The Psychology of “Scary” Brand Campaigns

The Psychology of “Scary” Brand Campaigns

 

This article originally appeared on Branding Times

The month leading up to Halloween is filled with the chill of fall air and stockpiling bite-size candies to hand out to children. Everybody loves getting “spooky,” especially major brands. Once September rolls around, some brands focus their product mix and advertising on pumpkin-flavored products, while others choose to mix up their communication practices with creative and scary advertisements.

But do scary campaigns really have a purpose beyond inducing panic and nightmares? The answer is resounding “yes.” Ads that capture consumer attention drive growth and strengthen relationships, and they can make people feel something on an emotional level – the goal for all marketers.

Why do people love getting scared? Simple: it’s an “exciting” sensation. It’s why the
“Friday the 13th” movies were so successful in theaters. Even if we sense outright fear, the human brain commits strong emotions and their associated experiences to memory. This is how consumers can feel a connection, even nostalgia, towards scary media.

For companies, scary advertisements capture more attention than those focusing on product benefits alone. Once a scary experience occurs, the brain recognizes the emotional shift toward terror and then records the memory for future retrieval.

This subconscious process began evolutionarily with cave people understanding that the roar of a lion meant impending danger, compelling them to run fast in the other direction. This mental shortcut proved valuable in helping to escape danger by heightening awareness, focusing attention, and increasing reaction time. Today, creative departments for major brands have tapped into the same psychological components to spice up advertisements leading up to Halloween.

In 2014, IKEA Singapore and BBH launched a “haunted” campaign that was modeled after a famous scene from “The Shining”. BBH brilliantly recreated the tricycle scene in which the young child navigates the hallways until he reaches the suspenseful climax of meeting two similarly dressed people blocking his path. In the movie, these people were the ghosts of past hotel guests. In the commercial, they were his parents calling him over to the checkout line.

Creating heightened levels of suspense works brilliantly for advertisers when executed correctly. The fright-filled nature of Halloween-themed advertisements offers creative minds the ability to flip traditional advertising on its head and create a memorable scene that ensures the brand is the center of at least one nightmare during the run of the campaign.

Psychologically, the same part of the brain that guides the “fight or flight” response regulates our responses to fear. Just as the mind can go from seeking a fright in one instance, it can go “on guard” with similar features to the ones listed above based upon past experiences that have been committed to memory.

IKEA is not alone in leveraging Halloween advertisements to build brand awareness and recall. Brands like Dirt Devil use scare tactics to differentiate itself from competitors in the traditionally functional space of vacuum cleaner advertisements.

By borrowing artistic elements from Hollywood, Dirt Devil was able to showcase the power of their products’ suction in the context of a parody of a scary film. Not only did the advert capture attention and build suspense, but it also ended with a comedic spin on a classic special effect laden ending.

Similarly, Nike tapped into the slasher-movie culture by debuting their ad titled “Horror”during the 2000 Olympics. This ad featured a young woman, alone in an empty house, being stalked by a masked serial killer. After a brief foot pursuit through the dark woods, the young woman is able to outrun her attacker…due to her superior shoes.

At the end of the day, Nike’s scary tactics paid off. Thousands of viewers saw the ad live, and another million heard about the spot in the days after. As we can see from Nike, IKEA, and Dirt Devil, advertisements that capture attention and pique interest through the use of horror-themed plot lines tap into the deeper level psychological processes that are attractive to watch and become memorable for years to come.

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The Value of Incorporating Qual Data into Cluster Analyses

The Value of Incorporating Qual Data into Cluster Analyses

Qualitative data comes in many shapes and sizes. When performing cluster analyses for marketing functions, the value of incorporating qual data along with traditional quant metrics is paramount.

Qualitative data are pieces of information that cannot be accurately represented by common numerical characteristics or methods. To a market researcher, “qual data” can be the most valuable, but often the hardest to acquire and analyze en masse. This data type differs from the more common quantitative data, which is classified as a piece of data with a numerical characteristic or classification.

For those not too familiar with market research and data types, I provide the following examples below:

Quantitative Data:

  • Question: Rate your satisfaction on a 1-7 scale below (1 = extremely dissatisfied, 7 = extremely satisfied).
  • Answer: 1

Qualitative Data:

  • Question: Please tell us about your meal in the space below:
  • Answer: “The pasta dish was too salty. Next time I want the chef to make it sweeter.”

While the brief example above is centered on a post-meal restaurant survey, it showcases the differences between the two types of data. While both types arrive at the same general idea, one type without the other only uncovers half of the diner’s true experience.

More advanced marketing techniques such as consumer segmentation and product groupings require advanced statistical tools known as “cluster analyses.” This type of analysis is an example of machine learning, a commonly heard phrase in today’s data-centric universe.

A cluster analysis is a statistical model that arranges data into groups with similarities that are significantly different than other groups which share their own unique sets of similarities and characteristics.

Traditionally, cluster analyses have included quantitative metrics with little inclusion of qualitative data. Only recently however, has there been a way to quantify this qualitative data. Using a technique known as metaphor elicitation (analyzed through Meta4 Insight), market researchers uncover insights by asking respondents to select an image, and then to answer a brief question describing how or why that image relates to the question being asked. This data is then analyzed with a text analytics tool, and is codified based on similar words or phrases used throughout the responses in the data set.

By employing this technique and incorporating the results into cluster analyses, the statistical model can account for a “whole brain analysis”. This whole brain analysis accounts for both implicit and explicit thoughts that are uncovered using the combination of traditional quantitative and qualitative metrics. Rather than asking respondents to answer with a set of pre-formed responses, the free response aspect and interpretation capabilities of the metaphor elicitation exercises allow for previously uncoverd thoughts to be conveyed. Incorporating qualitative data into cluster analyses strengthens the probability that the research team has captured enough viable, and emotionally relevant data to feed into the model.

Traditional quantitative metrics have the ability to tell a compelling story driven by insights and hard numbers, but when qual data is incorporated into the mix, trends and groupings are uncovered that wouldn’t have been otherwise predicted.

Welcome to the new-age of market research.

Garrett Meccariello is a brand strategist and market researcher based out of Boston. In his free time he can be found building the next great brand, exploring a new city, and eating a lot of cured meat and cheese.

Millennial Migration: What Will Happen to Branded and Curated Content?

Millennial Migration: What Will Happen to Branded and Curated Content?

As I sat at my undergraduate graduation this past weekend, I saw hundreds of my peers taking photos, Instagramming, Snapchatting, and posting photos to other social media sites. A quick glance through my various social media timelines confirmed my suspicion. Their actions were not simply to capture memories but to share a change in their social status with the digital world.

For Millennials, the act of posting photos to social media is a chance for instant gratification. Quantified by likes and comments, memories have evolved far from the old shoebox in which my parents used to store 4×6 photo prints. With so much thought devoted to the caption and composition of each photo uploaded to social media, it is easy to understand why little thought is given to the future of said content.

Similar to the migration of downloaded music to streaming (this reference definitely labels me as a Millennial because I said “downloaded music”, and not CD’s), social media usage trends are bound to change with the demands of future generations. What will happen to all of the memories that my peers deposited on Facebook? Will they be lost forever when platform use declines? Will an entrepreneur charge to migrate and reformat digital content?

While I do not have immediate answers to the questions I posed above, I do foresee a major challenge for brands that invest heavily in their digital brand across the most popular social media platforms. Simply posting branded content and investing heavily in digital brand management is not enough as culture rapidly advances into an uncertain digital abyss. Millennials are known for varying heavily in preferences depending on the day and social climate.

Gen Y’s behavior is driven by an innate desire to stay in the know and on top of current trends. Shouldn’t brands and digital content producers do the same? It is important for brands to choose their digital investments wisely in the coming years as what is popular today may not be in six months.

It would be a shame for thousands of dollars of branded and curated digital content housed on social media platforms to be lost because of a brand’s inability to keep up with consumer trends and preferences. I’d suggest that brands and individuals refrain from investing all of their money and memories so heavily into just one or two social media platforms. It’s hard to tell a consistent story when the content that contributed greatly to the company’s advertising economies of scale is inaccessible or rarely viewed on an extinct platform.

For all of you social media and brand managers out there, heed this message: monitor your consumers’ media consumption habits and platforms, and be prepared to migrate curated and branded content from platform to platform. Afterall, it’s called brand management, not brand sit back and watch!

Garrett Meccariello is an aspiring brand strategist and researcher based out of NYC. In his free time he can be found building the next great brand, exploring the city, and eating a lot of cured meat and cheese.

Photo Credit

Is Your Professional Brand Recession Proof?

Is Your Professional Brand Recession Proof?

In times of consistent month-after-market growth and near perfect employment (occurs when the unemployment rate is between 2-7%), professionals rarely think about how they will recruit clients in tough economic times. It is too late to start thinking about your business back up plan once a recession hits.

Personal and professional brands, similar to those of large corporations are susceptible to market slow downs. Whether you are a lawyer, doctor, or entrepreneur working on a side hustle, it is imperative that you strategize a plan B (or C) to prepare for a market downturn.

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When the market performs well, economists see increased levels of disposable income spent by consumers throughout the economy. Once leading indicators predict a slow down, news sources and pundits herald calls for recessionary spending cuts and budgeting. Unemployment levels will begin to rise simultaneously as companies and families cut back spending habits and the economy contracts.

What does this slowdown in personal consumption habits have to do with your side hustle or law practice you may ask? Simply put: when confidence in the market drops, discretionary consumer spending also drops.

Since the rise of the .COM boom in the early 2000’s, entrepreneurs have monetized the Internet, and capitalized on its benefits during economic slowdowns. Three simple digital marketing strategies below will add to your armamentarium to recession proof your personal or professional brand:

Content Marketing: It’s a free way to exhibit thought leadership and increase the authority of your personal or professional brand. If you aren’t able to convert clients or customers during their first experience with your brand, a consistent flow of content can help convert them sometime down the road.

PPC Advertising: Rather then spending money to attract business with traditional outbound marketing initiatives (while an individual is not in the market for your products or services), refocus your marketing budget towards inbound channels such as pay-per-click marketing on Google, Yahoo, or Bing (to quote a Millennial friend of mine, “Eww lol”). By targeting spending toward interested individuals when they are ready to purchase, you have the ability to ensure a higher ROI on your campaigns.

SEO: Inbound marketing efforts touch individuals in the research phase of the digital customer acquisition cycle. Enhancing one’s search engine optimization strategy will improve digital authority and entice individuals to click through to your website and engage with your products or service. The best part about SEO initiatives: they’re free!

Strategize your recessionary marketing plan today before it’s too late. During economic dips, turn your free time into a marketing asset that can boost and maintain your digital brand for your professional services or products. Discounting marketing and advertising initiatives during a recession can spell out the death of your brand. Do not, I repeat do not, fall victim to a slow down. Utilize your understanding of consumer behavior and economics to build out a robust, recession proof marketing plan that will keep your personal brand afloat in challenging economic times.

Garrett Meccariello is an aspiring brand strategist and researcher based out of NYC. In his free time he can be found building the next great brand, exploring the city, and eating a lot of cured meat and cheese.

Marketers, Agencies: Don’t Pass Over Millennials

Marketers, Agencies: Don’t Pass Over Millennials

As an aspiring brand strategist and researcher, I spend a lot of time trying to get into the heads of the “dreaded bunch”: darn Millennials with their insatiable demands, expanding minds, and lack of brand loyalty (often called nomadic). This crowd has a reputation of being a thorn in the side of brands of all sizes often leading to poorly planned brand executions. The solution is so obvious. So mind blowing, that it just might work. That’s right. I’m suggesting what most dread: hire them.

Incorporate Millennials into your culture. Encourage them to educate your staff. Most importantly, allow them to lead your company’s expansion and growth in the coming years. Millennials are often overlooked for mid-level job positions at agencies and client side companies due to a common perception held by older hiring managers who value experience. While some Millennials lack on the job experience, they may possess a native understanding of how their peers view marketing and advertising efforts and what it takes to uncover the deep seated insights that drive them. The best way to market to Gen Y is to have them quite literally market to themselves.

Some brands have understood this, however. The effort to include Millennials is displayed prominently on the digital front. Social media influencers saw a rapid expansion across multiple platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, & Instagram. These influencers, often peers, leverage their personalities and real life anecdotes to influence millennial purchase decisions by up to 20%-50%.

What happens when agencies and client side companies alike neglect refreshing their workforce with Millennials? They miss out. Take the example of Adidas. An independent filmmaker created a short spot that blew Adidas’s previous creative out of the water and attracted mass attention, without ever receiving a response from the brand’s communication department. Adidas missed out on a captivating piece of creative that combined a riveting story. This short story is one that draws an emotional response, as well as artistically showcasing the brand’s purpose. Take a look for yourself. Bravo, Eugene Merher!

Garrett Meccariello is an aspiring brand strategist based out of NYC. In his free time he can be found building the next great brand, exploring the city, and eating a lot of cured meat and cheese.

15 Free Marketing Resources for Startups & Small Businesses

15 Free Marketing Resources for Startups & Small Businesses

Stuck in a rut with your small business or startup’s marketing plan? Are you looking to boost your brand, web presence, or marketing initiatives? Check out my top 15 recommendations for online marketing resources guaranteed to drive traffic and brand exposure:

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Small Business Marketing HAS Changed. Cartoon by Mark Anderson.
  1. Build a Website, and a Good One Too! (Squarespace)
  2. How to Submit Your Website to Google (HubSpot)
  3. What Is Content Marketing? (Content Marketing Institute)
  4. How to Launch & Manage a Successful Blog in 2017 (HubSpot)
  5. An Introduction to Social Media Marketing: A Guide for Small Businesses (Social Media Today)
  6. How PPC Fits into Your Digital Marketing Strategy (Portent)
  7. What is Marketing ROI? (Explania)
  8. Update: How to Host a Kick-Ass Event (Eventbrite)
  9. 6 Steps to the Perfect Pitch (Entrepreneur)
  10. How To Network Like A Pro (Business Insider)
  11. How-to Create the Perfect Brand Partnership (Brands With Fans)
  12. Ten ways to build a brand for your small business (Marketing Donut)
  13. The Complete Guide to Building Your Personal Brand (Patel & Agius)*
  14. How To Build A Marketing Dream Team For Your Brand (Even If You Aren’t A Marketer) (Digital Marketer)
  15. Key Things to Look for in a Marketing Consultant (Chron)

I cannot stress enough how important it is for startup founders and small business owners alike to build and maintain their own personal brand separate from their entity. Often times, VC’s and other investors look for personal traits before making a significant capital contribution. If you would like to learn more about how your personal brand can impact investor’s decicisons, check out this article “5 Personality Traits Investors Look for in Entrepreneurs” by Entrepreneur.

Do you still have a marketing question, or are you looking for more guidance on building your company’s brand or digital marketing strategy? Feel free to get in touch with me here.

Garrett Meccariello is an aspiring brand strategist based out of NYC. In his free time he can be found building the next great brand, exploring the city, and eating a lot of cured meat and cheese.