The problem with most advertising is that it’s done the same way doting parents describe their kids – with the mistaken belief that everyone cares how pretty / smart / really good at banal s**t  they are.

Spoiler: nobody cares.

In fact, this major study confirmed that consumers wouldn’t notice if 75% of brands disappeared overnight. The reason – those brands haven’t figured out how to think from the consumer’s point of view. How to say something relevant and important to those consumers. How to make their pitch newsworthy.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

your product isn’t newsworthy?

Rubbish.

As I mentioned in the video above, consider the Whopper. In taste, it barely beats the tray liner it’s served on. In innovation, nada. Go ahead, find something amazing about the Whopper that would make the six o’clock news. I dare you.

That’s not how the folks at Burger King’s agency felt. If the Whopper was simply taken for granted, they reasoned, what would happen if they suddenly took it away? Which is precisely what they announced.

That made the news. Turns out, millions of people who never gave the Whopper a second thought were shocked and incensed that it might suddenly disappear. The campaign was a success.

Some years ago, an agency producer told me a similar story, with a hilarious twist. She recounted a snowy winter morning in New York City. There was so much snow, in fact, that the McDonald’s below her window didn’t open.

As she recalled, people were standing outside the restaurant, repeating to each other in shocked disbelief ‘McDonald’s is closed’. In fact, there were so many people saying exactly the same thing over and over, to everyone who would listen, that it took on the air of a Monty Python skit. I could see the commercial playing in producer’s head as she told the story, and it would’ve been a good one.

So if you think there’s nothing newsworthy in your product, you aren’t thinking hard enough. Or perhaps, not laterally enough.

try lateral thinking

Anyone experiencing an imagination logjam needs to try Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono.

De Bono describes two forms of thinking – linear and lateral. Linear is mathematical, flowing in a straight line from problem to solution. Lateral, on the other hand, starts with a problem and challenges us to think through multiple ways to solve the problem.

It all comes down to starting right. My preferred method is scribbling out at least 20 possible solutions on post it notes with a sharpie. A former colleague of mine went further, challenging himself to crank out a solution every minute for an hour.

The goal isn’t to create fully formed ideas, but thoughtstarters that, if pursued, might yield results. 99% of the ideas may be garbage – which is fine. You only need one great one.

think like a consumer

Everyone in advertising will tell you how important it is to think like a consumer. Easier said than done, when you’re living the role of marketer every day.

That’s why it pays to go sit with consumers (not in focus groups, or online surveys. Sit in the damn Burger King!) and simply ask them about the product. Engage them in conversations about their lives, their kids, their hobbies – and how, if at all, the product plays a role in those things.

They won’t solve your problem for you. But they will drop little nuggets of pure gold. If you’re a decent lateral thinker, you may just be able to spin these observations into a good campaign that is newsworthy.

Imagine a hypothetical conversation between the agency person working on the Whopper, and a Burger King patron. The patron may say he was raised on Whoppers. Or why he prefers a Whopper to a Big Mac. Or how a Whopper is a guilty pleasure he enjoys after taking his kid to hockey practice.

From this, you’d see that the Whopper anchors a pleasant emotional state. This has nothing to do with taste or innovation. It’s an icon.

Take away the icon, and the patron is left with a hole in their soul. A small hole, but a hole nonetheless.

From this point on, the lateral thinking kicks into overdrive. And if you’re lucky, you come up with the famous ‘Whopper being discontinued’ campaign. At worst, you stir up ideas that are leagues better than the bog standard ‘It tastes great!’ advertising we see too much of.

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