Simplicity without substance: a brand trust killer
BRANDS NEED TO OFFER CONTENT BEYOND CLAIMS FOR BRAND POSITIONING TO RING TRUE
The ad column in The New York Times last Friday was headlined “Paring Down Marketing Messages to a Few Simple Basics,” and offered this overview:
“SIMPLY put, a lot of what Madison Avenue says these days is simply put. “Simply,” “simple” and “simplicity” — along with like-minded thoughts that include “easy,” “honest” and “clear” — have become marketing buzzwords in response to three related trends: how busy life today seems, the growing complexity of technology and the increasingly complicated economic picture. That has encouraged advertisers to woo consumers with promises to provide solutions that are meant as simple but not simplistic.”
What follows are several examples, essentially of fairly traditional lip service to simplicity, from brands that offer little in the way of simplifying substance or news. Ivory Soap (“Keep it pure, clean and simple.”). California Milk Processor Board (“Real. Simple. Got Milk?”). And the Simply Juices line from Coca-Cola, where the name supposedly says it all (but in an altogether undifferentiated way from any other 100% juice line).
My favorite misplaced example offered is Real Simple magazine, the forest-killing monthly that, fattened with ad pages, seems to be telling us that all we need to reach simple nirvana is more stuff (preferably from its own licensed lines of products available at major retailers).
SIMPLICITY DOES PAY OFF IN BRANDING
I am actually quite interested in the subject of simplicity, in marketing and otherwise, having long subscribed to the philosophy of “simple is good,” so I searched the article eagerly for new facts, studies, evidence of how and why simplicity is making real in roads. But where was the mention of Seigel+Gale’s intriguing “Simplicity Index,” which for several years has brought some statistical rigor to the subject and philosophy upon which that firm bases its entire business? And where were the mentions of marketers reaching out to actively help consumers simplify their lives via instructive content marketing?
And I wish that Stuart Elliot had at least touched on the inherent problem of a core lack of truth or significance in so many of these traditional assertion-not-substance campaigns? He might have at least mentioned that “simplicity” is one of those unregulated claims – like “all natural” (which was featured on the opposite page in an article about a new class action suit against General Mills for false advertising) – which, while appealing to consumers also runs the risk of incurring their wrath if found to be untrue or not compelling in its minimal truthfulness. (Interestingly, I think what Simply Juices wants to do with their name is side-step the whole “natural” brouhaha, and I would argue with Mr. Elliot that their campaign isn’t part of the simplicity versus complexity but positions them as natural without saying so. Unfortunately, this side-stepping hasn’t saved the brand from its own class-action lawsuit headaches.)
As Seigel+Gale’s index shows, simplicity, if actually delivered, can be a major brand-building benefit (and a boost to shareholder value; take a look at the numbers in the “Simplicity Portfolio” contained within the annual index report). Likewise, the mandate for truthfulness in a media age controlled by consumers, online and off, can be turned to significant marketing advantage, as illustrated in Jonathan Baskin’s new book “Tell the Truth: Honesty is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool.” But as those and other observers note, that advantage arises out of demonstrating simplicity and delivering on it as a brand experience – not simply claiming it as a positioning, or incorporating it into a theme line or brand name.
While I wish that Mr. Elliot had dug a little deeper into the subject, I more so fault the marketers and, most of all, their very traditional agencies, which are stuck in their apparently still-profitable rut of speaking at consumers rather than with them, of asserting rather than demonstrating, of interrupting their lives with paid messages rather than enhancing their lives with the information, education and entertainment they need and want. In short, traditional agencies are still making image-based claims without bringing them alive with content (or even self-evident truth) – and in this age, that simply won’t do.