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What vs. Why

The beginning of my Advertising and Branding module has been quite enlightening – one of the things I’ve found most interesting so far is something that I think we all know, but don’t really think about too much – that things are advertised based on their benefits, and not what the item actually is, the “why” rather than the “what”. Most of us probably understand that owning a certain car won’t necessarily make you a cooler or more fun person, and eating a certain cereal won’t generally make you slim and cheerful, but if you take lots of advertising at face value that’s what you might begin to think.

For example, this advert for Alpen cereal isn’t really selling cereal. It’s selling the benefits of eating said cereal, the ideal of a healthy lifestyle. It’s saying “you could eat this cereal which means that you’ll be healthy and happy and desirable”. And good at stretching and looking pretty in meadows. These things appeal to the irrational side of people rather than the rational, whereas you could advertise the same cereal by talking about the taste, nutritional information, and ingredients (only 170Kcal per 45g serving, only 0.12g of salt per 45g serving, high in fibre,  made with wholegrain wheat and rolled oats, contains raisins and hazelnuts, etc.). Rationally, you’ll buy your cereal because it tastes nice, has decent ingredients, isn’t too bad for you; irrationally, you’ll buy it because eating it will make you healthy and fit and slim.

Here’s a photo of a magazine advert for some hair product, “texturizing salt spray” more specifically. Aside from the shot of the product bottle, the ad doesn’t really give us much information. “Make waves; get tousled” and “your style, un-styled” are quick and snappy tag lines, giving a cool, young, to-the-point feel to the advert. The model with fabulous hair is somewhat exposed and looking at us straight-on, giving the impression of confidence. “You mess with my head,” is a slogan that implies having such fabulous hair could somehow confuse people and “mess with their heads”, and it implies that you will be tempting and desirable. It’s saying “you could use this hair product which means that you’ll have textured hair and be desirable like this model. Rationally, you will buy this product to style your hair with; irrationally, you will buy it because you feel that when your hair is styled in a particular way it will make you more attractive and confident.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. We buy based on the benefits of a product; rational benefits like “I need a computer to do my work” and “it has specifications that meet my needs” and “the operating system is intuitive to use”, and irrational ones like “a silver, flashy one will make me look like I know what I’m doing” and “it’s a souped-up version of the one my friend has”. This is something worth thinking about next time I do any shopping – do I really want this exact item for x purpose, or am I buying it over the competition because I think it’ll somehow make me better?