Salt Ideas Essay #9: The disruptive power of soft power

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Soft power has a much more profound effect on long lasting change than hard sell, writes Jose Miguel Sokoloff, President of the Mullelowe Group Global Creative Council.

At its most traditional, marketing is a tool for sales that fundamentally talks about a product or service in a positive light and tries to convince people to prefer it with numbing repetition and practical arguments. This has sparked the “first ever”, the “only”, the “20 per cent free”, the “while supplies last” and so many other advertising clichés we have learned to live with.

But marketing has usually recognised the power of emotional connections as well. The most successful brands out there have created these emotional connections with us. These connections are personal and universal. They talk to the human being in every one of us, not the “consumer” or “target group” we all can be categorised in. We all feel strongly about Apple or Hot Wheels because we have a connection to these brands. Not all our feelings about these brands are necessarily positive, but our brain does not need to think a lot to allow us to express an opinion about them and their products. We are unaware of their hard sell efforts, we just feel something and can express it clearly. If what we feel is mostly positive we will prefer these brands over others. It’s actually quite simple; on paper.

The difficulty arises when it comes to identifying these characteristics and messages that build these connections. Marketing has traditionally been somewhat bi-polar as well. There is work done for brands and work done for causes. Some of the most notable advertising has been done for good causes, and has brought about change big and small. Anti-smoking campaigns have succeeded in making smoke-free environments a norm, breast cancer awareness campaigns have increased the number of regular check-ups performed dramatically and potentially saved many lives, efforts to teach people to eat the Lion fish have helped deplete the populations of this foreign predator in the waters of the Caribbean helping preserve the original fauna found in the reefs. People believe in these causes, see the good in them and join them. That is why change happens. That is how we help create a better world.

But marketing does not need to be bi-polar at all. Successful brands in the future will be those who contribute to making the world better. Cleaner engines or less polluting detergents are obvious product solutions. But marketing and brands need to go beyond that. They need to embrace causes that are coherent with their product and lead them while selling their products and fostering a profitable business. An antibacterial soap for example, is leading the charge in teaching hand washing in many parts of the world where child mortality is especially high due to diseases easily prevented by soap and water. This simple habit saves lives and sells soap. A car brand in China has selflessly reminded drivers of the consequences of not paying attention to traffic signs. By doing this it raises awareness of a problem and connects with the public by showing concern for drivers and pedestrians alike.

There are many examples like these in today’s marketing landscape, but somehow, having become fairly common, they have not worn out like so many things in marketing tend to do. They keep getting stronger. The skills developed for traditional marketing plus the skills developed for cause-driven marketing are coming together in a powerful way. The sheer power these brands have in terms of media buying amplifies the reach of  the message and potentially its ability to bring about positive change. Used properly, advertising is probably one of the most powerful tools for positive change we have at hand. Using it responsibly to help make the world a better place is every marketer’s responsibility.

Done well, everybody wins. Brands win because they create powerful bonds with their users around issues that matter deeply and affect everyone directly or indirectly. People win because all awareness and action generated by these efforts is constructive. Marketing wins because it becomes more useful as a tool not only for selling but for creating a better world.

WHEN MARKETING’S THE GOOD GUY

– Identify a cause that’s coherent with your brand and action it though marketing

– The power of a brand’s media buying amplifies the reach of the message and potentially its ability to bring about positive change When marketing is done well with purpose, everyone wins.

About Jose Miguel Sokoloff

Jose Miguel Sokoloff, president, Mullen Lowe Group Global Creative Council & Co chairman and CCO Lowe SSP3 Colombia, is one of the leading Latin American creatives and agency leaders. His work towards bringing about a new, peaceful Colombia is at the heart of his multi award- winning FARC Guerrilla demobilisation campaigns and has seen him awarded around the world. He is also a regular Tedx speaker.

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