When deciding upon the creative approach in your marketing communications, you are faced with a crucial decision. Should you focus on the problem your prospective customers are facing or the solution you can offer them?

Traditional thinking going back to the 1940s was that it was always more compelling to demonstrate the positive attributes your product brings to people’s lives (ie the solution), rather than just showing that it can remove something negative (ie the problem). Presumably this was because it was felt that this approach left the audience with a warm, positive feeling towards the brand. However, this format soon led to a clichéd pattern of ‘happy ending’ stories frequently being represented in advertising. Whilst these scenarios purported to show real-world scenarios, their lack of either authenticity on the one-hand or irony on the other resulted in a woeful lack of credibility.

Common-sense tells us however that dramatising a problem (as opposed to the solution) does not necessarily reflect badly on the brand, and can lead to very interesting and sometimes challenging creative approaches. In fact, by taking an honest and witty approach, and recognising that life isn’t always perfect, you are often better able to make a connection with your target audience. If you’ve gauged it correctly, your audience should be able to empathise with the pain being portrayed. If you choose to demonstrate the problem using humour, just make sure it serves purely to focus attention on the benefit you are offering, rather than distracting your audience away from your proposition. This was always the approach taken by Hamlet cigars in their witty TV campaigns.

In some cases, the problem being experienced may actually be a side-effect of the prospect having overindulged in something they know they really shouldn’t have. For example, eating too much, or conversely not exercising or sleeping enough – ie where the problem is of their own making. In these cases you might want to hook into the pleasure of the experience that causes the problem – and then position your brand as being able to take care of the consequences. This approach would be particularly relevant for products such as indigestion cures, vitamin supplements, face-creams, home exercise equipment (or figure-flattering clothes). Be careful with this approach though. As a responsible marketer you don’t want to be seen to be encouraging potentially harmful habits – it’s probably better to instead be seen as being on-hand to offer a solution on those occasions where the prospect has succumbed to temptation.

Perhaps the key point to bear in mind though is that whichever approach you choose to follow, it must be relevant, authentic and interesting – as well as introducing an element of surprise. If you choose to dramatise the problem as opposed to the solution, you must be certain that what you are showing is a real problem that is relevant to your target audience. It must be a problem they can relate to and has true meaning in their lives. Ensure that the problem is resolved (or at least mitigated) with the benefit your solution can bring– even if this is only implied. In the long-running Hamlet campaign, the final voiceover was always ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’.

If you’re interested in exploring this area in more detail (together with relevant examples), you might like my recent book ‘Successful Marketing Communications’.  If you have any thoughts or comments, do drop me a line below.

Written by Rob H

I’m a Chartered Marketer with over 20 years’ experience working in digital and offline marketing communications across the financial services, leisure, education and technology sectors – most recently working for a large financial services organisation, managing the acquisition marketing communications team. I gained an MSc in Strategic Marketing from Cranfield Business School in 2005 and the CIM Diploma in Digital Marketing in 2012. In 2012 I became the part-time course tutor at the Cambridge Marketing College for the CIM diploma in ‘Principles of Mobile Marketing’ – also authoring the accompanying Mobile Marketing study materials for the college. In March 2017 I published ‘Successful Marketing Communications‘ (available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks), which has become recommended reading for delegates at the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing). When I’m not knee-deeping in reading/ writing the latest marketing communications articles I enjoy outdoor swimming and anything involving snow – with my goal for next year being to combine the two…

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