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Authenticity Rules

What Problem Do You Solve?


A Famous TV commercial featured these lines, spoken between two of three boys at a dining table:

  • Boy 1: "What’s this stuff?"
  • Boy 2 : "Some cereal. It’s supposed to be good for you."
  • Boy 1: "I’m not gonna try it."
  • Boy 1: "Let’s get Mikey."
  • Boy 1: "He won’t eat it. He hates everything."
  • Both: "He likes it! Hey Mikey!"


Another famous TV commercial's best-known line:

  • Elderly woman: “Help. I've fallen and I can't get up.”


uncommon formula

These ads are famous for these lines. The first contributed to enormous success for Quaker’s Life brand breakfast cereal for 12 years beginning in 1972; the second, beginning in 1989, for the Life Alert Emergency Response pendant, which auto-dials an emergency dispatcher. Importantly, they also share an effective approach to advertising: Identify the problem you solve considerately, then identify your solution.


common problems

Many affluent parents struggle to get their children to eat a good, healthy breakfast every day. For some, this includes a struggle to resist breakfast foods that offer little nutrition and better resemble candy. Likewise, many adults worry about their mother, aunt, or other elderly family member who lives alone and could suffer a fall or other calamity from which help would be needed to recover.


comforting solutions

In the cereal ad, after the boys discover that the hard-to-please Mikey likes it, a voice-over describes Life as a “nutritious, delicious” cereal that even picky children like Mikey enjoy eating. In the pendant ad, less memorable is the dispatcher’s reply, “We're sending help immediately, Mrs. Fletcher.” Both ads offer to save people from the difficulties that they credibly portray. Both also triggered many people to buy what they were selling. So, why is the same formula not used in more advertising?


not for creative ad execs

When marketers take the route of simple, truthful authenticity such as sympathetically demonstrating that they understand the problem that their product solves consumers often reward them with success. These ads are good examples of this. Yet, the supreme status of creativity is so deeply ingrained in the ad industry that advertising executives often refuse to pay attention or feel that they can do much better.


medals or sales?

Of course, there are many companies that might never advertise on TV. Even so, their decision makers could entrust their marketing budgets to creative people who think like big advertising executives. Too often, this means that their advertising is based on creativity and lacks a strong grounding in real user experience. Then, a new problem arises: Creativity wins awards for ad agencies.

To win an award for creativity, an ad need not be effective at generating sales.


tell the truth

Before your company takes the creativity-first route in its marketing, remember that people want truth in advertising and that consumers want their problems to be solved. These basic priorities carry more weight than being entertained by creative ads. Meeting these priorities effectively can be more profitable for the advertiser, too.


listen for it

So, how does a company with products or services to promote get to the truth and express it so that the market responds positively? Key messages in the words that the market uses come simply from attentive listening.


distil it

As a key-messages specialist, I coach my clients on how to listen to their customers, staff, and suppliers to learn where the value comes from; then, what sources of value distinguish them from competitors. Listen attentively to enough people over enough time and the truth of market perception becomes clear.

Then, we distil those sentiments for an effective, authentic key message.


give it to them straight

Authentic problem/solution key messages can be more valuable than cartoon characters promoting colourful, candy-like breakfast cereal as fun to eat (what Quaker was up against with Life). When you credibly demonstrate genuine understanding of the problem that you solve, and present your product or service as reliably solving that problem, then plain facts can win over the skeptical even the hard-to-please like Mikey.


- Glenn R Harrington, Articulate Consultants Inc.


Click for Authenticity Rules: A Reality Check for Creative Advertisers


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