Hiding in plain sight

How to reach consumers where they least expect it.

by Mark Tungate , MAYDREAM

Back in the 1960s, visionary ad man Howard Gossage said that in the near future advertising would no longer be like “shooting fish in a barrel” because “the fish don’t hold still as well as they used to…and they’re not all in the same barrel any more”. He also said the fish would take control of the bullets and the timing of the shot.

It’s difficult to deny that his predictions were 100% accurate. The fish – that’s to say, consumers – have so many barrels to choose from that they’re swimming through a labyrinth. This has forced advertisers to set cunning traps for them; often in the least expected places.

One case in point is this idea from IKEA, which took over a familiar but underutilised space – the online shopping cart.

IKEA also utilised a space that most of us can be found in at least once a day: the search engine. In the words of its case film, it simply renamed IKEA products “after the most common Google searches concerning relationship problems”. As with most of the cases you’ll see here, it’s a tricky line to walk – but it manages to avoid being invasive by being witty and entertaining.

The same could probably be said of this operation for Volkswagen by SEA Team in London. When a senior executive searched for “the ultimate business car”, something rather fun happened.

Of course, not all these operations are about shooting fish – or indeed selling them furniture and cars. They’re also about grabbing a tiny bit of attention in order to talk about an important issue. The Amman, Jordan outpost of J. Walter Thompson has used a familiar (and usually somewhat irritating) online challenge to pass on its message for the Red Crescent: the captcha.

Captcha me if you can. Another clever use of the space by Dentsu Webchutney in India enabled parents and teachers to empathize with dyslexia sufferers. It involved retyping a word written by a dyslexic child. Most users failed to copy the word correctly, so they hit “refresh”. And then…

Meanwhile, Dentsu JaymeSyfu in the Philippines went directly for online content to distract readers with a concealed message about free HIV tests.

Given the popularity of emojis, it isn’t surprising that they’ve been co-opted by advertising agencies. Leo Burnett Chicago deployed them to great effect in a chapter of its ongoing #likeagirl campaign. Do you count “bride” as a profession? Didn’t think so. Neither did these girls, who demanded emojis that reflected their real ambitions and attitudes.

In the end, the secret to catching those slippery fish is making them stop in their tracks and then giving them something they can play with. And if you’re really smart, they’ll come back for more.