Some of these campaigns are not so recent. But in each case they struck home.
A successful campaign is one which creates a motion between the customer and the product or service based on customer needs, or 'vacuums'. The needs would be used so effectively that the flow would be strong and steady and result in customer and product drawing closer with almost no effort required any anyone else. Sales almost become a formality.
Volkswagen: Think Small
Back in 1960, the American public were not exactly going to be open to anything coming from Germany. Not that long previously, American soldiers had died to stop the advance of the German Third Reich.
At first glance, it looked as though legendary advertising group Doyle Dane & Bernbach set out purposefully to change peoples' perceptions about not only the product of a small German car (which had explicitly received Hitler’s approval upon first being produced), but about an entire nation. This is why this campaign is so lauded today. They came up with the slogan 'Think small' and effectively turned what might have been considered Volkswagen’s big weakness in the American marketplace into a strength. It looked like magic from the perspective of supposed American attitudes at that time.
But the truth about it is that it didn’t work because of some kind of enchantment - it worked because it tapped into what was a huge underlying vacuum in the marketplace at the time: the need for a small car. Such was the power of that at-the-time-unseen vacuum that it toppled any prejudice about Germany or German products. The lesson that most marketers take from studying this famous campaign is that 'honesty is the best policy'. They think that the key to its success was that the campaign 'didn’t try to fool the car-buying public into purchasing something that wasn’t like huge American cars' and that the public had certain expectations and weren’t argued with by the slogan.
That may all be true. But the real reason it worked was because America needed a small car at the time and this one came along to fill that vacuum. How did it do that? By simply stating the need right back at the customer. You’re thinking of buying a smaller car? 'Think small'.
No one suspected that this vacuum existed and so no one had ever tried to take advantage of it. That gives us another important clue in our quest for more and more 'vacuums':
Some of the largest vacuums out there are hidden from sight under what is apparently a successful market.
'Americans only buy large cars'. That’s the assumption that hindered anyone from seeing a huge vacuum ready to be tapped into underneath it.
In looking for vacuums, find everyday assumptions and then question them: it’s likely that you will discover an underlying, unexploited need ripe for activation.
The most fundamental feature of the Volkswagen in the American market - its size - had been turned into a vacuum: smallness.
The Volkswagen campaign is also an example of pushing a product but accidentally hitting on its vacuum instead - and thus success was virtually guaranteed.
Miller Lite: Great Taste, Less Filling
With Miller Lite, we have an example of the use of authority figures or opinion leaders to create a vacuum where none was suspected before.
The dangerous assumption here was that 'Real men don’t drink light beer'. The type of public approached by this campaign was the 'unaware or only slightly aware of need' type - men drinking beer don’t usually question that particular habit or have much cause to speculate about options around it.
Using manly figures that would strike a chord with its unsuspecting audience whose level of need was quite low, it punched through with a new idea.
The stated goal of this Miller Lite campaign would have been along the lines of 'getting ‘real men’ to drink light beer'. Again, this is pushing a product rather than finding and filling a vacuum. No one would have assumed that there was any need at all underlying the male, beer-drinking marketplace.
But there was. And it was actually a hidden desperate need.
It was connected to health. Unadmitted at that time and even to this day, even to themselves, many of these beer-drinking men had a deep fear, a swirling, suppressed vacuum, in their minds - that beer drinking, with its implications of unstoppable weight gain, was having a detrimental effect on their health. They knew - though they might not have said it even to themselves - that something needed to be done. The campaign 'Great Taste; Less Filling' meant that they could do something about it, or at least pretend they were doing something. They could drink a beer which was good to taste but which maybe had slightly less bad health effects.
The demand was there, again, below the apparently successful and impenetrable marketplace.
The lesson usually drawn from this Miller Lite campaign? 'Strive to be different.' Marketers are taught to be brave and invent a product in a marketplace in which they can become leaders. There’s some truth in that: but the underlying truth is that a successful marketer must be courageous enough to explore beneath the marketplace and find the underlying need which is huge enough to not only get sales, but change the face of the market forever.
Yes, 'Great Taste' was an example of pushing the product - but 'Less Filling' was, ironically, a superb case of filling the vacuum. 'Less Filling' was the shadow, if you like, of 'Great Taste'. It wasn’t the taste that was acting to pull in new customers - they already had that with whatever beer they were already drinking - it was the 'Less Filling' vacuum, based on the underlying larger vacuum of health concerns.
Nike: Just Do It.
Along the same lines as the health vacuum above, Nike’s 1990s slogan 'Just Do It’ similarly tapped into a health-related vacuum.
Towards the end of the 1980s, Nike was trailing behind Reebok as a maker of athletic footwear and associated products. Did they launch a series of ads pushing the advantages of their shoes over the competition’s? No. Whether they knew they were doing it or not, their marketing team hit on the exact and very active need in their public to push through blocks and stops and exercise no matter what.
'Just Do It' put it so simply. That’s what fitness and exercise were and are all about - getting on with it, getting started, getting moving. The shoe might have even been of worse quality than Reebok’s - initially, it wouldn’t matter, the 'Just Do It' statement was so simple and powerful. If a customer found problems with the shoe later, if the vacuum wasn’t filled, there might have been difficulties - but all Nike had to do was present a reasonably workable shoe to a customer that wouldn’t fall apart when he or she tried to 'Just Do It' and they were on a winner. Nike reaped the rewards. Sales went from about $800 million in 1988 to over $9 billion in 1998.
Just by tapping into the central, simply stated, existential need of anyone engaged with fitness training: the need to 'Do It'.
In deciding the best way to present your product or service, ask yourself what problem you are solving for your customers. This was actually the message that marketers learned from this campaign, and it’s closer to the truth than the campaign lessons usually learned above. It’s rare for any marketing campaign to hit on such a primal vacuum, but in this list of the most successful marketing campaigns it’s quite likely that we will find a few.
Four more examples tomorrow. For more, read How Businesses Really Work.