Op-Ed: Rethinking Advertising as Digital Relevance

By Kiran Aditham 

Virginia Alber-Glanstaetten, group director of planning at Huge, has returned with her monthly column for this here site, this time discussing why “digital is the perfect agent to demonstrate relevance to your customers.” With nods to everything from the Gecko to Netflix in tow, we’ll let her take it away from here.

Last week, Geico muscled past Mayhem to take the #2 spot in the highly competitive insurance marketplace. This maneuver was executed with the help of a boat-load of ad dollars, ensuring all of America now knows how happy people are when they save hundreds of dollars by switching to Geico: happier than a camel on humpday, happier than Dracula at a blood drive, and definitely happier than Paul Revere with a cell phone.

The nature of free markets is inherently challenging—and companies are always fighting to stay front and center with their audiences. For most companies, gunning for brand preference is a tough task; it stresses margins, profitability, and generally you’re fighting neck and neck with little to differentiate you from your closest competition. And—let’s face it—while we all dream of it, it’s rare to have Warren Buffet’s substantial backing as you aim for the top of the ladder. In a race to be the preferred insurance brand, Geico has taken on a tough and expensive task of implementing clever, traditional advertising that’s simultaneously memorable for its humor while highlighting value. With their deep pockets, Geico is in an enviable position in terms of budget (and now preferred standing).


But there’s more than just being the “preferred” brand. Preference can be fleeting; what a customer is in the mood for today, they may not be tomorrow, and brand loyalty in general is waning. Where brands really need to be focusing their efforts is less on being the most wanted brand and more about being the most relevant brand; meet their most pressing needs. While great traditional ads can communicate clear benefits to their customers, ads have never been about relevance. Toyota is a great example: they led the field in hybrid vehicles and reestablished themselves as a brand that is relevant to today’s environmentally/fuel-cost conscious drivers.

Digital is the perfect agent to demonstrate relevance to your customers. The connectivity and interactivity of great digital experiences can do more to give you a leg up than traditional advertising, and without having to outspend your competition in the fight to the top. More and more, we see companies reallocating their marketing budgets to digital, but also using digital experiences to establish relevance with their constituents. According to a recent article in Gartner, 41 percent of surveyed businesses (200 total) indicated they save money by replacing traditional tactics with digital practices, and this funds further online investments. Twenty-eight percent of brands said they decrease traditional marketing spend to free up room for digital programs.

We’re not just talking about shifts in budget—or just using digital to get your value prop to people at the right time in the right place. We’re talking about creating communities, products and experiences that are game changers. HBO recognized that their users really wanted to be able to view the programs where they wanted, when they wanted and on the device they wanted. Nike reinvented the way people exercise (whether we’re talking Nike+, or the Nike Training Club) that suited the needs of their customers perfectly. Media delivery services like Netflix and Hulu have expanded into content production houses creating their own critically acclaimed TV shows (Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Arrested Development), showing cable, local and TV networks that they can drive subscriptions through the roof. Spotify is giving our beloved iTunes a run for their money—making music readily available to music lovers, more importantly creating playlists for loyal users to thank them for their role in making the company succeed.

What we have here are more than just messages about saving dollars, and more about how brands are carving out new ways to stay engaged with their audiences.

Digital allows you to create new ways for people interact with your brand, and in doing so, change what they buy and how they buy it. Establishing relevance with your audience through digital changes the game and brands who pursue a digital relevance advantage can change the game at any point for any industry. For creatives who still think of digital as banner production and community management, it’s time to think much bigger – it’s only a matter of time until all agencies are tasked with the challenge of using digital in this way.

And how happy are marketers when they save thousands of dollars on advertising? Happier than the gecko outmaneuvering mayhem.