Last week, I talked about a new idea in advertising called engagement branding. In describing its possible origin, I chose Hegel's dialectic. Obscure, perhaps, but I just couldn't help it.
And, would you believe it? I got more reader response than usual. Some of the responses were even from folks who'd read Hegel and declared themselves Hegelians. But a few folks wanted to understand more about what I meant when I talked about engagement branding.
As you'll recall, I wrote that the idea of engagement branding can be looked upon as a synthesis arising out of the conflict between the concepts and activities of direct response and branding. It is an idea that to some extent brings these two together.
Let me just make it clear that the model I used, the dialectic, doesn't naturally relate to the direct response versus branding debate. Rather, it is the process by which the debate can potentially be resolved. The point was not to construct an analogy but to demonstrate a way of thinking about the process of resolving seemingly opposite views.
So, what do I really mean when I say engagement branding? Do I have any examples? In what way might it be different than the kinds of marketing activities that are already in use?
First, let me define branding and direct response as I mean them in this discussion.
When I talk about what constitutes the activity of branding -- and I do see it as an activity, albeit more sublime than some activities -- I'm referring to media that performs a monologue to potential consumers. Broadcast media certainly doesn't seek to elicit feedback from an audience, and the goal isn't to establish a quantifiable causal relationship between an advertising asset and a consumer action. The advertiser uses a 30-second soliloquy to generate something we call brand. Broadcast isn't the only medium used to brand, but it certainly has proven itself in the last 40 years as the most effective and popular tool.
As for direct response, it really is specifically used for no other purpose then to move widgets. At the end of a 120-second spot, if a toll-free number appears on the screen accompanied by an address to which you can send your check or money order, the sole objective is to make a sale.
Engagement branding is a new opportunity in advertising, wherein elements of branding can be married to response mechanisms within the same advertising event.
It is advertising that seeks to create a brand experience by manufacturing a means for consumers to engage with the brand and then allows the user who has had that experience to respond to it. Better yet, the user's experience is the response.
Recent examples of what I think constitute engagement branding have been run on Yahoo A while back, Ford took over the front page of the site with an ad for its Explorer SUV. When a visitor arrived, the page shook and birds flew from a wire to a tile on the right-hand side of the page, where they pecked away birdseed to reveal the Ford Explorer. Just this last week, Pizza Hut had an asset running in which a graphic of a pizza burst through the front page, floating off the giant oven spatula and coming to rest within the tile on the right hand side of the screen. If I moused over the graphic, different kinds of pizza toppings would tumble from just above and settle on top of the pizza. Visitors could then click through if they wanted.
The ad unit preserved the graphic elements of the brand, communicated the idea of the variety available at Pizza Hut -- consistent with the company's current campaign -- and was interactive, eliciting and requiring interaction from the audience to make the ad unit work.
One of the interesting things about an instance of engagement branding is that the immediate outcome of the response element isn't usually the sale of a widget -- in the above case, a pizza. Instead, the result of the lean-forward activity is the generation of data. This data can be turned into very valuable information about a product: brand perception, attitude, usage, and a potential customer profile.
The understanding of customers and their needs has traditionally been a separate endeavor to that of advertising. It is research and development; it is marketing; but it hasn't really been advertising. Advertising happens after the project of understanding consumers and their needs.
The engagement branding concept might very well be the idea that brings together marketing research and advertising in a dialectic that yields yet another synthesis.
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