What can we learn from Thomas who?

Written by

Andrew Millar


February 14, 2007

15 years ago the pin-striped suits of my then agency used to throw around the words ‘paradigm shift’. I think they had all read… or heard of… or heard someone else talk about… physicist Thomas S. Kuhn and wanted to appear smart.

I don’t think the pin-stripes understood what a paradigm shift was. I don’t think they could explain it. So I don’t think clients ever understood what it was.

I’m sure of this. Why? Because nothing has changed. Products are still advertised as though they were categories.

Lists of features, dollar discounts, threats and limited offers still pass as marketing plans. When you see a ‘flock’ of brands, you believe that ‘flock’ marketers have not embraced the idea ‘that theory of choice is fundamentally irrational’.

Most advertising is based on evolution not revolution.

So let’s apply some Kuhn to brand theory…

If you are Number One in your category, exploit your position to maximise your opportunity to lead the way to new thinking. Don’t be linear. Continue the revolution. Look at the iPod. With its introduction Steve Jobs just changed the whole MP3 player market – one where he was the unassailable brand leader. One way to do this is to recognise that people make all purchase decisions based on emotional reasons.

If you are Number Two in your category, exploit the differences between you and the category leader. Take the position of the usurper. Fight to change ideas and use emotion. Consider what Gloria Garvey & Brooke Gramann have to say. …“When we look around us, the spunky challenger brands are few and far between. Everybody seems to want to look like the brand leader — and they become invisible. Being a challenger brand is about taking risks and outsmarting the brand leader. As the opening salvo in the Avis campaign said: “Little fish have to keep moving all the time. The big ones never stop picking on them.” Everyone has sympathy with the underdog.

However if you are Number Three, rather than consider discounts or value adding to differentiate, work to redefine your category so you can be Number One in your own category. Even if the category is smaller, it is far better to be top of the pile. Create change. Create a revolution. People love to be first to discover something.

‘Flock’ advertising is normal science. Marketers aiming for the clear ground between their competitors cause paradigm shifts. Not by aiming at them.

Advertising is not rocket science. But occasionally it can learn something from it.

Andrew Millar
Creative Director/Partner