Here’s to the crazy ones

Most people are unsane. They aren’t completely sane, and they aren’t completely insane. They’re somewhere in between. That’s an important distinction when you’re in the field of marketing and advertising.

Alfred Korzybski, who developed the concept of general semantics, explained it this way: Insane people try to make the world of reality fit what is inside their heads.

Someone who thinks he’s Napoleon makes the outside world fit that notion. He filters and interprets the events and signals around him to fit that belief. There’s no room at all for facts.

But the sane person is exactly the opposite. She constantly analyzes the world of reality and adjusts what is in her head to fit the facts. In other words, while the insane person has only opinions, the sane person never has opinions or feelings. She would be totally unaffected by colors, shapes, other people’s viewpoints and so on — using only cold, hard facts to make every decision. She would buy a mustard-colored sports car called the Slug on the same emotionless basis as a bright red Viper because issues of color or semantics have nothing to do with actual performance. What friends think wouldn’t even be an issue. Indeed, a completely sane person would be like a computer, and in many situations would be unable to make any decision at all! If you were truly making your decision on logic alone, you would often be unable to make a decision for lack of sufficient input.

Most people are somewhere in between. You make up your mind about something you like based on input from many sources, including visual appearance and emotion. A lot of it comes from your gut reaction, how you feel about it overall. You might like the color of the red car, causing you to prefer it over the brown one, even if other aspects of the car are less favorable. Once you start to form your opinion, you look for additional pieces of information proving that you are making the right decision, despite the fact that many aspects of your decision are not based on fact. You may even find the nearest expert (or non-expert) and accept his or her opinion. That way you don’t have to bother with too many facts. In the advertising business, that’s called “word of mouth.” So how did the ‘expert’ you went to get his or her opinion? The same ‘unsane’ way you did!

A good marketing or advertising strategy makes use of this psychological process. A good strategy must be simple, fitting easily into the mind of the prospect. It must be memorable. It must provide just enough facts to be believable. And it must strike an emotional chord to satisfy “unsane” people.

So how does this actually work in the real world?

Strategies and brand positioning are used to appeal to the emotional part of our decision-making process. Very rarely, if ever, are these designed to appeal to logic.

When Apple computer said, “Here’s to the crazy ones,” it was talking about all of us. That “think different” campaign was entirely pointed at our emotional response to being seen as leaders and innovators in a world of followers. This claim had nothing directly to do with whether the computer was better than the competition, because those arguments would have had no impact. People don’t want to hear that they made a bad choice. They want to be inspired by their association with one brand because it is cool, or thoughtful, or daring, or whatever.

Here are a few other historical examples of unsane marketing at work:

Pepsi: The Choice of a New Generation

This campaign used emotion to trigger existing feelings of rebellion in young people, giving them an option to drink something different from what their parents were used to. Does this have anything to do with taste? No. But it worked wonders with an unsane audience.

Coke: The Real Thing

This campaign stood on Coca Cola’s position as the “original” soft drink. The factual side of this strategy combined with the implied perception that any product that has been a leader for so long must taste good. Personally, I think it’s a weak campaign (there’s no product definition), but it served the need Coke had to re-establish its position as the “original” cola.

BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine

Despite the fact that this car doesn’t look anything like a true sports car, this campaign effectively positioned the BMW as a driving enthusiast’s automobile. A certain amount of factual information had to be used to make the statement believable, but I wonder how many people make a sports-car buying decision without ever trying a Porsche.

United: Fly the Friendly Skies

This campaign ran for many years, and was very effective. Yet while it ran, I flew many different airlines and found staff at most of them equally friendly and courteous. This ad campaign worked because people want to believe that there’s a difference. Of course, success with this type of approach means you better be as good or better than others in the area you’re talking about, or you could crash and burn (it won’t be pretty).

Budweiser: King of Beers

Now, Bud may be a great beer, but exactly what makes one beer a “king” compared to another? Nothing, except the image of that bottle cap turned upside down. A brilliant campaign, directly targeted at the “unsane” nature of how and why we make buying decisions. It has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with emotion. Long live the king (of beers)!

George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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