How to Engineer a Breakthrough Message


Jul 24, 2015 - by Brett Denuo
How to Engineer a Breakthrough Message

This past Friday, Adweek announced the six finalists vying for the 2015 Emmy Award for Best Commercial. As is the case every year, strong production values underscore each spot produced by some of the biggest names in business and advertising. Award winning work that leaves an imprint in people’s minds, however, takes not just style but substance as people increasingly expect brands to have a point of view greater than just making money.

While it’s difficult to create a playbook that would lead to a successful ad, power brand content generally does two things well: 1) espouse a point of view rather than a point of difference and 2) deliver an unexpected message.

This year's Emmy nominees and ads in general tend to fall into one of the four categories:

  • Category One: Point of View, Unexpected
  • Category Two: Point of Difference, Unexpected
  • Category Three: Point of View, Expected
  • Category Four: Point of Difference, Expected

Category One: Point of View, Unexpected


Examples: Always “Like a Girl”Apple “The Crazy Ones”Chrysler “Imported From Detroit”Save the Inventor "Who's Trolling Who?" 

Description: Unexpected, point of view-driven work is created when a brand intersects culture and customer interests in an evocative way. Ads in this category are rooted in insight that challenges how we think about some aspect of culture. They tackle questions like: "What does it mean to do something ‘like a girl?,’" "Why should we celebrate nonconformists?," "Why should we care about Detroit?," and "Why care about patent reform?" By showing - not telling - us the answers to these questions, these ads deliver the message in an unexpected, powerful manner.

Pro: The brand owns and takes credit for starting a conversation that changes how we think and live.

Con: Time and money. There are no shortcuts to finding an original, compelling way to intersect culture and customer interests. This process involves not just the planning, creative and account teams, but perhaps outside experts like anthropologists, artists, political advisors, or management gurus as well. 

Category Two: Point of Difference, Unexpected


Examples: Kmart “Ship My Pants”Land Rover “You’ll Feel Safe Inside”Nextel “Salt-N-Pepa”

Description: Ads in this category focus on the "feature not the creature," but in a highly novel way. Instead of sharing a brand narrative and crafting a message based on a cultural insight, the ad focuses on a product benefit and delivers that information with an original creative execution.

Pro: If a brand’s point of view is established, these ads can serve as a fun follow up.

Con: If the brand lacks goodwill or if the brand’s point of view is unclear, or if the product feature being promoted is not unique to the brand, the ad most likely will not make a lasting impression. For example, while "Ship My Pants" was an unquestionable viral hit, few people could recall that it was an ad for Kmart.

Category Three: Point of View, Expected


Examples: Budweiser "Grab Some Buds"Gatorade "Made In NY"Nissan “With Dad”

Description: While ads in this category have allied themselves with a cultural insight, the insight identified is too broad. "Beverages are best enjoyed with friends" or "athletes perform better with energy drinks" or "fathers and sons connect over cars" make it difficult for a brand to create a unique message. “Grab Some Buds” works not just for beer, but also cars, outdoor apparel, or even health clubs. For a point of view to feel unexpected, the insight should be specific, compelling and credible.

Pro: These spots intend to do more than simply promote a product.

Con: Multiple brands from multiple categories could replace their logo with the brand that created the spot and most people would not notice.

Category Four: Point of Difference, Expected


Examples: Samsung “6>6”Olay "7 Signs of Aging”

Description: Point of difference ads deal strictly with form and function, not philosophy. Unlike those spots in the "unexpected" category, however, these messages lack an original creative delivery that makes them feel unique; their tone and style reads like a list of product attributes. For these messages to resonate, a product’s benefits must be extremely compelling.

Pro: Used strategically, these ads can help achieve short-term, tactical objectives.

Con: Customers have been conditioned to engage with the brand only when their products feature the latest innovations. Absent that, they will migrate elsewhere.

So where do we go from here?

Creating unexpected, point-of-view-driven work is not easy, but it’s the best way to create memorable AND credible content. We live in the attraction era. Seth Godin once rightly said, “Finding new ways, more clever ways to interrupt people doesn’t work.” Companies with a compelling point of view that stand for something bigger than themselves outperform the S&P by 500%.

Before we begin each day, each assignment, we should ask ourselves: Does our idea move just products, or people and culture too?


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