Why Brand Awareness Is Actually Bullshit!

Why Brand Awareness Is Actually Bullshit!
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In this guest post, Synergy Group’s Jason Perelson (pictured below), argues that the crutch of the aging ad man, the concept of running a campaign where the benefit is “brand awareness” is, in his words, bullshit…

Society is too bright, the world too fast, information too available, and messaging too crowded to rely on the old tropes of pure brand awareness.

And yet, in 2020, we still hear how the primary importance of a campaign is its ability to generate brand awareness; and worse, an ineffective campaign is made to appear effective by the ethereal objective of brand awareness.

Picture this: you find yourself in a situation where you are asking, “How was the campaign successful in the end?”

“Well, the aim was really to drive broad brand awareness, and we got great reach in the end” comes the reply, filled with bravado and self-congratulatory vigour.

So nothing happened of value, really.

Or worse still, there was no insight as to any business benefit, because the “sell” wasn’t to do anything of business benefit. Awesome. Great job. Nailed it.

Pro-tip: that’s largely because the agency wasn’t particularly confident they would be able to deliver any. If that happens – walk away. Results aren’t guaranteed, but if you avoid them out the gate, you’re not even in the race.

That example actually happened. The perpetrator, in this case, was not some fly-by-night creative, or new entry – but rather a multinational agency level, awarded, director (there’s some article fodder in that too around talent VS resume… but enough has been said on that topic by far greater writers and creatives than I).

Case in point: Hitler ice-cream.

Something which did, in fact, happen. Arguably without tremendously deliberate intent behind it, if you choose to take the reasoning on face value here. But happen it did.

No amount of brand awareness is going to shift much volume. Other than by collectors of world oddities, and those within the Uttar Pradesh village with no apparent context to political history.

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Take an astronomical shift

To be merely aware of a brand is no longer valuable; as buyers or consumers, we are inundated with choices, messages, visuals and opportunities. To be aware of something means nothing more than that. A fleeting awareness that’s gone in an instant in favour of the next thing.

The ability to build relationships, and to take the audience on these whimsically long journeys of awareness through to desire and action over time is a fool’s errand. And the creatives who’re worth their salt dropped that errand a long time ago.

To truly be effective in creating something meaningful, useful, and ultimately commercially tactical, you need to attack the consumer journey every time, in different ways and at different velocities.

If you take the old AIDA model by way of example (whether process, funnel, pyramid or infographic – pick your poison), and think about that linear process of Awareness to Interest, to Desire and ultimately Action (and even Advocacy) – what we need to do is relook that process altogether.

Think about it more like a solar system, with an individual moment for the audience at its bright-hot centre – with all of the components of your campaign, its messaging, and the activity-drivers orbiting at various degrees, pushing and pulling with every increasing gravitational force in the moment.

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Brand value may be closer, or further away from the core consumer need – but that doesn’t necessarily distract from purchase intent. Nor would purchase intent necessarily deter a desire to purchase.

I specifically differentiate desire and intent as separate – with one driven by an emotional, reactive response (desire), and one with a more rational, purposeful driver (intent) for my own demonstration’s sake. 

Just walk through a supermarket aisle starving and you realise the power of desire over intent, just as much as taking a turn through a store like Aldi shows the fallacy of brand over necessity or cost.

Albeit it’s fair to argue Aldi trades on brand associations in package design to great effect. 

It is for that very reason that this experience solar system view revolves around that individual moment where the alignment of intent, brand, and necessity deliver not a swift triumvirate of motivation intended to create some cataclysmic purchase event, but rather finds the balance of a gravitational pull to shift the tides in our favour.

To return to the Hitler Ice-cream example above: the direct consumers in the rural areas of Uttar Pradesh have no political context of their brand ambassador and therefore their purchase intent is related directly to whether or not the cone serves as an appropriately sturdy vehicle for ice-cream, and whether the ice-cream itself does the job on a hot day.

Consumer intent is king

If you’re crafting a campaign, strategizing messaging or already delivering, and finding yourself relying on the importance of the brand awareness portion of your work – take a step back and ask… so what?

How is that brand awareness benefiting the goals of your client? Not the goals of your campaign necessarily, or even the goals your client may have listed in that first meeting – but the ultimate benefits to your client?

You need to ensure you can even answer that question before you begin.

How about getting to the real crux with a different approach to the questions you’ve been asking, with ones like:

  • What keeps the lights on?
  • What gets you up in the morning?
  • What will cause a spontaneous Mexican wave in your office when you read our results report?
  • What puts bread on the table?
  • What does success feel like; and what would make it feel twice as good?

Let me know if anyone ever answers with “…for them to be aware of my brand.”

Whether the work aims to increase footfall, purchase, uptake of service, or to influence behaviours, motivate action or inspire reaction; the consumer of the creative material is the same. Complex. Living in a complex environment. Surrounded by hundreds of other messages trying to do the same thing as you.

So, they’re aware of you? So what.

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Jason Perelson

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