When Dove created its “Real Beauty” campaign featuring a forensic artist sketching women’s faces based only on their spoken descriptions, the company called it a “social experiment.”
Launched in 2013, the video--which revealed that women’s perceptions of their attractiveness were low compared with how other people saw them--drew more than 64 million views globally. Just as impressive, inspiring women to see themselves as more attractive turned out to be a lesson on using inspiration as a marketing tool.
Indeed, inspiration is one of the most powerful motivators for video engagement, according to Dr. Karen Nelson-Field, senior research associate with the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia. An expert on social marketing, Nelson-Field said her studies of online content have made clear that “inspiration was the creative device that has a hyper-relation to sharing.”
Basically, if content uplifts consumers in some way, they are more likely to share it. Yet in spite of inspiration’s effectiveness, Nelson-Field, author of “Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing,” found that of the 1,000-odd videos she reviewed, no more than about 60 featured inspirational content.
Why are inspirational stories so rare when they are apparently so powerful?
“Because a lot of organisations sell nonaspirational or noninspirational products,” Nelson-Field said. “How do you take a toilet product and make it inspirational?”
Inspiration Builds Loyalty
Daniel Yam said he believes inspiration as a driving concept remains relatively rare because, in general, campaign managers want instant, measurable results.
“A feel-good inspirational campaign does not translate to immediate gratification,” said the creative director of Singapore’s The Creative Room, which has produced a series of highly effective and emotion-inducing inspirational campaigns for its clients. “It creates a wholesome branding for longer-term loyalty from customers.”
Yam said he has adopted a very different approach to the entire creative process when harnessing inspiration as a device.
“A typical brief states the unique selling point of a product or service that we are trying to sell. So the typical content is supposed to sell that functionality in a way that benefits the customers. Product is the hero,” Yam said. “But for inspirational content, the story comes first. I would like the customer to be the hero and the product is the mentor that helps the hero on his journey to his goal.”
The product doesn’t always have to be in the story, he added. “We sell a value, a belief, a positive human spirit, and at the end link that feeling to a brand or product,” Yam said.
Still, Yam acknowledged that inspirational content doesn’t work for everyone: Some consumers distrust inspirational campaigns and dismiss them as manipulative or sappy.
“I think it all comes back to the craft of storytelling,” he advised. “A great story should be authentic and honest. People are walking lie detectors. They could feel that a campaign is not coherent with the branding or the value of the product. When an audience feels that something doesn’t add up, they will tune out.”
Nelson-Field agreed that it’s not possible to fake authenticity, which is a core tenet of effective inspirational campaigns.
“Inspiration is about overcoming human adversity,” she said. “That’s really hard to create in a fake way because it can come across as inauthentic.”
Without careful analysis, inspiration employed as a creative device can backfire on a brand. For example, the “First Kiss” marketing campaign created for LA fashion brand Wren that featured couples kissing for the first time became an overnight online sensation in 2014. But the company faced a public backlash when viewers felt they had been cynically manipulated.
All inspirational campaigns feature an element of manipulation, of course, but when it was later revealed that the people in the campaign were all wearing Wren clothes and had been handpicked for the video, consumers felt exploited.
To be effective, inspirational campaigns have to be “likeable, appealing, and brand appropriate,” Nelson-Field said.
Marketers, however, must keep in mind the fine line between keeping the brand in the background while letting the inspirational narrative shine, and the storyline eclipsing the brand altogether. All too often, Nelson-Field said, a creative team will go too far in search of inspiring content and focus on winning at the annual Cannes creative communications industry awards, rather than on enhancing the brand for which the campaign is intended.
A good inspirational campaign is all about the balance: a little tear, a little smile, and a little brand.
“The trick is to make sure the brand stands out,” Nelson-Field said.