By Jim Oates, former president of Leo
Burnett Worldwide, and Kellogg Dean's Advisory Board member
A powerful communications play
I don't know who invented the "misdirection"
play in the N.F.L.; it could have been Walsh or Shula, or
Lombardi or even Brown, but it became a powerful tool in the
football arsenal for breaking through some strong, aggressive
defenses. The same holds true within the advertising communications
game. "Misdirection" can be a very powerful communications
strategy in highly competitive marketing sectors to break
through the clutter of competitive claims. It is difficult
to execute effectively and can only be executed well if the
message is clear and concise and follows the K.I.S.S. rule
(Keep It Simple, Stupid). The communications platform must
be pre- and post-tested to insure the communication is well
understood and not confusing, otherwise the message will be
wasted. It also needs to be targeted toward a widespread prevailing
attitude about the brand. Perhaps the best way to define "misdirection"
in this context is by example.
In the case of the "Not Your Father's
Oldsmobile" campaign, market data had indicated that
the Oldsmobile user base was shrinking due to the aging of
the brand's buyers. Also, Oldsmobile was discovering
that their primary target (35-50-year-olds) was starting to
perceive the brand as an "aging dowager." With
scheduled introductions of several new models targeted directly
at these 35-50 year olds, it was imperative to reposition
the brand to this important target group where Oldsmobile
had enjoyed its greatest success.
A competitive analysis of the messages broadcast
to this highly sought after target group, along with analysis
of their perceptions of the brand, uncovered a couple of other
issues that needed to be addressed in the communications platform:
First, the "youth" message was pervasive and
had resulted in most of the advertising directed to the target
group looking and sounding the same. The target group had
thrown up a strong mental defense to overall youth appeals.
Second, the target group had strong lingering positive associations
of Oldsmobile and its quality. The primary problem was the
brand and its models looked old and sounded old.
Leo Burnett was given the repositioning assignment
and we developed the "Not Your Father's Oldsmobile"
campaign. This campaign utilized famous fathers and sons and
mothers and daughters as spokespersons for the brand. Preliminary
research using one-on-one interviews and focus groups indicated
the campaign line was clear, concise and moved respondents
to a favorable disposition regarding the brand. The launch
of the campaign was an immediate success in gaining awareness
among the primary target group. The post-campaign launch research
indicated the "cut through" capability of the
campaign, as it exceeded all of General Motors' normative
benchmarks. The campaign and its line went on to become a
part of the American vernacular.
A second case that also successfully utilizes
the power of misdirection is that of Maytag. Long known for
the quality of their appliances, Maytag asked Leo Burnett
for a demonstrable presentation of this primary position.
Previously, Maytag campaigns had emphasized the longevity
of its products through the use of family testimonials to
show how Maytag had outlasted the family grind. The campaign
and the product had delivered on the promise, but the campaign
was losing its impact.
To solve this challenge, Leo Burnett created
the "Lonely Repairman" campaign. This campaign
was not designed to feature what a repairman would do when
not on call but was designed to demonstrate that Maytag products
need few repairs. The strong, engaging characters and situations
cut through the generic quality claims of its competitors
and freshened Maytag's quality image.
Both of these cases demonstrate that misdirection
can be a powerful communication platform when it follows some
common principles: the message is simple, clear and concise;
the primary target understands the message completely and
is favorably impressed; and the communication platform is
geared to overcoming a prevailing attitude on the part of
the target group.
Well-executed misdirection can offer a marketing
breakthrough and should be considered as part of one's