The Success of Character-driving Marketing

In a 2011 Volkswagen commercial, a child impersonating Darth Vader walks through a suburban house attempting to use “The Force” to control a dog, a sandwich and – finally – a Volkswagen Passat. The commercial is a prime example what happens when good marketing tactics go viral. Since its showing during the 2011 Super Bowl, the commercial has had over 54 million views on YouTube.

You’ve seen other commercials like this – Old Spice showcasing “the man your man could smell like,” and Allstate’s “Mayhem” taking the form of a windstorm to encourage viewers to consider the importance of car insurance. People talk about these commercials, and they look forward to seeing another one.

Character-driven campaigns are a trend in marketing that works extremely well for companies looking to create a presence on YouTube and social media, as well as in communities and relationships.

These days, if you want to get the most mileage out of your marketing campaign, it pays to develop a character or personality to spread your message.

1. Successful marketing creates stories

Audiences identify with characters that play parts in a storyline. And that’s how a culture of jokes and references form around commercials featuring characters like Mayhem. Often, these characters reappear in different variations of the same storyline. (In one commercial, Mayhem is a teenage driver in a destructive pink SUV).

After a humorous or engaging character is created, you quickly identify with that character’s message. When that character reappears in another commercial, or on a social media website, people recognize that character and pay attention.

2. The concepts are simple

When you consider the storylines of many popular commercials, they usually reinforce one message, again and again: the “Most Interesting Man in the World” occasionally drinks a certain brand of beer; a pickup truck performs under incredible strain; a nasal medicine attacks mucous as if at war. If a storyline is too complicated, the audience is quick to move on to other information that is relevant and accessible.

3. The stories inform

Though the concepts and stories are simple, they have a direct message. Allstate’s newest character, “Johnny Nevada,” is a stunt performer who educates the audience about safe driving. This ad campaign uses humor, but it also delivers an important message.

4. Slogans and images are easily branded

Good marketing allows the audience to share the stories, jokes or messages with their peers in a quick, easy way. One of the most successful fast food marketing campaigns ever, launched in the 1980s, featured an elderly woman asking, “Where’s the beef?” That phrase was widely adopted in American culture – proof that people feel connected to a character that has a great tagline.

The goal of successful marketing is to relate to an audience, because when the audience repeats the message you want to get across, that has the effect of amplifying your marketing campaign.

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