Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why the 'wink' in advertising is so important

Achieving advertising effectiveness has never been harder.

It starts with advertising being an interruption, since most of it is experienced unsolicited. That's not too hard to overcome. After all, we engage with advertising as an implicit contract: it's an agreement to give our time and attention to an advertiser's pitch - and subject ourselves to its manipulative intent for which it has been designed - in return for a reward. That reward must have utility such as information value, or entertain us.

The biggest challenge facing advertisers stems from how literate and skeptical audiences today are about marketing practices. Communications that contain 'marketing speak' and which sound and feel like advertising are viewed as deliberate ploy, and people engage with them differently. Any openness to believe the honesty of the message diminishes quickly. People's defenses are raised and rational scrutiny is deployed, the twin fears of the folks in ad land.

This is why the wink is so important in today's marketing climate.

The wink is a tacit way the advertiser can remain connected and in allegiance with an otherwise jaded audience. It serves to affirm (through an act or gesture not a direct appeal) that "Hey, we're not taking ourselves too seriously...we're just having some fun" and so seeks to lessen the defenses and objections that lay in the way of a person's openness to believe the message.

Case in point, the current Verizon commercial in which alongside business people, the network size is personified as a huge throng of verizon employees all sitting on chairs, completely filling up a large room. At the end the commercial, as the 'network' people are shuffling out of the room, one of them turns to the Verizon "Can you hear me know?" spokesperson and says "Next time, we need more chairs". Speaking to the artifice, the suspended disbelief of the creative construct, it does much to convey an honesty and transparency on behalf of the advertiser. It makes us feel there's a good human quality to these folks, which helps to positively dispose us to the message, whatever it is.

Another example is a Dove Shampoo commercial from 2005 below. The wink at the end (which we won't spoil) does a superb job of showing the audience that the brand is not taking itself too seriously, softens us up and helps make us more amenable to the idea it is promoting. By being playful, we are more prepared to over-look the fact that the event is very evidently staged and interpret it for what it is - beautiful storytelling through an engaging metaphor.

So, consider using a little wink in the right context to raise the cut-through effectiveness of your communications.

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