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3/7/2004

Insight improves marketing

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — Marketing professionals don’t typically spend their days scribbling notes beside a sofa.

Yet, the best ones make great arm chair psychologists for their careful observations of consumer habits, mindsets and motivations, according to Kevin L. Keller, an academic pioneer in the study of brands and professor of marketing at the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.

MBA students packed the Leeds School of Business auditorium at the University of Colorado recently to get Keller’s two cents on the consumer’s buying/selling psyche.

“It starts with insight,” he said.

That premise threaded through his presentation, and he entertained while he enlightened by rolling commercials now out of circulation.

For instance, to illustrate success in establishing credibility with a consistent voice, he presented an ad produced by the California Milk Bureau in the early 1990s to goose slow sales.

In the clip, a sleepy father with morning bed-head pours a bowl of cereal only to discover not a drop of milk remains in the container.

Meanwhile, the cat laps milk from a dish and his baby noisily slurps on a bottle.

The scene blacks out with the man looking panicked and, seconds later, a cat yowls — presumably because the man is stealing its milk.

The marketing campaign proved winsome, according to Keller, for establishing the universal disappointment people feel when they lack milk to chase cereal or, in a later ad, to wash down chocolate chip cookies.

“Some students think marketing will be intuitive, that this will be creative, that this will be fun,” said Margaret Campbell, assistant professor of marketing at the Leeds School.

“But to do it right, you really have to slog through the research.”

Sometimes, though, even big budget outfits such as Anheuser-Busch Companies don’t bother doing their homework, Keller said, citing waffling in Michelob advertisements about the right time to drink that beer.

“They started out with, ‘Put a little weekend into your week,’” he explained. “Then it was, ‘A special day deserves a special beer,’ was another one.’”

A couple of tries later, Keller continued, and Michelob had hit the consumer up with enough inconsistent messages to erode credibility — something balanced best on expertise, trustworthiness and likability.

Campbell, like Keller, agreed that getting into the mind of the consumer is the steepest challenges facing students and professionals alike.

And despite all of today’s special effects, star-quality marketing still stems from insights born of patient consideration of the consumer, Keller said.

“There’s always the temptation to think that we’re consumers, and we know what’s going on,” Campbell explained. “But we need to study people in their role as consumers — not as wives and husbands, journalists and businesspersons.

“We study how they respond to their environment in their role of buying and using, and that’s what makes us different from the psychologists in other buildings on campus.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.