What happens after we collect all the underpants?

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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: mumble mumble mumble
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.

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