Features & Benefits or Creativity? Neither

The choice in advertising seems to be features and benefits or creativity. Maybe that’s why there’s so much bad advertising. I don’t think either choice is right. So I asked a trick question this morning on Twitter, which is better; features or benefits? I like this response from Brad Dresbach:


Brad’s right. So much of advertising is either a boring factual recitation of features & benefits, with a focus on price, or it’s a piece of entertainment. And we marketers don’t like to be perceived as boring, we prefer to be entertaining, as Justin Popovich pointed out:


But if it’s neither, what is it then? I’m on record as saying you should do no advertising that doesn’t advance your brand. In other words, you are constantly educating people about who you are, by revealing your true identity. That’s done by making a promise, what is often referred to as the brand promise: what you promise to deliver beyond the product or service you happen to sell. Let’s look at how this is done wrong, and right, and let’s start with Lincoln automobiles.

Lack of Identity

What is a Lincoln? Maybe the best answer you could come up with is a “car”. You may even say a car made by Ford. The thought may even enter your mind: “Are they still making Lincolns?” Let’s take a look at a couple of television commercials for the new Lincoln MKS.

*Side note to Lincoln: MKS? That’s the best name you could come up with? But that’s just the beginning of the advertising problems.

This commercial is about benefits: Cleaner. Faster. Smarter, mixed in with some flashy creativity. Compare that commercial to the MKS commercial of one year ago for the 2009 model.

Very creative, and a little confusing. A year ago the MKS was a starship, this year it’s cleaner, faster, smarter. So what is a Lincoln? It’s a confused brand and it is advertising that confuses consumers…over time.

That’s the big mistake businesses and marketers make. They think advertising is about the moment. That the decision to buy is made at the time the commercial is watched. That consumers are waiting for a commercial to decide what to buy, at the instant they watch the commercial. It just doesn’t work that way. Lincoln has no identity, because they have no promise. They’re just selling cars.

Making a Promise

It may be unfair to Lincoln, but let’s compare their commercials to those of the U.S. Marine Corps.

That commercial is a few years old. Did it give you some goosbumps? Here’s a more recent commercial for the Marines:

How many times have you heard that familiar tagline over the years? “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” The Marines don’t give you features and benefits. They don’t try to entertain you with their commercials. The Marines simply make a promise: That promise is “Join use and you will be part of something exclusive, something you can be proud of.”

Do you want your advertising to work…over time? Make a promise. What’s your promise to customers?

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