Wednesday, February 28, 2018

a zinger of a signal

The KFC apology ad from last week was interesting from a few standpoints. Most obviously it was a cute creative execution. Deftly reworking KFC into FCK and the almost Gossage-esque copy.

Secondly, there's the pratfall effect. Brands are fallible, so if a brand is open about its failings and can admit to the odd weakness it's a tangible demonstration of a degree of honesty and, therefore, makes other claims a bit more more believable.

But on a more basic level the choice of media in which to deliver the apology is worthy of comment.

KFC took out full page press ads in the Metro and Sun newspapers.

Why is that significant?

The Handicap Principle is a hypothesis originally proposed in 1975 by Israeli biologist Amotz Zahavi to explain how evolution may lead to 'honest' or reliable signaling between animals which have an obvious motivation to bluff or deceive each other.

Zahavi describes how - in order to be effective - signals must be:

1. Reliable

2. And in order to be reliable, signals have to be costly.

It’s an elegant idea: waste makes sense - ‘Conspicuous’ waste in particular.

In my recent book I make several references to The Handicap Principal, here's one excerpt:

‘By wasting [conspicuously], one proves conclusively that one has enough assets to waste and more. The investment - the waste itself - is just what makes the advertisement reliable.’

Psychologists will tell you that humans are pretty good intuitive biologists.

We have innate abilities to be able to identify the kinds of plants that are safe to eat, or animals that are likely to be predators or venomous.

We are also pretty good intuitive psychologists. We can identify what others are thinking and feeling, or what kind of mood they are in with very few cues.

I’d also argue that people are pretty good intuitive media strategists.

We don’t know how much a full-page ad in the broadsheet newspaper costs, exactly. But we do know that it was pretty damn expensive.

We don’t know exactly how much that retargeting banner ad costs but we know that it’s pretty cheap.

Likewise, we can easily and intuitively detect high or low production values that reflect the level of economic investment in any piece of communications. All these indicators are signals.

The kinds of signals that carry an implicit sense of ‘cost’ on behalf of the signaler can be trusted, to a degree.

The signaler has put their money where their mouth is'.

For this reason The KFC apology can be 'trusted' to a degree. It's the extravagance of the gesture that contributes to advertising effectiveness by increasing credibility.

That's the Colonel's secret recipe.

It's not data-driven, there's no surveillance-fed algorithms, no targeting or tracking or data-leakage, it needs not know anything at all of it's audience.

It's just a big, juicy, costly, zinger of a signal.


My book 'Where Did It All Go Wrong? Adventures at the Dunning-Kruger Peak Of Advertising' is out now on Amazon worldwide and from other discerning booksellers.

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