours has alloy wheels …”). However, if someone likes your brand, their minds will find a way to adapt their taste and reshuffle their priorities to your advantage.
Next up, a little about emotional messages. So watch this space…