The future of branding is soft sell

By Ben McGrath

We live in the Holocene epoch. It began about 11,500 years ago and saw the rise of human civilization, our evolution from sharpening stones with other stones to nanotechnology and McDonalds.

Even more notable for those of us who work in advertising and marketing is that we have entered the Age of Entertainment. It started approximately five minutes ago and will last until we revert to sharpening stones with other stones.

Let’s have a quick history lesson. Advertising used to be interruptive. You’d be watching your favorite TV program when suddenly a sales message was forced into your face. You could go to the bathroom or make a cup of tea but, like most of us, you’re probably lazy and just sat watching. So, no matter how boring or inane the ad was, some of the message would reach you. Same with radio. With print, you could turn the page but the headline and visual would affect you at some level.

Sadly for us Mad Men accustomed to 3-hour lunch breaks and earning enormous amounts for doing very little, all this has changed. There is still some interruptive advertising around – think banner ads and pre-roll spots on YouTube – but it is about as effective as a chocolate sunshade. It has been calculated that the average person is more likely to be killed by lightning than click on a banner ad. As for pre-roll spots, folks pay more attention to watching the countdown tick away than the video during the five seconds of enforced viewing.

Nowadays the task is to amuse, enthrall and engage everyone out there in Consumer Land. Marketeers have to cunningly persuade folks to buy the shampoo or fizzy drink while they’re distracted. This Facebook video #TokyoUnexpected I worked on with BBDO Thailand is a great example. It’s a love story. A comedy. A travelogue. And, by the way, it’s also an ad for Visa.

Wow, what a great sales message!

I made this webisode for Nescafe with Mandalay Publicis.* Again, the emphasis was on storytelling. After regaling the public with music, drama and dance, it was mentioned that the 10x smoother taste of Blend & Brew helps smooth out life’s little problems. And folks kept coming back for more with episodes 2 and 3. Hundreds of thousands watched the spots. Millions drink the coffee. I like to take full credit.

Today’s advertising landscape isn’t all digital. Great brands reach out to consumers wherever they can find them. Lean Cuisine got in touch at New York’s Central Station. Now, consider this: when you’re rushing for a train or returning home after a day’s work, the last thing you want is someone trying to sell you frozen food. But this effort worked because they didn’t try to deliver a direct product message. Instead they made people feel good about themselves and the brand by association. Take a peek here.

Events are an essential element in the marketing mix in Myanmar and globally. The masters in this sphere are Red Bull. Their tagline is ‘Red Bull gives you wings’. The thought is that the product provides you with the energy to do anything you want. Instead of blathering on about how taurine, caffeine and other yummy ingredients boost your adrenaline levels to fight or flight levels, the brand simply encourages you to take part in various life-threatening activities.

A quick browse through past and present Red Bull events includes cliff diving, motocross, mountain biking, skateboarding, skiing and stunt flying. They even got someone to do a parachute jump from the edge of space. Figures show over 42% market share worldwide. They must be doing something right.

Sales are still the #1 priority of advertising and branding. But it must be a soft sell. Yangon Creative Solutions has 2 fabulous examples of videos that firstly entertain, then explain and ultimately gain market share in production for our clients FGI Safety Glass and jewelers U Hton. Watch this space.

Well, I would like to give more examples but my local ABC has sold out of Nescafe B&B and Red Bull thanks to wonderful marketing and I’ve run out of energy.


*OK, a few more people than just me were involved. Ko Koko, Mr Perfect, Vinnie and what seemed to be the whole of Publicis Thailand all played vital roles in the production.


Ben McGrath is Managing Director of Yangon Creative Solutions and fashion advisor to Donald Trump.



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