April 20, 2024

You’re the Boss: Finding the Nerve to Take an Advertising Risk

Part of the Austin Humane Society campaign.Courtesy of Austin Humane Society.Part of the Austin Humane Society campaign.

One of the hardest things to do in business is to take a risk with your advertising. I’ve made ad campaign presentations to fiercely competitive, Type A owners and here’s what happens:

A proposed campaign is presented that meets the creative brief, nails the marketing objectives and is not similar to anything that has been done in the company’s industry. Minute one, the chief executive’s face is euphoric, almost giddy. Minute two, more of the same as the C.E.O. imagines how far a truly new campaign might take the company. And then we get into the third minute and the rush of possibility recedes, deflated by the annoying arrival of self-doubt.

I know how hard it can be to take a risk, to try something different. I’ve been there, sweat behind the knees and all. It’s not pretty. The one mental mechanism that does seem to help me take the leap is reminding myself that sticking to the same actions is very likely to produce the same results. Is that what the situation calls for? That’s typically the mechanism that convinces me to move in a different direction. Of course, I also tend to look at the office’s lucky troll doll to see if its hair has gone white. I was reminded of this recently when the Austin Humane Society engaged our agency for help coming up with a new campaign.

The organization hadn’t tinkered with its brand for 15 years, and it had some big goals it wanted to achieve. First, it wanted to increase donations to keep its no-kill pet adoption center in Austin strong. The executive director, Frances Jonon, and the director of development and marketing, Amanda Ryan-Smith, knew that doom-and-gloom campaigns tend to work in their business — but only in short bursts. That approach can also lead to what’s known in the fund-raising world as “donor fatigue.”

To sustain the organization for the long-term, Ms. Jonon and Ms. Ryan-Smith thought they might need to step away from those types of campaigns. But it was a thought that scared them. “We were terrified, quite frankly, about moving away from the negative tactics because we know it works,” Ms. Jonon said. “Our industry heavily uses the ‘pets are dying!’ message because it provides a quick fund-raising fix.”

We were ecstatic. This client recognized that moving away from the standard campaign was the way to go. Our team, headed by our brand strategist, Suzanne Kyba, conducted a series of workshops with executives and staff at A.H.S., along with interviews with key donors. We wanted to gain insights from those closest to the organization. We also wanted to test the hypothesis that a positive message could have as much impact as the puppies-in-dumpsters approach. As part of the process, we uncovered some untapped opportunities that seemed to resonate with the audience. We uncovered some statistics about how animals not only enhance the emotional lives of owners but actually create physical changes — helping the heart, mind and body. In other words, while saving an animal’s life, people can also extend their own.

With this information, we developed a positive campaign platform of “Transforming Lives,” which refers not only to pets but to the lives of people who donate and adopt them. When we made the presentation, Minute One went well. Minute Two was more of the same. And after the all-important Minute Three, the A.H.S. executives were still on board. They approved the positioning with the new tag line and positive rallying cry, “Unleash Hope.” “We always knew that was a place we wanted to move to, but we just didn’t know how to get there,” Ms. Ryan-Smith said.

The next step was to bring the campaign to life. Staying the course, the campaign focused on the lifelong bond and emotional connection between pet and owner, as well as the impact animals and people have on each other. Posters, interior signage, direct-mail pieces and their mobile adoption vehicle, the Adoption Waggin, highlighted the messaging in a fun (but heart-tugging) way. Four humorous videos were produced featuring animals speaking with each other about their various needs, perceptions and misperceptions about shelter animals. We revamped the A.H.S. Web site with custom online tools to showcase the pets up for adoption, highlighting aspects of their characters, personality traits, habits and special tricks. And, because music helps us make those important emotional connections, we recruited 100 Austin-based bands to donate songs that A.H.S. staffers matched with animals to better display their personalities. We also created an online game called Trapcat to offer an entertaining and educational glimpse into the population-reducing benefits of feral cat trapping.

So far, the results have been good. This year, despite the down economy, Ms. Jonon reports there has been a 13-percent increase in overall fund-raising and donations. The annual holiday appeal alone doubled what it had done in previous years. And, for the first time A.H.S. had more than 3,000 adoptions in a year.

MP Mueller is the founder of Door Number 3, a boutique advertising agency in Austin, Tex. Follow Door Number 3 on Facebook.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=6ec3fcf6aecd740afdc41a1b45774da4

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