Last week, I introduced the concept of external personas: fictional characters built in the likeness of one’s target audience and incorporated into consumer advertising, rather than limited to agency use. Personas have proved invaluable when developing new sites and products, and an opportunity now exists for them to be pushed beyond the boundaries of internal documentation into consumer-facing marketing materials.
Advertisers universally choose actors and feature character scenarios to which their customers can relate to sell their products. A product is only as relatable as those who pitch it, but how much do consumers typically know about those hired guns? Few advertisers endeavor to provide the depth of data necessary for consumers to truly identify themselves in the characters they see. Yet as with personas used to determine a site user’s needs, the more demographic, psychographic, and historical information provided, the more likely the character will resonate with consumers.
The challenge with incorporating personas into ads is twofold. First, advertisers must put equal emphasis on selling the product and getting to know the character. When weaving an extensive background story into an ad, it’s easy to lose sight of its purpose.
Marketers also run the risk of boring potential customers with the mundane. Let’s face it, a typical consumer’s everyday life isn’t usually enough to sustain one’s interest in an ad. To be successful, advertisers must elevate the familiar aspects of their customers and their lives to create campaigns that are at once recognizable and stimulating.
External Personas, to the Extreme
Unilever has mastered this technique with its Sprays in the City blog. Drawing inspiration from HBO’s “Sex and the City” series, the campaign follows the lives of Spraychel and Spritzy (personified I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Spray and Wish-Bone Salad Spritzers Dressing) and their host of edible friends and relatives through weekly video episodes and background stories.
Like the famed “Sex and the City” characters, each of the campaign’s personas represents a different personality type, but all live a glamorous city lifestyle. It’s obvious where persona, product, and consumer intersect; with its low-fat, low-carb spray products and surprisingly racy dialogue (Spritzy tells viewers she’s looking for “a cool guy to roll in the lettuce with”), Unilever is clearly targeting young women for whom appearance, style, socializing, and celebrity gossip are paramount.
The site’s Webisodes feature the characters clubbing, speed-dating, and meeting movie stars (some played by actual celebrities) and reference Target retail stores and “America’s Next Top Model.” It’s an effective mix of experiences and cultural cues familiar to key consumers, as well as fantasy events they can identify with through aspiration.
In addition to TV spots on Bravo, VH1, and E and print ads in celebrity rags like “In Touch Weekly,” “Us Weekly,” and “Star,” the campaign has struck buttery gold with its partnership with cheeky gossip site PerezHilton.com (Perez Hilton himself is immortalized as a series character). It’s too bad Unilever didn’t choose to also run a search campaign using terms such as “low fat salad dressing.” It might have attracted a secondary audience to relate to the message of portion control and reduced-calorie, convenience-based cooking, if not to the personas themselves.
Brewing Up a Practical Persona Campaign
One of the most famous ad campaigns to use personas may have gone by the wayside years ago, but it’s practical approach to the technique makes it unforgettable. In the early 1990s, consumers were captivated by the Taster’s Choice serialized TV ads (originally created for a U.K. audience), which depicted the lives of two neighbors who shared a love of coffee — and eventually each other. The ads were so popular that “TV Guide” began announcing the time and date of upcoming episodes to prevent viewers from missing the action. If the campaign were to run today, it might incorporate online videos and a character blog to sustain consumers’ interest and drive traffic to the brand site.
Through the ads, consumers were invited to glimpse the neighbor’s lives (one episode introduced the woman’s brother, another her taste in dinner dates), which were decidedly like those of a typical coffee drinker, if not more dramatized. That added drama pulled consumers in; they saw themselves reflected in the campaign’s characters and aspired to live the elevated life the product appeared to facilitate.
These particular personas flaunted an element of mystery (the woman’s name was never revealed), but the insight provided into their hopes and desires was plenty effective in attracting the brand’s target audience. The female character’s quest for romance represented a familiar experience for the female consumer, something that surely remained top of mind when she, the primary shopper in the home, later walked down the coffee aisle at the supermarket.
On the surface, these campaigns may seem far-fetched, but their use of personas makes them memorable and relatable. The characters, strategically developed to embody the brands’ target consumers, are at once exaggerated and completely relevant. But above all else, they’re persona-l.
Programmatic is taking over the digital advertising world, and at an even faster rate than expected, according to eMarketer, which raised its forecast for programmatic ad spending in the U.S. on the back of growth in mobile and video programmatic buys.
Election 2016 is already like no presidential race before it, and one of the most striking aspects of this year’s race is the disparity ... read more
Video consumption keeps increasing and Facebook is serious about a video-first world, encouraging us all to explore its full potential. Ian Crocombe, ... read more
Mike Andrews Ph.D is Chief Scientist (Forensiq) at Impact Radius, and is carrying out some fascinating work around digital marketing and ad ... read more