Marketing Strategy

What puking at five taught me about marketing at 28

Being sick is not a lot of fun. Especially if you’re five (or thereabouts), coming down off a grandparent-induced sugar high. However, 23 years later, the experience really taught me something as, once again, I found myself on my sick bed.

This time, it wasn’t mountains of sweets which brought me low – it was the dreaded flu. Full-blown, muscle-tearing, eyeball blurring flu.

So there I am, feeling pretty sorry for myself. And what’s the first thing that I do? Not reach for the Lemsip or similar. It’s whine that I haven’t got any Lucozade.

I don’t think Lucozade has ever advertised itself as an anti-flu medication.

But that doesn’t matter in the slightest, because, when I was five and poorly, unable to keep anything down, my Mum gave me cold Lucozade as a way of getting some energy inside me (and, without sounding too gross, a way of getting some energy inside me that would stay inside me).

And that was that. Ever since then, at the first sign of cold/flu, it’s out with the Lucozade.

Yes, there’s the rational argument that if you’re sweating like a pig in a sauna, unable to eat anything, nauseous, fevered, delirious and possibly hallucinating into the bargain, something like Lucozade is a good way of replacing sugars and salts in your body.

But when you’re feeling ill, you’re not feeling totally rational and the above frankly doesn’t matter.

What does matter, however, is this…

I remember being ill and I remember my Mum looking after me.
I remember being given Lucozade because I couldn’t eat anything.
I remember feeling better soon afterwards.

The fact is, Lucozade probably had nothing to do with my recovery at all or, if it did, only marginally. It was being looked after by my Mum, some TLC and a bit of time. That’s what made me better (and vomiting up whatever made me ill in the first place).

But the Lucozade is such a strong part of the memory and the experience that its effects have stayed with me decades later and have changed my sickness behaviour.

So herein lies the beginnings of a marketing truth.

The story above has nothing at all to do with a drink or an illness. It has everything to do with the relationship a young boy had (and still has) with his mother. Therefore when I get properly sick, the deepest parts of my brain want to be looked after and made better, as I was when I was five.

At nearly 30, that’s a little impractical (not to mention Norman-Bates-like) – so Lucozade is a subconscious crutch which puts me, temporarily, back in that position. Subconsciously, I therefore crave that which puts me in a mental state to get well again, because of the memory links and connotations.

I’ll be prepared to wager that everyone has episodes like these in their stories. And that if they examine their behaviour now, there will be telltale tickles from the subconscious that are normally ignored but actually lead back to a specific memory or moment in time and bring part of that moment back to the present.

And the marketing truth therefore is…

A concept I’m calling Relateable Experience. If Lucozade ran a marketing campaign aimed at sick kids and their parents, I’d buy into it. Why? Because I’ve lived it.

I relate to it from my own experience. It’s real.

The sports stars, who run marathons, clamber over boulders and generally perform feats of breathtaking athleticism, by contrast, aren’t real.

Imagine if all advertising and marketing work could run on these lines, where the central tenet of the messaging was constructed around the relateable experience principle. For a start, it would put the consumer firmly back in the centre of the relationship – being talked with, not to or at.

It would also help to form emotional bonds and connections, even before the product/service was in the consumer’s hands.

On the downside, it could be argued that just using the relateable experience principle alone would rule out a vast amount of awe-inspiring conceptual work. To that, there’s a simple reply:

If your advertising is about producing awe-inspiring conceptual work and not about your customer, you’re wasting your time and the privilege of your audience’s attention.

Of course, there are people who love awe-inspiring conceptual work (I’m one of them) – and if I’m your target audience, blow me away with the twelve gauge of your creativity by all means. But only blow me away because it’s the right thing to do in order to get me to buy your product, not because you just want to show that you can.

Because if you’re doing it just to show that you can, not only is that just a little bit pretentious, but I can’t relate to it. There are no twinges in my heart when I see the advert, there’s no knowing nod when I read the first copy line. It doesn’t mean anything to me. And that’s not a good opening for your sales pitch.
(I could start arguing cognitive consonance – again – here in so far as I like conceptual stuff because it pleases my mind to try and unpick it, to work hard at it, to labour for hours over meaning and glorying over technical skill. But most people probably just want to know how much the thing costs.
Cognitive consonance could be argued to be part of the relateable experience pattern because the people who like the conceptual stuff seek out the conceptual everywhere from film to music to art etc, so to include it in the advertising is fine. Again though – so long as they are the defined target audience and it’s not Mr Smith who just wants to know how fast it’ll go or what colour it comes in. And I’m only providing this example to justify Honda Cog and Jazz anyway).

So, relateable experience. A new way of looking at things for 2011 or a product of flu, over-the-counter drugs and vast amounts of Lucozade? What could using this approach mean for your product or brand? Join in a debate below!


One thought on “What puking at five taught me about marketing at 28

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