He’s shirtless, muscles bulging under his perfectly waxed chest. He wears only camo pants and hiking boots. Sometimes he’s fishing a pristine wilderness stream. Other times he’s riding a horse or what appears to be a bear through the rugged terrain. He even has a black belt in martial arts. Who is he? Bear Grylls? Chuck Norris? No, this incredibly, um … “manful” man is none other than Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia. The news coverage of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics has been as much about Putin’s history of macho publicity stunts at the events, not to mention the terrible hotel facilities. Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker is even joking that hotel rooms are adorned with photographs of Putin and international guests are “grossed out”. What does this have to do with you and your small business? I think it’s an excellent lesson in mistakes to avoid in your advertising and a reminder that no-one is safe from making giant promotional blunders, even the leader of a country.
Never advertise yourself
Unless, of course, you’re Kim Kardashian or another celebrity who is a product or brand unto themselves. Otherwise, appearing in your own advertising makes you look like an amateur or an egomaniac. Think of the types of businesses that commonly use this strategy — they’re regional family businesses, car yards and giant warehouses offering clearance stock. Not that I’m against those businesses. They specialise in this “genre” of advertising, so that’s what consumers expect from them. However, it’s not for you if you don’t want to portray that image. The focus needs to be firmly on what you’re selling and, more importantly, what’s in it for the customer.
Not having a clear message
What exactly is Putin selling? Guns? Hunting trips? Horse riding adventures? Russia as a holiday destination for survivalists and He-Men? Or himself as the own master of his universe? While I suspect it’s the latter, nothing is included in the images to guide us. Usually a slogan or easily recognised symbols tell us how to interpret an advertisement. What’s more, there’s no call to action. Effective advertising asks us to do something … for example, buy a product, “like” a Facebook page, sign up for a newsletter or start thinking a brand is cool.
Not knowing your target audience
There are two types of customer information. Demographics are the first and they’re easy to find by doing a simple web search. These are social and economic statistics and include measurable things, such as age, location, sex, income, ethnicity and home ownership. Values and beliefs are the second, and they’re much harder to pin down — you need to step inside your ideal customer’s shoes to truly understand what’s important to them. This is where I suspect Putin and the people behind his photographs went wrong.
- Do people want politicians to be virile hunter/heroes? No.
- Do people still believe “real” men are muscular military or survivalist types? No.
- Do people like hunting or taming bears, tigers and other wild animals? No.
In a modern world of metrosexuals, SNAGs and saving endangered species, Putin’s poses come across as poor taste, clichés and heavy-handed propaganda.
Not knowing if your advertising is working
Measuring is the only way to know if your advertising is working and there are two types:
- What potential customers did, and
- What potential customers thought.
The first is really easy … it’s about numbers. Did you get more sales, clicks, “likes”, enquiries, foot traffic or sign-ups? The second is about talking to people, which can be a casual chat or a more formal survey. Have your customers seen or heard your ad? What did they think? Do they now see your business in a more positive light? How would they describe your image? You can then use this information and feedback to improve or change your future advertising. Unfortunately, this is again where the Russian president has gone wrong. Andy Borowitz teases that Putin calls people who don’t like his photographs “babies who cry” and claims they “…should be grateful”. Obviously, we don’t know what Putin really thinks, but the only options are that he either doesn’t have his finger on the pulse or doesn’t care. Whatever the case, the situation shows just how much impact your advertising can have on the bigger picture … Putin’s inappropriate self-promotion has nothing to do with this year’s winter Olympics, yet has lampooned the event and the Russian federation as a whole.