Sean Adams

Three questions to help your ad message cut through.

Re-frame of mind

Awhile back, a friend of mine went to a wedding which went horribly pear-shaped. All was going well until the best man got up to speak.

Who knows whether it was nerves or alcohol that caused it, but he proceeded to bumble his way through a most explicit, inappropriate speech, full of salacious stories about the groom.

Guests were appalled, the groom was aghast and the bride was devastated.

A while later, the shattered best man commented that he couldn’t understand what went wrong – the stories had gone down so well at the bucks party only a few weeks earlier.

An extreme case maybe, but one that does nevertheless illustrate the importance of context.

A message that works fantastically well in one situation may be far less effective (or in this case, positively disastrous) in another situation. Even if the audience is broadly the same.

So what does this have to do with marketing and advertising?

I believe that the context in which an advertising message is placed can have a significant effect on how effectively it is received.

Today’s consumers, faced with thousands of messages a day, have had to built up a sub-conscious way of screening out all but a few that they consider to be directly relevant to them.

Sadly for us all, they are not sitting around waiting for advertisers to reach them – they are likely to be involved in something far more important and interesting at the time.

So the onus is on the advertiser to acknowledge the consumers’ likely frame of mind and make sure that their “interruption” is more acceptable, relevant or even, dare I say it, welcome.

In other words, advertisers need to start thinking more about how they are going to reach their potential customers before deciding what to say to them.

Too often, the traditional process works the other way around, with advertisers developing their message and then deciding what to do with it.

If marketers really stop and think about the likely frame of mind the customer will be in when exposed to their advertising message, that may alter the nature of the message significantly.

Sure it requires more planning and thought. Sure it requires deeper levels of consumer understanding. Sure it may even require the development of a greater number of messages to suit different media channels and potential mind sets. But the outcome will be worth it in terms of improved levels of cut-through and relevance.

But don’t just listen to me. Think about your own media usage. I bet that you screen out 95% of messages you see or hear every day, but every now and then one cuts through in a way that makes you think: “That’s clever”.

And more often than not, this will be the result of where and when you encounter the message, rather than purely what it has to say.

So when you are planning your next advertising campaign, why not start by asking yourself these three questions (in this order):

– Where can I best reach my target customer?

– How are they likely to be feeling at that time?

– What can I say to them about my product/service that will best tap into their particular mindset?

Hopefully that puts a few things in context.


Sean Adams founded his marketing advisory company The Seed in late 2000. Sean has had nearly 20 years advertising experience in Australia and Britain across a range of disciplines – research, planning, account management and media. Over that time he has worked with some of the world’s top advertising agencies, working with many of the world’s leading brands.


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