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Time to Change the Tired Old Tunes - Some Consumer Myths in Marketing and Advertising

Advertising and Promotion

By Michael Lawrence, of OIL

A healthy dose of skepticism goes a long way in marketing. There is an ocean of consumer myths out there that we can choose to either blindly embrace, or to approach with a mixture of doubt and curiosity. And given the complex and rapidly evolving social fabric in our country, it is becoming increasingly important to expose the non-truths and incorporate real insight into campaigns.

There are several myths currently doing the rounds which have become prominent themes in marketing and advertising strategies. It's time we take a closer look at these and do away with our tainted lenses.

Myth #1: Simple Advertising = Simple Brand
In many categories of late, one would think the rule of advertising has become 'more is more'. The telecoms brands are a case in point. A retail advert might promote not one but 3 phones, with features and benefits, with a Playstation 3 promotional offer, for a limited time, at select stores, with terms and conditions, etc. Is anyone likely to remember so much detail? A better understanding of the consumer journey for this sort of decision, and where the communication fits in, would make it more effective.  High involvement decisions are rarely made on the basis of one advert. Engaging with the consumer instead of overwhelming them with information can make all the difference in a campaign.

Myth #2: The advertising jingle was born in the 80's and isn't right for consumer markets today
Who can forget the hallmark jingles for Toyota's 'Everything keeps going right' or Oat-So-Easy's sing-along commercial about 'boiling water is all your need'? Although twee in many instances, the impact of audio and specifically jingles has shown to be exceptionally effective in advertising today. Quoted from Fast Company.com, recent research shows that many brands have been listed among the most addictive and powerful sounds, allegedly even surpassing some sounds from nature. According to the study, in the ten most addictive sounds in the world (branded and unbranded) the Intel jingle was second only to a baby's giggle.

Myth 3#: Black people don't like dogs
This old chestnut stems from a nasty use of dogs during apartheid. Yet anyone who sees the sheer number of children and adults who turn up with their mutts at community vet projects in Soweto will quickly abandon this notion. The relationship with their dog may not be the same as a yuppie walking his groomed trophy Cavalier down a caf'-lined street, but to assume that the black market's relationship with dogs today is only based on terrible apartheid era policing seems questionable. The predictable response is that these dogs are used to protect homes, and the number of dogs named Danger on this particular day would support this view. Yet black families have the same heartfelt concern for the wellbeing of their pets as any other, and you don't have to look far to see it.

Myth 4#: Women do the grocery shopping and cooking
What's behind our preoccupation with showing mom as the one who does the grocery shopping? Is it about reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes and reflecting an ideal nuclear family unit?  Men may sometimes be shopping under instruction (and even duress) but they still have the capacity for choice making. Departing from advertising norms here would make for more interesting campaigns and in-store material. Flip through any edition of Men's Health and you'll find the food and cooking piece. It's reality and will become more main-stream as time goes on.

Myth 5#: Black men don't fall in love
It's a sensitive issue but the myth isn't true. They're out there, falling in love, perhaps in greater number than you might think. However, the point isn't whether the myth is true or not. It's about the potential cost of getting something like this wrong in a campaign. In the testing of an advert concept black men were presented with an idea of a guy's version of love. It had it all, everything a guy would want from a girl; he sees the hot girl and dreams of their relationship. On the date they eat burgers, she loves the kung fu film he takes her to, she delights in serving him beer, after their wedding she is as happy as he is about the golf clubs and gaming console gifts. The research came back conclusively failing the idea. It might have been a dream scenario but it conceded that black men fall in love.  Admitting this crossed a line of socio-cultural mythology (read: pride and ego) that would change accepted relationship dynamics. The stakes were simply too high.

Myth 6#: Black people don't like to swim
This stereotype has become accepted wisdom in South African marketing, but it is hopelessly far removed from reality. Are the delights of water sport a popular choice only for progressive and monied black consumers? And is it as simple as suggesting they are only lapping pools in up-market health clubs?  What about Michael Mbanjwa, hailing from Valley of a Thousand Hills, who won the 2008 Duzi Canoe Marathon with partner Martin Dreyer? Michael is reported to be happy about growing interest and support for canoeing within his community. Now there are pockets of LSM B, possibly C, consumers in KZN navigating rapids along the uMsunduzi and Umgeni Rivers. Are they factored into consumer insights about rural KZN people? They may be small in number today, but what about in two or three years time? The growing number of black surfers holding their own at Durban's territorial spots like New Pier and Dairy confirms the adage, times they are a changing.

Having highlighted some of the most obvious and potentially damaging myths, it must be noted that there is a great deal of learning which still holds true in many instances. Common patterns of behavior, customs, shared beliefs, opinions and even common prejudices are far from baseless. They are helpful and make planning easier. They are convenient. And that is also their danger. They are often a common denominator and not a unique insight. If they are too readily accepted and go unquestioned, then marketing plans and advertising strategies end up being based on weak, generic and outdated assumptions.

In addition to being more critical, the industry also needs to get proactive about seeking real insight. Sitting in your consumer's living room and opening up the conversation beyond their choice of floor cleaner is likely to be enlightening, rewarding, and potentially the inspiration for that next groundbreaking campaign.

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