Persuasion in Packaged Goods

By Tom Dougherty

Packaged Goods, Brand and Persuasion

Packaged goods have a lot to teach us

Identification, Notification, and Persuasion in packaged goods

In the self-serving world of commercial advertising, the costs of advertising communication messages continue to skyrocket.

The stakes are high because the cost of failure is high. Yet, the promised land of consumer product success remains illusive. How do you judge the effectiveness of the Packaged Goodspackaged goods brand communication? Advertising association awards? Critical acclaim? Peer commentary? Employee reaction? Competitive reaction?

The only true measure of success in packaged goods branding is sales.

It seems obvious to measure a consumer product’s ad campaign’s success by looking at sales increases. However, most major packaged goods advertisers settle for critical (creative) acclaim first. And, mediocre sales results, second. All because they have no accurate means of measuring sales increases that are due to advertising success.

Here is why. Let’s talk about the three critical elements of successful packaged goods products advertising. Both of which ad agencies and marketing departments already do very well. Let’s grade each element as we go. (Read our market study on packaged consumer goods here.)

Identification in packaged goods

The first discipline is IDENTIFICATION and we give it a B+. Identifying the correct target audience is crucial to a consumer products success.

You must find and understand the market you wish to influence. Packaged goods marketing departments, when not self-serving, do a very respectable job of segmenting the consumer market. This is how you find potential customers who offer the greatest opportunity for sales increases. (Read why you don’t want to be like NIKE here.)

The traditional packaged goods method of segmenting into primary, secondary, and tertiary markets as pioneered by P&G has been supplanted by a much sharper understanding of the usage and habits that seem to define the target audience.

Advertising agencies and their media departments have market segmentation down to a science. They can identify a particular consumer product’s market segment’s media habits to a fine degree. The myriad choices of media placement and frequency seem to have the clinical precision of a surgeon’s scalpel.

Remember that the recommendations are not as precise as the ad placement of them. And there is no science of media placement. Two different agencies may have very different media recommendations for packaged goods, both most certainly based on sound thinking.

However, preconceptions based on experience control reach and frequency. There is no absolute law that states that “X” number of impressions are necessary to stimulate action. Experience is where these numbers are based.  But, experience with generally “failed” advertising…more about that later.


The second discipline in packaged goods strategy is NOTIFICATION and we give it an A-. To be successful at notification, the discipline of identification discussed earlier must be mixed with the creative juices that break through all the ad clutter and get potential packaged goods customers to “sit up and pay attention.” You must reach the correct target audience and then you must find a way to get them to notice your message. The “myth of the information age” makes that a daunting task. It is

Packaged goods marketing is all about identification

Advertising Traps

however, the main skill set of major ad agencies. They have the creative ability to entertain and many of the advertisements they create become part of pop culture lure. From “milk mustaches”, Visigoths trying to find new jobs, to athlete’s sweat glands dripping with an action beverage — creative images abound.

Agencies tout their creative prowess and bandy about phrases like “break-through advertising,” “creative firepower,” and “award winning creative development.”

The special effects, high intensity sound tracks and high priced talent have made commercial production the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster. Many of the commercials are “better” at entertaining than the programs they themselves sponsor.

Seeing the male dubbed-over voices of the identity thieves as two little old ladies talk about the motorcycles they purchased is funny stuff. It certainly gets your attention, is entertaining enough that you might even look for it… or temporarily stop what you are doing and look up. In an age of advertising creativity, the ability to entertain has never been higher. But, is it persuasive?

The Keys to Persuasion

PERSUASION (read more about persuasion here) is the third discipline at branding packaged goods. We give it a C-.  Unfortunately, the baton has been passed from entertainment to persuasion. The skills necessary to persuade customers to change their current behavioral choice and choose a new brand have fallen on hard times. It is as if the market struggles only to influence customers who have come to the decision to switch brands on their own.

Packaged GoodsHowever, the pool of customers rooted in the status quo is the largest segment by far is . Stealing share means grabbing market share from your competitor’s brand camp and making them your own prompting packaged goods consumers to change and not just waiting for them to change.

To be persuasive, a consumer product’s selling argument needs to engage both the left and right brain. It needs to build a level of intimacy with the customers that allows them to see themselves in the brand message. So, that they can visualize themselves as being part of the brand. It needs to reach out and build empathy so that the brand message is received sympathetically and not as a broad challenge.

Current Beliefs

Consumer products need to represent current beliefs in the target market and yet not seem so trendy as to be dismissed. Think about the number of commercials you have seen in the past year that are so remarkably entertaining. So entertaining that you repeat the story-line to a friend at the office coffee pot. Only to struggle to recall anything other than the “punch-line”. Such a commercial is memorable.  But, it can’t be considered persuasive if you can’t even remember the brand.

Today, everyone seems to want to produce hip and humorous advertising. The funnier and more absurd… the better.

The problem with this tact is that humor has a short shelf life and the joke may be more memorable than the message. Ad agencies love humor because it wins awards. Clients love it because it makes them feel progressive and customers… well, they love it too. But, the intent is not entertainment.

Branding Packaged Goods as an Afterthought

Ensuring that your brand definition has been created in a mode to be persuasive is one of the ways you can ensure that your advertising messages are working as hard as they can is to . Too often, brand is a theoretical afterthought considered by the agency in a single line that is entitled “Desired Brand Image.” Your ability to persuade new customers is locked into your brand permissions.

Packaged GoodsProfits are determined at the signing of the sales contract. 

Your brand charter’s creation determines the ability to persuade. The brand charter permissions determine the nature of your advertising. And, the delivery of the promise of that brand.

The advertising is the suit of clothing and the brand is the body it covers. Wearing clothing that does not suit the body makes it seem uncomfortable, awkward, and ill at ease. Almost all advertising works to some degree and is better than the absence of advertising.

Having a voice in the market will deliver some results because being considered requires being known. However preferred and coveted as a brand is very different.

Choose Again

A a bump in sales happens when changing ad agencies. Not because you have made a great choice in the new agency. But because changes in your advertising messages stir attention. Keep your brand consistent and keep your advertising fresh. Wear a new suit of clothes to work and your colleagues will comment because a change from the expected is worthy of note.

Wear a new style of clothing to work, one that is not in keeping with the you they have already come to know, and they will also comment, but the most telling comments will be whispered behind your back.