The bad side of provocation in marketing: becoming a Brand that tries too hard

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One of the biggest mistakes that Brands make in an effort to stand out from increasing clutter is “over-provoking”. The goal is clearly to create an unfair share of voice through conversation-creation, yet the potential outcome is that a Brand tries too hard, and is seen as lacking honesty and authenticity. It is fantastic to show some spine and have an opinion, but it needs to come from a sincere place.

A commonly-used tactic to provoke is by using a conservative or traditional theme, and then flipping it on its head. An example would be an initiative focused on helping “moms”, and then making the  help” either outrageous or misleading. The risk of doing this is that the story becomes very self-fulfilling and lacking substance, which harms Brand equity rather that building Brand love. The two activations below illustrate this point:

Puma in Brazil used the theme of “showing mom that you appreciate her” in a promotion that felt more like something that the agency thought was cool than actually being a good idea. The result was a provoking initiative, but a marketing program that felt silly. In short, they gave away free tattoos to moms who shopped over a certain dollar amount in Puma retail locations across Brazil. How on earth does this show mom that you care? Isn’t the stereo-typical tattoo supposed to read “I love mom” and not “I love my son”? The idea feels that it doesn’t benefit the mother, rather the kid for whom mom was doing the shopping. The case study certainly makes it out that way (see below). There is little relationship to what the Brand offers, be it from Puma’s sport or fashion DNA pillars. As a result, it is a provoking idea that creates more clutter than actually breaks through it.


Eternal Mommy – Puma from mangavideo on Vimeo.

Tide in Poland did a program that also used moms. However, their idea felt misleading because their premise, while good, was not addressed. Tide identified a strong insight that Friday was the common day for students to come home from University with piles of laundry for mom. Given that Tide is “the ultimate mom Brand”, they looked to find a solution to alleviate the huge weekend work for mom. Their solution was a self-cleaning t-shirt. The problem? You needed a washing machine. My guess is that these piles that come home on Friday aren’t driven by pure laziness (although I’m sure many are), but purely no lack of laundry facilities or no money to pay for laundry. As such, a self cleaning shirt that requires a machine doesn’t help mom. She still needs to put it in her machine at home or help her kids do it. While the t-shirt idea was an interesting way to lure its target consumer – students – the mom angle was not well thought through.


My First Adult T-shirt from nienaut on Vimeo.

This “borrowed interest” style advertising is irritating because the consumer can clearly see what the advertiser is trying to do. They are looking for a storytelling device that will drive attention but then apply it superficially. In the examples above I believe the agencies were too caught up in doing something they liked (Puma) or in doing something never done before (Tide), rather than tell a sincere and compelling story. I acknowledge that finding a novel idea is very difficult, and thus some ideas aren’t as meaningful as others. However, in some cases it would be best to keep quiet.

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