The Draper Effect
“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.” —Don Draper
The pilot episode of Mad Men could really stand alone as Advertising 101. Those of you who have seen it will recall Don Draper, struggling to cough up a dazzling pitch for cigarettes (amid their health risks) to the public. He’s in an important board-room meeting with the big-shot client, and he’s got nothing.
The question he faced: How do you sell something poisonous and carcinogenic to the masses? With looming research warning of the hazards, at the last minute, Draper pulls the magic bullet out of thin air as the disappointed clients are leaving the board room.
He realizes that the daunting evidence is a chance to reshape thinking about their brand in particular. He asks how the cigarettes are made. They’re grown and sun-bathed in North Carolina, and then toasted… He’s got the idea: “Everyone else’s cigarettes? They’re poisonous. Yours? They’re toasted.”
A little negative data can be impetus for an even stronger brand. Every American knows McDonald’s is among the least nutritious choices for food, but that doesn’t stop their empire from dominating the fast food market. They seized the data and decided to make “healthy” offerings like overpriced salads and wraps. They may actually have even more calories than a Big Mac, but who’s counting? They also created cleverly-architected nutritional guides whose designs slant the appearance toward healthy. We may also go to McDonald’s fully intending to eat rabbit fodder, but once we smell those golden fries, we’re eating a large #1. (And a Diet Coke.) But, next time we’ll eat a salad. Everyone ELSE is eating a Big Mac, after all. “Whatever I’m doing is OK. I’m OK.”
The truth in advertising can often be found in what’s not said, and while that may feel somewhat deceptive, remember that consumers are really looking for reassurance that what they’re doing is OK once in awhile. They want to feel like it won’t hurt to indulge in one Big Mac. Or smoke one little pack.
Consumers know when they’re “sinning,” but want an indulgence from time to time, and rely on us to affirm that it’s OK.
Every business has faced, or will face a bit of negativity, and it’s always viewed as a disadvantage. The challenge is to build a brand that can withstand a bit of negativity with a potential to emerge even stronger than before. When you do that, you achieve The Draper Effect.