By Roy H. Williams
In her 1991 book, The Popcorn Report, Faith Popcorn wrote of a trend called Fantasy Adventure: “What is Fantasy Adventure exactly? It’s vicarious escape through consumerism, catharsis through consumption. It’s a momentary, wild-and-crazy retreat from the world into an exotic flavor, a foreign experience, some product-assisted derring-do of the imagination.” Soon after that, we saw The Disney Store make its appearance in the malls of America and ChuckECheese gave us the first animatronic band, The Rock-afire Explosion. Then the powerboys of Las Vegas announced a series of themed retreats, each one carefully designed to make us feel as though we were walking through an Indiana Jones movie.
Ms. Popcorn defined the difference between a fad and a trend as “a trend lasts at least 10 years.” Indeed, Fantasy Adventure had its full ten years, but now it’s in sharp decline. The new hunger is for truth. Television sitcoms are being replaced by reality shows. The first of these, Survivor, was recently trumped (pun intended) by the less packaged, less scripted, less contrived The Apprentice. In music, the highly choreographed Britney Spears has been superceded by the more touchable Biance Knowles. Even in Las Vegas, the spectacular style of Siegfried and Roy is being replaced by the up-close and believable street magic of David Blaine. Less true is being replaced by more true.
Near the end of her 1991 book, a prescient Faith Popcorn reminisced; “It seemed to me, in the sixties, advertising was the most creative business around. The consumer world was new, wide open; ads were all creativity, no research. I loved the business when I started in it… You could feel that consumer world narrowing in the seventies and eighties. Heavy earnest research weighed down ads with somber and often meaningless promises. The consumer world was quantified… In the nineties, consumers don’t believe the promises anymore. If the ad says, “ninety-out-of-a-hundred people prefer fill-in-the-blank,” we cynically assume that those 90 are the advertiser’s 90 best friends and relatives. We know that numbers can be interpreted to mean almost anything. So, the situation now is that numbers have lost their credibility, and yet creativity isn’t strong enough to stand on its own.”
Q: So if data has lost its credibility, and creativity alone is no longer enough, through what channel can an advertiser best persuade today’s customer?
A: Through the customer’s own experience.
1. Refer to things in your ads that you know your customer has experienced. In classes at the academy, I call this technique “using a reality hook.”
2. When available, include raw, unscripted testimonials. Your customer has a lifetime of experience sifting golden nuggets of truth from a world of hype and empty promises. Put this highly refined ability to work for you. (Speaking of this technique, a reporter for Fast Company recently posted the online comment, “Wizard Academy Press seems to have the lock on this fun approach to promoting not just books and projects — but the people behind them. This is effective, personal, positive stuff.”)
3. Deliver to your customer exactly the experience you promised them. (For those of you familiar with the Advertising Performance Equation, this is known as the PEF.)