Resonating the Wrong Way

What do marketing disasters like these have in common?

Contrary to popular wisdom, these infamous examples did in fact resonate with consumers, but in the wrong way.

Take the Microsoft “Blue Screen Of Death Press Conference” where audience members watched a pre-release of Windows 98 crashes.  The fact is, things like these can reaffirm a prejudice. It’s called confirmation bias.

So how do you fight a perception problem? The short answer is that you can’t, and when you try, it comes off as defensive.

The Slick Oil Defense

“Slick Oil Ads.” are a good example of an industry throwing away good money on defensive advertising — not that they couldn’t afford it. Let’s take a look at the issues: In 2008, oil and gasoline prices were setting all-time records, helping the five biggest publicly traded oil companies in the world earn a staggering $148 billion in profits over the past year.  At the same time, the U.S. government continued to provide massive subsidies to oil companies. McCain was running for president on a platform of expanding financial aid to them:

In the face of political unpopularity, in an effort to address its poor consumer image, the oil industry decided to increase its advertising spending — more than 17 percent in the first quarter with $53 million in radio, television and print ads, according to TNS Media Intelligence, a firm that tracks ad spending.

“Quoque Tu Advertising”

So what were these ingenious ads? The American Petroleum Institute decided to throw money at the problem, launching a $3.8 million series of ads  that quarter called “Do You Own an Oil Company?” citing a commissioned study showing that 41 percent of oil company stocks are held by investors in mutual funds, pensions or “other investments.” In selling this message, the industry was trying to slow the growing chorus of complaints against it, in part by linking its business success with the good of the American economy.

This, of course, was the first mistake – to throw money at the problem in a lame attempt to buy off public sentiment.  How could that possibly backfire, right?

The second mistake was to build a campaign around an underwhelming statistic. API President Red Cavaney cited a Morningstar research report showing that 75 percent (3,126 of the 4,164 mutual funds it follows(are invested in some form of oil or gas stocks.  This not only compounds the issue of defensiveness through a diversionary  quoque tu tactic, but is it even a viable case to begin with?

Consumer marketing research tell us that consumers don’t relate to statistics, except as secondary reinforcement for a position that is already clearly made. So if you have to make a case for relevance, then it simply wasn’t relevant.  In other words, you don’t build a case for relevance — you showcase what’s already there.

Cavaney admitted that the idea was for the oil industry to “educate the public about its point of view.”   Rather than doing any concept testing prior to launch, it looks like they just went to market with the notion of forcing their point of view down people’s throats.

The verdict: as of March, 2011, a poll shows 74% of Americans support ending Big Oil subsidies.

Snap Principle of Relevance:

It’s all about relevance. Capture minds — don’t try to change them.