Saturday, January 7, 2012

PR as a Toothbrush




It's in the technology...and the spin....

PR – public relations—includes advertising, marketing, branding and all those other things that a person or corporation uses to sell something to others.  It’s all about communication, right?  That sounds easy enough.  But it isn’t.

Let’s say you have invented a new kind of electric toothbrush.  You think it cleans teeth a whole lot better than anything else – so you want people to buy it and use it.  But there are lots of electric toothbrushes available.  How do you get the message across that your brush works better – isn’t too expensive – and is a reliable?    The main thing is that you have to make people aware that your product exists and it’s good, you think.

If you are Edward Bernays, you don’t think that way.  You argue that people will buy this brush only if they find it emotionally compelling.  Bernays was influenced by Freud – so he is going to suggest that you somehow connect this toothbrush to sexuality.  So, he will want lots of advertising suggesting that brushing your teeth with this thing is sexy.  After all, it vibrates, doesn’t it?_  You put it in your mouth, right?   Bright clean teeth, clean mouth, tongue and lips, half open, moist, warm mucosal, just waiting for something…. You get the idea.  Bernays persuaded a whole generation of women to smoke back in the 20s this way.

Your ad guy comes up with lots of ad ideas for TV and magazines and internet.  Beautiful women. Handsome men doing mouth things.  But somehow you feel something is missing.  Like concepts of hygiene. The fact that your brush is cost-efficient and it won’t break.    That’s what you were thinking when you invented it.  And you are unsure about pornifying your product.  You remember Baptist Sunday school.

So, you consult another ad guy. The other guy wore a bow tie and had wire glasses. This guy is young and his hair was done by a stylist.  He’s handsome and you bet he “hangs out” in really cool places.  He’s done research (he says).  Yes, he has “crunched the numbers”.  And according to his “data dump”, the main demographic for this product is young men and women 16 to 25.  They’re into electronic things.  But those things to be hip.  He proposes product placement on a TV show hugely popular with the 16 to 25 crowd.  The message is that this is the hip product.  Of course, you’re going to have to change the design somewhat to match the newest Apple product.  The message will be --If you don’t have a electronic toothbrush like this, well, you probably don’t have a smartphone either.  He bounces off TV product placement to a complete campaign making these toothbrushes “in”.   “Look”, he says, with reference to the sexy ads that other ad guy proposed, “we sex this, too”.    “But you can’t get laid without being ‘in’”.  You’re not quite sure about this.  You don’t have a smartphone and you don’t watch MTV.

You talk to another ad guy.  The guy is actually a girl and she wears really sharp grey suits. She’s blonde and attractive and graduated Ivy League.  She doesn’t smile much – all business.  Very, very bright you think. “Bottom line”, she says and gestures with a really expensive pen on a Rolexed wrist, “ if the ads proposed by those guys” (she pauses so you know she means “dumbfuck guys”) lead to some kind of flash in the pan success—it might be just that – a temporary bang”.  Somehow she makes you feel insecure like when you were 16 and had sex the first time and you came to fast.  
  “What you need is proper branding, a slogan.  You need to emphasize quality, technology.  You have to set up partnerships with other firms and build a network.  You need to make the name of your company –not its products – known to every household.  You tie-ins. Think long term”  She says.  You think about her retainer and that of her firm. Expensive. 

OK. So now you have short-term versus long term.  Sex versus popularity versus quality.  Your head hurts.   And whatever you do, it is going to cost.  Everybody pitches something different. 

What do you do?

Which brings us back to last week's post.  Whatever these people studied in college, whatever their "background" or "training", they are basically salespeople.  PR is a product, too -- like an electric toothbrush.