The Purple Cow, crudely put in two words, is something which is remarkable by virtue of being different. Seth Godin, the renowned Business Guru, has written a book on the ways that the ‘purple cow’ concept can be utilized for business success. Mainly, it talks about utilizing the concept in marketing, specifically branding and advertising. In this post, I would like to evaluate its need and effectiveness in these areas.
First off, the Need – I would say that the need is definitely looming large all around marketers. With content being spewed out and pumped towards the consumer 24*7*365 through TV, Radio, Newspapers, Internet and even the mobile phone, the consumer has become saturated with advertisements/promotions. His habituation to this constant bombardment is so complete, that he has adapted to learn a new survival skill which is the death knell for every marketer – tune out
The customer has learnt to tune out the messages that the marketers are trying to convey, in the interest of their own peace of mind. The attention span on an advertisement is much less than 1 minute, and the tendency is to switch ‘channels’, be it TV or Radio or the internet, whenever an ad comes up. And THIS, is why Purple Cows are needed to grab the consumer attention long enough for him/her to get the message being conveyed.
Hence, marketers try to do something different to grab attention, trying to innovate constantly, and letting their imaginations run wild. Let me take up some examples of where the product marketing teams have breaken shackles and gone unorthodox.
1. Vodafone zoozoos – Almost everyone in India was watching IPL, and everyone recalls the zoo zoo ads as being simple and story-based. It did grab strong attention. It was perceived that the message wasn’t very clear, as to what exactly was being advertised, especially to the masses. But it worked, because the ads weren’t targeted to masses. They were for the higher-end vodafone consumers, for the VAS services (Also, zoo zoo posters on retail outlets helped build the awareness)
2. Axe Effect – A brand which broke all social barriers and norms, presenting the Axe Effect : pure chick-magnetism. It was wild for its times, and perhaps more importantly, the first-mover in the ad style (since then, almost all deos have copied this style). Ad-recall and Brand-recall were both very high.
3. Surf Excel Daag Acche Hain – A classic emotional marketing example, with a legendary departure from the earlier stand of avoiding stains on clothes, this ad firmly put Surf Excel as the stain remover to use.
4. Alpenliebe – The difference here was not in the ad per se, but in the name and how it was handled in India.The brand name was always gonna be difficult to pronounce, hence, the ad was created which pronounced the word multiple times, clearly, for the consumer to take note of.
5. Vanish – Again, this is not about advertising. This one is about the brand elements. The round, pink boxes in sharp contrast to other players’ plain-coloured rectangular cartons/packages was bound to grab attention of the shopper who would definitely ask for what it was, and why it was in the detergent section of the shop.
6. Volkswagen – Expensive promotion tactic, of putting a pressure-operated recorded-voice player in popular national newspapers such as TOI and Hindu – perfect eyeball hook.
7. Amar Ujala – Not all did it correctly though. In the newspapers category, Amar Ujala wanted to come across as an evolving newspaper keeping up with the times – perhaps a good idea given its general image of an age-old newspaper. But the ad below made it look more like a comic, masala newspaper, taking out the entire positive sheen of serious journalism that it carried.
8. Vodafone Blackberry boys – This ad did grab attention, with just a few people in an ‘artificial’ studio singing about the conventional blackberry perceptions. My problem with the ad is that while it did serve a bit to ‘shatter myths’ about Blacberry services being elite, it did not clearly convey what is being sold. People tend to get confused, because a lot of them don’t understand what are Blackberry services and how they are different from the Blackberry handsets. The ad recall was good but the brand recall was poor.
9. Mango Frooti Rodeos – Again, a different sort of ad series, trying to show ‘real-time fun’ with a few enlarged plastic mangoes, aiming to build Frooti into a fun-drink. (Also coupled with some on-ground promotions of a similar sort). I think the campaign failed in trying on communicate its message. And while the ad-recall was good, it was not a positive recall.
Hence, as discussed earlier, there definitely is a need for being different and remarkable in your marketing. But a marketer would do well to remember that the surprise/difference that he builds into an ad copy merely makes the ad more memorable. If the recall is negative, then the negative image too will stick long in the heads of the consumer. And even if the recall is positive, it is important that the consumer associates the brand with the ad he remembers. Otherwise, if he recalls the ad, and does not remember which brand it was for, then it makes no sense and the exercise is rendered fruitless.
So, use the Purple Cow, set yourself apart, but make sure that your brand is seen positively when you do so.
(Seth Godin has written a book on the concept and obviously holds the copyright to it. I am just a mere mortal trying to evaluate it on-field)