13 August 2015 14:17:34 IST

What is ‘strategy’ in advertising?

Read on to know about ‘what’ of an advertisement; and what works or doesn’t work, in the ad sphere

One of the most abused terms in management today is the word “strategy”. Let me give you an example of how meaningless the jargon has become with today’s management students. The other day, as I was walking in the corridor of the business school after a session, I heard one guy asking his friend an extremely difficult question: “Bro, I want to meet that girl at 5 pm, give me a strategy”. I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Check the time on your watch and land up at 5!”

In advertising

That’s an indication of how inappropriately the word is being thrown around. But seriously, let’s talk about advertising and the use of strategy in its making. Let me simplify this whole discussion and end with an example to illustrate what I am saying. But before this, I have a fairly important task — that of defining strategy in advertising.

Strategy in advertising is the ‘what’ that is being said about the brand in communication. You could also use the word ‘positioning’ and here, I speak loosely as that subject deserves another piece. So the strategy could be to describe a product as long lasting or reliable or the lowest price. The execution of the advertising is ‘how’ it is being said. So you could use one of various advertising themes like a celebrity or humour or emotion even. Here’s a commercial about long lasting Plywood with interesting creative. Click here to watch it.

Yet, when you talk of great advertising, you must remember that it works because the strategy is bang on and the execution, brilliant. It cannot work when only one of the two is effective. Both have to work in tandem. Let’s talk about one commercial, that is not so recent but useful because it demonstrates precisely the point I am trying to make.

We are the Blackberry boys

This commercial made waves some time ago as it a very visible campaign, thanks to the media weight behind it. If my memory serves me right, it even won a few awards. I am sure you remember the commercial as it is not very dated but before you see it, let me give you a quick preamble to the ad.

The traditional Blackberry user was someone like me, older, who was using the phone for organisational needs like checking mails and going online in addition to the traditional phone usage of calling and messaging. He was hardly adventurous in his usage of the phone. My generation does not download music, chat or use the phone for almost everything, unlike my children.

Blackberry had a new phone and the objective was to change the profile of users and get the attention of younger consumers who were not looking at Blackberry seriously. This was for Vodafone users. Click here and watch the commercial.

Doubtless, you find it striking and I am sure the agency would call it memorable. It has a catchy jingle and shows older people like me watching in bewilderment as younger kids edge the older people out of the frame, claiming to do all things with the phone that older people like me are unwilling to explore or are ignorant of its use.

Let’s revisit the objective — to get newer, smarter, younger users into the user fold. This brings me to my major grouse with the commercial.

Let me ask you a simple question — how do you think brands gain market share? By holding on to existing customers and getting new customers. They don’t do this by alienating their existing customers and portraying them as old and dumb or show them in poor light.

This is like saying that my wife is old and haggard just because I want a smart, young girlfriend. I remember a proverb in Tamil that translates as “Giving up your husband so that you can get the king“. Never mind the fact that the king does not want you in the first place! So strategically, this commercial fails in my opinion at least.

What should be different in your life now?

This is just a small piece to get you thinking. Think about advertising, now that you are management students. Hitherto, you were mere consumers of advertising. You could merely say “it’s cool” or “it sucks”. Not anymore. Hereafter, you must not only see advertising campaigns but analyse them. Discuss them while you are in class or with your friends. Try to understand what the brands are doing and why. Critique them, for soon, you will be in marketing and others will be evaluating your work as well.

Welcome to the big bad world of work!

To read more from the Third Umpire section, click here .