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Creating Effective Product Benefits Advertising, Part 2: The Product Plays the Role of Hero

The challenging economic environment in the aftermath of the Great Recession has turned up the pressure for brands to create advertising that will justify the investment… and the continued advertising budget.  To meet this challenge, one advertising format brands are turning to is the product benefits ad.  For this reason we have put together a four part series which shares proven techniques for creating product benefits ads that sell.

Part one of this series examined tactics for ensuring that the advertised product actually remains the main character of the advertisement.  As with any narrative, we must endeavor to appropriately develop our character.  Certainly we must avoid consumers perceiving our product as they do the odd relative who overstays his invitation to the holiday gathering and for whom we uncomfortably wait to take his leave – boring, irrelevant and annoying.  Rather, we should strive for our product to be engaging, compelling… even heroic.

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Part 2:  The product plays the role of hero.

The second key essence of product benefits advertising is “the product plays the role of hero.” The ultimate goal of product benefits advertising is for the product to be seen as the means to the desired end. As such, our product becomes the vehicle through which consumers are able to effectuate their deepest needs and desires. It thus becomes a hero by helping the consumer:

  1. Solve a pressing problem, or

  2. Enhance their life.

Product as Problem Solver: Many of the products we use in everyday life solve some type of problem, from those that may seem relatively mundane – how to get a sparkling toilet bowl without so much effort – to those that are vital to our well-being – the drug for keeping our blood pressure under control. Of course, it never hurts to have ground-breaking, disruptive innovation to crow about. But that is not the reality that most products are faced with. What are some tactics our brand can use to pique consumers’ interest in our brand’s solution to their problem?

  1. Use information about a new variety or feature – or even an entirely new product – which provides a new way of doing something. “News” gets attention and sparks interest – especially among younger generations. It may be a new scent or flavor, an interesting new ingredient, an added feature or an improved method of using the product. News denotes change and implies improvement – giving the consumer a reason to believe the product’s solution will be better.

  2. Differentiate the product to show how it provides an advantage versus other options. In order for consumers to want to try our product’s solution, they will need to perceive that it is different in some way from other options. This can be done through a claim of uniqueness pertaining to some meaningful aspect of the product or its performance, but it can be even better to provide evidence or a demonstration which proves how our product is different.

  3. Use a claim of superiority and/or a comparison to the competition to highlight how our product is an improvement over others. Note that an unsupported claim to be “better”, “faster”, “healthier” and so on is not likely to move consumers. Superiority should be claimed on some specific dimension(s) and substantiated in some meaningful way. A comparison to the competition can make the claim of superiority more concrete and believable. Comparisons can be made directly versus a specific competitor or indirectly versus a representation of the competition (“leading brand”, “non-quilted paper towels”, etc.). While both approaches have been seen to be effective, there is some evidence that direct comparisons – especially against large brands – are often more powerful when they can legally be made. But make sure you are prepared for the response from the targeted competitor.

Research has shown that these tactics are all associated with a greater likelihood of above norm persuasion levels:

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This example ad for Oral B illustrates the effective use of these tactics to sell the viewer on the brand’s solution to cleaning her teeth.

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Products as Life Enhancer: It’s called “everyday life” for a reason. Sometimes we look for a little spark of excitement wherever we can get it – even from our toothpaste. Advertising can offer our brand as the means to enhancing life in a concrete manner but also in less tangible ways. While there are any number of potential approaches, the following types have been commonly employed to illustrate how the product can enhance one’s life.

  1. What can do more to facilitate the good life – making life more pleasant, alleviating frustration or expanding leisure time – than a product that can render tedious or tiresome tasks simpler, faster or more efficient? If our product is able to effect such a change, then focus on such a convenience claim can be a powerful driver advertising effectiveness.

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  1. More than making the tedious faster or easier, other products may promise that the use or consumption of the product itself will be a pleasant experience. Such enjoyment appeals are common in ads for food and drink brands (“tonight, let it be Lowenbrau”), restaurants (“I’m lovin’ it”), entertainment categories, consumer electronics (LG – “Life’s Good”) and so on. But they can also be deployed in less obvious ways, such as by health and beauty brands. This example from Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gioia uses images, setting and voice over to convey pleasure derived from the product.

  2. Further up the hierarchy of needs, we all want to feel good about ourselves. Ads that can associate the product with the creation of a sense of personal empowerment, while tricky to pull off, can pay-off if they truly hit the mark. This confidence building approach was effectively targeted to younger women in this ad by Dove Clinical Protection, which used vignettes to link product efficacy to the strength needed to overcome challenges.

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  1. Some ads encourage viewers to think big. These aspirational ads hold out the possibility that the best things in life – success, happiness, wealth, social status – are achievable and not just dreams. Of course, with the exception of the occasional late-night infomercial, these ads do not promise the product will enable you to achieve these things. The key is in linking some vital aspect of the story to the brand’s equity. In the following example, Dr. Pepper aligns itself with reaching the top because its equity as a unique, one-of-a kind soft drink aligns with the story of the ad’s subject.

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It was Leo Burnett who said, “What helps people, helps business.” In its role as the hero of our advertisement, the product shows how it can help people to live better lives. If this is done effectively, it will not only help the people we reach with our product, but drive business for our brand as well – and isn’t that the objective of our advertising?

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