The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Interesting concepts being tossed around at The Advertising Research Foundation's annual conference in New York, as reported by Real Media Riffs. Gerald Zaltman, professor of business administration at Harvard and author of "How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market", is trying to impart the importance of trying to quantify the emotional quotient in advertising effectiveness, and learning from it.
Zaltman calls this process the "co-creation of meaning" and he says that really effective advertising does it and really great advertising professions should understand how to employ it. What it means is that advertising can only go so far, and that after a point, consumers bring their own thoughts into the shaping of a brand.
Essentially, it's the idea that less is more in delivering the ad message, with the target audience filling in the remaining blanks. There's no better way to establish a bond between product and consumer than to foster this sort of relationship. A very basic form of this relationship is when the need for the product is apparent: If you're overweight, you see an ad for a weight-loss shake; you need this, so you buy it and use it, thus "completing" the interaction. Higher levels of this should have the same goal in mind: You like your current car, but that flashy new model is nice-looking, will catch the eyes of more girls with you behind the wheel, etc. It's the familiar concept of "selling the sizzle, not the steak", dissected.
"Successful advertising results in the co-creation of personally relevant stories. The consumers are the primary authors," says Zaltman, suggesting an idea that is bound to send chills up the backs of any copywriter.
I'm not so sure why copywriters, or other creatives, need to worry should Zaltman's model become standard operating procedure. On the surface, it sounds like creative's role is being reduced, in that the closing part of the job is being "done" by the consumer. But not really; the trick is to craft the winning copy/visuals that leads to the desired reaction from the target. It's the same facilitative role that creative has always carried out; it's just perceived differently (more accurately?) this way.