How the age old formula of call-to-action work for brands in today's environment
My first job in advertising, when I started my career, was to sell sanitary pads to women. The business problem to solve, we were trying to sell the most expensive sanitary-pad to a woman who was using cloth (which comes for free). After lukewarm success for a couple of years and lots of focus groups, we identified that price was a barrier. Our solution, let’s drop the price by 20% as an introductory offer, and create a TV advert to announce it.
During one of the meetings about this campaign, I first discovered the phrase, ‘call-to-action’. The message needs to have a strong call-to-action, and my creative director, quickly added a line to the in-store posters that proudly said, ‘Hurry! Offer Open till Stocks Last’. While I must admit that this did work well for the business, I do wonder how it would really pan out if it were 2012.
Our surroundings have changed and so have people’s lives, relationships and behavior with it. And while the theories to explain it are getting more and more complex, the facts are rather simple.
- People have gone from being audience to participants to now brand-authors
- 24X7 is the new prime-time
- Social communities are overshadowing geographies
Experts are suggesting that marketing and brands is about ‘Acts not ads’. A lot is being said on how positive brand-activism is the way to go if you want to become a part of popular culture.
It seems like the script has changed, but the actors haven’t. When we say ‘Acts; not ads’, how different is it from a ‘call to action’?
It isn’t in a way.
Fundamentally, when a brand says something to the world, whether via an ad or any other means, success of the brand is defined by how does it move people? Does it influence their views or behavior in a manner that helps business, immediately or over a period of time? Is it leading people to act in your favour or not?
But then, there are some large differences.
The biggest, people no longer listen to brands that do all the talking. People engage in conversations with other people, albeit in a more visible manner on social networks. Now if a brand happens to be participating in the same conversation, it gets people’s attention. And it has to continue fighting for that attention by staying alive in the conversation, bring in a viewpoint for people to agree or disagree with. And after a long drawn dialogue, if the viewpoint is compelling-enough, it may move people to take action in its favour.
Another difference is the move from one brand proposition to a broader brand philosophy. Many cults, political leaders and a few brands have done that well in the past. Most brands have to learn that skill. As a brand you have to champion a philosophy, live it by example and build a loyal following (not just Facebook likes) that will grow the community for you over a period of time.
In effect, what we’re saying is that the players have changed, and indeed the platforms too. What hasn’t changed is the brands’ success or failure, defined as their ability to move people to take action. The good old-fashioned call-to-action where brands engage with their users. Only this time it’s brands who need to act first.