Advertising agencies sometimes hire 'planners'; people who use psychology and other behavioural sciences to figure out how people relate to brands - through the filter of how they experience their real lives.
The findings of the planners are converted into 'insights'. Insights are then taken by the creative teams and developed into narratives of one kind or anther - synthesised as stories that reflect a person's motivations and aspirations back to them in the context of a brand.
When the process is clumsy the advertising can be awkward. You can recognise this state when the creative idea is simply a literal retelling of the research. Kind of like holding a mirror up to the consumer and saying - 'look we understand you' - feeding back the feedback from focus groups.
Often the insight is mimed by someone deemed to be representative of the 'target audience'. These ads are still common - often they begin with a young woman with a child in their home saying 'If you're like me…'. An empathetic scenario is described and the product being advertised is miraculously featured to solve the shared or universal problem encountered by 'female household shoppers aged 18-35'.
Variations of the theme take the opposite tack. Instead of literal exposition, a contortion of the 'insight' might be illustrated. The consumer is left to interpret the meaning and find salience in the story and its technique, though they are guided not only by the semiotics of content but also by the context - where the ad appears. For example an ad with very little literal narrative or exposition featuring a beautiful, naked young woman on a satin sheet might become charged with meaning because it is featured in the pages of Vogue Italia (rather than Maxxim). The ad's meaning is changed by the viewing audience's interpretation and intention.
I've selected the 2011 advertisement for Twinning's Tea (above) as an example of when planning and execution get it right. The insight is that women feel emotionally stretched by their many roles - mother, lover, worker, unpaid worker, confidant (you can expand this list in your mind with as many interpretive variations as there are women on the planet). They seek to remain themselves in spite of this - a core self. The metaphor of the turbulent seas in the ad represents the external forces. The music is an affirming power ballad by The Calling (the kind of song that audiences hold aloft their phones, swaying in shared revery at live performances) - it might refer to a lost love or difficult romantic situation, it might refer to a mother's un-judging love for a wayward child - and this is one of the powerful aspects of the ad - the viewer is guided to a conclusion but is able to project their own situation and understanding onto it. The animation technique also helps with this. The audience can identify with the metaphor, rather than a faked realism. In effect, though the ad is by Twinnings Tea and is intended to drive the sales of the product - the ad 'belongs' to the viewer. The character in the ad (notably not particularly galmorised or etherial) is a proxy for her and when the character finds herself in the calm centre - with a restorative cup of tea - she is a one - with herself; and the brand.
On case you are wondering - sales increased. Twinning's market share went up over 5% in a declining category.
Great advertising can be a beautiful thing.
This blog is a notepad of contemporaneous and sometimes extemporaneous thoughts about creativity, strategy and ideas.