We are an industry bedevilled by our lack of understanding in how it works – Sir John Hegarty

The Veg Power campaign has driven an extra £63m in additional sales of vegetables. Sir John Hegarty explains why this shows persuasion and its 'ace card' broadcast media remains critical to a brand’s success.

by John Hegarty

For the past 20 years, the communication industry has engaged in splenetic debate about the merits of broadcast versus narrowcast. Or as I would say, persuasion versus promotion. The digital revolution opened up a dispute over those two needs that has never really been resolved. To this day I’m constantly witnessing arguments that exclude one to the detriment of the other. I look on bemused.

Of course, the world is now digitally powered. There is almost no such thing as analogue. But just because we’ve invented bites and bytes, it doesn’t mean the founding principles of brand building have changed. They haven’t.

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What we do have are more sophisticated tools at our disposal to plan, build and execute a campaign. Despite all this, the fundamentals are still true. Principles remain, practices change.

For example, the introduction of commercial television some 65 years ago didn’t change the fundamentals of brand advertising. This revolutionary new medium just made it more powerful and effective, speeding up the route to brand domination.

Of course, it took some time for advertising practitioners to understand how to use the medium effectively and create entertaining, persuasive messages that still, for some, resonate years after they were created. Understanding that a brand had to both persuade and promote was crucial to building those successes. Back then it was called “above and below the line”. And it is over this split that the debate still rages.

‘A brand is made by those who know about it’

The social media zealots seem to believe that persuasion no longer has a part to play in building brand success. They say the efficiency of digital technology and targeted messaging has rendered it redundant. They proclaim those untargeted expensive broadcast messages are from the analogue age and have no place in the laser-like accuracy of data-driven messaging.

Why target people who will never buy your product, the argument goes. It’s easy to nod your head in agreement with that statement, especially if the CEO you report to is from a finance background. God help you! But it fundamentally misunderstands how purchasing intentions are influenced.

It ignores one of the core truths of brand building and choice. It is, “A brand is made not just by the people who buy it, but also by the people who know about it”.

This paradoxical statement is probably one of the most relevant any marketeer should comprehend. In fact, I think they should have it printed out and placed above their desk for all to see.

We are an industry bedevilled by our lack of understanding in how it works. Alarming as this sounds, I believe it to be true. If you talked to any number of automotive engineers they would all agree on the principles of propulsion and the importance of power to weight ratios. Sadly, our industry, when it comes to the principles of persuasion and promotion, has no such agreement. And it seems none in sight.

‘It’s the most misleading observation of our industry’

We all, I’m sure, know the quote supposedly by Lord Leverhulme, “50% of my advertising is wasted, but nobody can tell me which 50%”. This Wildean quip is accepted as wisdom and has dominated our industry for years. But I contend it’s the most stupid and misleading observation made of our industry. Just because something sounds smart doesn’t mean it is. It fails to understand that your messaging might in some way be about acquisition as well as conversion. It underestimates the importance of growing your market and the influence this has on your success.

It also misunderstands the power of fame – a value a brand can employ to defend its market share and possible premium price. A public statement of intent and ambition emboldens a brand’s performance and its premium position in the public’s mind. It enhances its cultural status. I hate Marmite, but its advertising addresses me, enhancing its fame.

Persuasion then becomes a vital tool in a brand’s fight for dominance. And broadcast, however you want to define it, plays a vital role in that pursuit. It is its ace card.

Why the Veg Power campaign was a success

Let me give you an example. Over the past two years ITV and Veg Power have been running a national campaign to get kids to eat more veg. Impossible, I hear you say! But it is essential as we see obesity rates climbing. What can advertising do to win these hearts and minds? With all the amazing digitally-led technology how can we turn this tide?

Persuasion was at the core of the strategy. We adopted a broadcast-led message backed up by the smart implementation of social media and in-store promotion.

Step forward the creative brilliance of Adam & Eve/DDB and the power and generosity of ITV, Channel 4 and Sky Media. Broadcast media was crucial to the success of this task.

We created a daring counter-intuitive idea targeted at children and their parents. The idea: vegetables are trying to take over the world and the only way to beat them is to eat them. Casting them as evil, created a fun, distinctive, humorous campaign.

That, in turn, played out in social media and through comprehensive school programmes, and the major supermarkets. They also co-opted personalities like Will.i.am, Ant & Dec and Jamie Oliver to champion the campaign.

It conclusively proves a big idea needs big media. The econometric analysis of retail data donated by IRI has shown the campaign has driven an extra £63m in additional sales from Feb 19 to July 20. That’s equivalent to 517 million children’s portions of veg. On a communication budget of… nothing!

There can be no better example of the power of broadcast advertising, linked to social media to create a culturally effective campaign. Take a seemingly impossible task: kids eating more veg. Create a distinctive, daring idea. Take it into social media and point of sale and you can achieve the almost impossible. What is there to doubt? The proof of the argument is in the vegetables.

Sir John Hegarty is co-founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty