I grew up in the '80s. As such, I tend to relate most things in life back to the greatest movie of all time—1984's "The Karate Kid." I'm sure we all agree that Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel-san an abundance of life lessons throughout the film, but I'd like to examine one scene that is particularly applicable to marketers. The conversation begins on the first morning of Daniel-san's training:
Miyagi: You ready?
Daniel-san: Yeah, I guess so.
Disappointed in Daniel-san's response to this seemingly simple question, Miyagi takes a moment to teach Daniel-san the dangers of non-committal through a metaphor about walking down the street. Miyagi explains in his classic broken English (which somehow makes the wisdom even more truthful): "Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk middle ... sooner or later you get squish like grape."
He later continues, "Either you karate do 'yes', or karate do 'no'. You karate do 'guess so' – [squisssh] – just like grape."
Daniel-san: Yeah I understand.
Miyagi: [Grunt of approval] Now ready.
Full 'Squish like grape' scene here for those who want to experience the full effect.
So here's the marketing message: Engagement rarely happens in the middle. Companies need to create emotional discomfort in the minds of their target audiences. I'm not saying organizations need to create controversy, but rather create an issue and make it clear you are playing offense. This message was re-affirmed during my recent visit to one of the world's leading ad agencies based in L.A. They pointed out the importance of 'finding an enemy' in your marketing campaigns.
The Apple 'Mac vs. PC' campaign — The 'enemy' was the unreliability and un-cool perceptions associated with the Microsoft PC.
The Dove 'Real Beauty' campaign — The 'enemy' was the unfair and unjustified self-image some women apply to themselves.
A Business-to-Business brand
The Salesforce 'No Software' campaign — The 'enemy' was the high costs and limitations associated with the old on-site software programs like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ae_DKNwK_ms
There are countless other examples of companies who created an enemy and successfully positioned themselves as the 'good guy.'
Now think about some of the less-engaging campaigns out there. The biggest offenders, in my opinion, are cosmetics and shampoo companies. Here is the ironically 'drab' formula for 90 percent of the shampoo commercials out there:
- 1. Get a pretty girl.
- 2. Have her shiny healthy-looking hair float by the camera in slow motion.
- 3. Zoom in on how great the hair looks.
- 4. Girl smiles and recites the company slogan, then walks away so you can see her hair bounce in a live-action environment.
- Bonus Points: Girl whips around her head and looks back at the camera as she walks away to get in one last hair swish.
I'm not kidding. All of these shampoo commercials are basically the same thing.
In these companies' defense, perhaps this formula (which has been in play since at least the '70s—i.e. pre-Karate Kid) continues to drive sales at a steady pace. But the question should be asked 'could they be driving even more revenue if they took a larger risk?'
I'm guessing Dove asked themselves that question. They nailed it once again by identifying the enemy as 'ridiculous shampoo commercials' with their men's shampoo spot.
In this age of consumer control where everyone has the option to skip commercials, companies—especially those who are still trying to build a brand—can't rely on a passively safe message. So pick a side of the road—or get used to drinking grape juice.