Villing & Company

Differentiation by Imitation?

I love fall and everything that comes with it. And by "everything" I mostly mean football season.

But for a couple of reasons, my thoughts are turning to basketball season. Which is why I was so glad to hear the IHSAA ad on my local radio station last week. The spot was a clear attempt to stir the passion that lives in each Hoosier for high school hoops. The :60 ad included nostalgia-inducing orchestral music and sounds of a basketball game - shoes squeaking on hardwood, the crowd, the swish, the buzzer - all with a baritone voice over extolling the virtues of basketball in Indiana.

An appeal to the emotional and nostalgic aspects of the game are more than fitting in our state, where it's not uncommon for entire towns to travel en masse on Friday evenings to watch 15 to 18 year olds play a game.

But something about this spot was a brick. The narrator ended his copy with a slogan that may sound familiar to you, especially coming at the end of such heart-stirring commercial. As you heard the sound of a ball going through the net, the voice proclaimed this, "Pure Indiana."

When I heard those words, my mind immediately went to the tremendous Pure Michigan campaign by that state's department of tourism - and I suspect most people who hear the spot will do the same thing. (Note: I tried to track down the actual spot, with no luck.) IHSAA apparently began using this tagline even last year in its communications.

I'm not privy to who's responsible for developing this theme, but it seems to have little thought behind it. Borrowing a tagline is always a risky proposition, but even more so in this circumstance. Here we have a campaign meant to entice people to participate in what is unique about their state, and it steals its slogan from a campaign...meant to entice people to participate in what is unique about that state. And not just any campaign: the Pure Michigan series is renowned industry-wide for its brilliance.

At best, Hoosiers will see the ads as a rip-off. At worst, Hoosiers will wonder why a phenomenon uniquely Indiana didn't inspire a unique slogan. Differentiation is the central mechanism that makes any ad campaign work. Many times a failure to do so is the result of skeptical consumers recognizing there are many similar products in the marketplace. Here, the marketers actually had a unique product in Indiana basketball, but are all but bungling the differentiation because their ads have already been done - and better, I might add.

Marketers, do your work. Often your audience is ready for you to take your shot at selling your product. Don't allow a lack of imagination to cause you to throw up an air ball.

Filed Under: advertising

Villing & Company

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