I was reading an article in the Huffington Post entitled ‘Why Women Gladly Date Ugly Men (and Often Prefer Them)’ which gave me new hope and set me thinking about the real and the ideal, not just in matters of the human heart, but in the field of consumer preferences.
As advertisers we often flatter ourselves that we know what customers want: never before has so much data been available to target markets and profile consumers.
And having satisfied ourselves that we have got their number – usually on the basis of their previous purchases, which we can now monitor minutely – we remake ourselves in their image and present them with their ‘ideal’ product or service.
Unfortunately, being human, people are fickle and unpredictable and perhaps they pick the products they do because they haven’t seen anything different or better.
In any case, you can’t bore your customer into buying by serving up the same old hash. It’s a game of diminishing returns.
On the other hand, when something original – even ugly – comes along, we’re often surprised and delighted. Take two very different products that meet these criteria: Marmite and the Volkswagen Beetle. Both have now attained iconic status and a large part of their attraction is that they are not trying too hard to please, to meet some consumer ‘ideal’. On the contrary, they say ‘we are what we are, love us or loathe us, take us or leave us’. And, remarkably, a great many have chosen to take them.
Other iconic products come to mind – the Zippo lighter, the Anglepoise lamp, the Smeg fridge and the Land Rover jeep.
All of these, if not actually ugly, are brutally functional and uncompromising in their design. And yet we have taken them all to our heart. They make no accommodation to prevailing fashion, but rather have created their own following.
They have character, personality and an attraction that is more than skin deep. As the Huffington Post columnist says of ugly men: “Women are much more inclined to date with their emotions – to pick a man who is funny, comforting, kind and generous – and they’ll often pick one or more of those traits over his looks.”
The moral for advertisers is clear. Be bold, self-confident and unapologetic. Sell your product or service on its merits and don’t try to be all things to all men and women – or you’ll end up pleasing none of them.
And what goes for the product or service offered goes equally for the publicity with which it is presented. I’m not saying you should throw marketing metrics out of the window. That would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
But if you’ll forgive me for mixing my metaphors, don’t let the tail wag the dog either. Create advertising that stands out rather than blends in. Better to be ugly and effective than innocuous and ignored.