Subservient Chicken: Feed the Psychological Needs of Your Audience

Consumer psychology has evolved and, more importantly, it’s now crucial for every company engaged in marketing to understand something about consumer thinking. This is especially true for content marketing (social, blogging, e-mail, etc). There are 6 psychological needs that brands must satisfy with their content marketing campaigns:

Entertain The Need for Enjoyment

Burger King’s tongue can’t be placed more deeply into cheek than the 2004 “Subservient Chicken Campaign”. It was so popular, they brought it back in 2014, so enjoy searching YouTube. BK didn’t just make commercials; they made a website with “keyhole” style ‘live-cam’ video of the chicken in situ. The chicken would respond to any number of requests submitted online “dance for me”, etc. The commercial featured a man looking at polaroids and telling the chicken what to wear. BK was saying you could have chicken any way you want at its restaurants, and it made almost porn-like personal entertainment a central premise of the campaign.

At some point, if all you’re doing is educating or putting out information, you’ve missed the fundamental human desire for entertainment and humor. At least some of the time, your brand needs to crack a smile – even better, get your audience to do so. There are all kinds of things to laugh about – our habits, our humanity, and even ourselves for starters.

Satisfy The Need for Meaning

In 1948, De Beers launched the “Diamonds are Forever” campaign. It changed everything. De Beers practically invented the concept of the engagement ring with this campaign which, needless to say, resulted in an incredible uptick in sales. “Diamonds are forever,” reaches out to the consumer’s felt need to touch permanence, to participate in immortality.

There’s more than one kind of meaning. There is transcendent meaning (the meaning of life and the world) and personal meaning (my place in the universe). All the product features in the world fall flat, if we don’t address the human need to find a context. Your brand means something beyond great taste or better customer service. Explore what that is, and translate it continually into a way of speaking to your public.

Fulfill The Need for a Connection to the Larger World

American Express launched the “Small Business Saturday” campaign in 2010 to help their small business customers increase sales. Small businesses, feeling valued and recognized in an economy of big box stores driving mom and pops under, participated enthusiastically. But consumers also signed on in droves, making Small Business Saturday a “thing”, because Amex made it easy to support local brick and mortar stores. Amex offered consumers a sense of relatedness to their own broader community.

We don’t live in sequestered storefront. Our lives are necessarily holistic and, increasingly, we want brands to integrate with our lifestyles. The content we consume needs to include trends, news, and information – maybe not in raw form, but certainly as a way of grounding marketing in reality. It’s a mistake to be vanilla – to white label ourselves out of relevance by never mentioning the world around us. Be the helicopter journalist for your company.

Engage The Need to do Good for Self and Others

Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” campaign featured a farmer who had a change of heart. Turning away from factory farming, he committed to humane and sustainable farming. Chipotle coupled the video with a loyalty program that rewards knowledge of the food industry rather than frequency of visits to its restaurants.

The plethora of options in the marketplace has caused a fundamental shift in consumer psychology. We’re not simply following individual short-term trends of ethical, healthy, and socially conscious purchasing. We’ve established a new norm. The days when brands took a stand on nothing are over. Effective marketing now involves advocacy marketing, and companies that ignore this will produce content that rings hollow. Decide what you’re committed to. Give it some real thought. Then, demonstrate that commitment through your content.

Respect The Need to be Valued

In 2004, Unilever kicked off the Campaign for Real Beauty for it’s brand Dove. Only 4% of women considered themselves beautiful. So Unilever set out to deconstruct the popular notion of beauty. The company’s market research became its source material for meaningful and authentic storytelling.

The distance between companies and their clients has become much more compressed. There’s a fundamental intimacy and vulnerability that our audience requires. At some point, brands must show appreciation and must reward fans and loyalty with personal attention. If you’ve ever wondered how amazing companies build enthusiastic fan followings, it’s by first treating their existing fans with that level of enthusiasm. What we value will increase.

Honor The Need to be Engaged

Axe’s men’s body products long depicted women chasing men down the street because of the scent. Women weren’t turned on by the commercials, which could be perceived as suggesting that women are shallow and easily manipulated. Lately, Axe is running a “toxic masculinity” campaign to overcome bro-ness. But meanwhile Old Spice, a brand one might have fairly thought was washed up in 2010 (‘my grandpa’s cologne’) made a come back by engaging women with witty, punchy dialogue. “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign became a hit.

We may think of engagement as number of comments, shares, and likes or pats on the back, but all that starts with *us* reaching out and engaging the audience. Engagement, at it’s core, is our activity toward someone else. WE engage them. In short, a certain amount of our content must be participatory. It must be co-created between ourselves and those we reach. That could be contests and giveaways, but keep in mind that engagement that comes out of nowhere is creepy. If we haven’t nurtured an audience until now, and we suddenly start bombarding them with surveys, we’ll lose them. First, create a pattern of being responsive and commit to small, consistent acts of appreciation. Above all, say thank you.

If you find these points useful and this perspective helpful, keep in mind that the ideas don’t live in a vacuum. They’re part of what MadPipe helps clients achieve through marketing leadership and strategy.

This post originally appeared November 13, 2015 and is making its reappearance with newly added case studies.

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Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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