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How ‘imprinting’ can boost your marketing

How ‘imprinting’ can boost your marketing

By Bryan Urbick, CEO & President of Consumer Knowledge Centre
Out the corner of your eye you see someone pounding on a ketchup bottle and it’s likely that the familiar Heinz shape, or simply the Heinz brand, springs to mind.

The very familiar “The-e-y’r-r-re Gr-r-reat!” slogan means only one thing; frosted flakes and the recognizable Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger character. And how about those golden arches, or the ‘swoop’ on athletic shoes.

No prizes for guessing McDonald’s and Nike. We are surrounded by slogans, mnemonics, images and catchy tunes that we have picked up, taken onboard and retained from advertisements. They are just some key triggers to what we at the Consumer Knowledge Centre call ‘imprinting’.
Some companies are very effective at brand imprinting but it’s not simply a case of one size fits all. Working largely with children, our understanding of imprinting grew after numerous observations of kids watching advertisements

At one point the idea of imprinting became very apparent was when there were big differences in the mechanics of communication, and those that ‘imprinted’ were far more effective. It’s not so much the content style of the advertising, but the way in which the messages are recalled, reiterated and ultimately embedded.
The patterns of behaviour that emerged related to the children’s involvement with the advertising. We discovered that the behaviour went deeper than simply awareness and enjoyment. The concept of imprinting became even clearer following work we did reviewing trailers of films with kids.
In all ads or ad concepts tested in our projects, qualitative success was determined not only by awareness (and remembering the story of the ad), but also the enjoyment and, most importantly, the kids’ ‘take-away’ of the key strategic messages of the communications.
Success of any advertising campaign aimed at children would generally be measured by:
· the impact on market and category; and/or
· desire of kids to ask for product or purchase it themselves; and/or
· the stories mothers tell about their kids’ involvement with ads; and/or
· the success of products (sales)
However, we noted that the very successful communication vehicles had one or more of the following common behaviours:
i.      kids acting out parts of the advertisement; 

ii.      dancing/moving to the music;

iii.      singing the songs; and

iv.      imitating or copying behaviour or sounds or slogans or phrases/statements by the character(s) in the advertisements.
Understanding how to connect better with kids rather than running campaigns that contained “kid-like” content would, therefore, make marketers much more effective.
Many marketing teams will go to great lengths to create a mnemonic they believe will not only attract kids but one that they will always remember. Although a mnemonic may imprint well (and many do), this is not to say that imprinting is as simple as creating a memorable mnemonic.
From the kids’ point of view (and those of adults), the advertisements that are imprinted will be remembered even thought they did not necessarily set out to remember them. We have identified that in effective campaigns there is both an emotional and rational connection to the imprint.

This is quite different to where a mnemonic is just remembered. Kids will identify any number of advertisements but they miss the mark because the communication hasn’t been retained effectively in the limbic brain.
It is important for marketers to make sure the remembered part is also a motivating element. As adults now, many of us will recall some years ago hearing the words “he won’t eat it, he hates everything” more succinctly than “he likes it”. Not much motivation there!
The concept of imprinting with children is best understood from the context of the developing child.  In CKC’s work with young people throughout the world, there are three major drivers of kids’:
1. control - the desire to be ‘in charge’ of themselves and their immediate environment;
2. aspiration - the desire to be treated as older, although not necessarily shoulder the responsibility of being older; and
3. creating excitement and stretching boundaries - the stated desire to avoid ‘the same old thing’ and push their limits.

This is the way that young people learn what they can, what they cannot and, perhaps, what they should not do in order to get along in the world.
Of these, control is the most important and fundamental key driver for young people. It is present in all aspects of their lives and changes as they grow. However, kids’ desire for control is also a major contributing factor to neophobia.

This is a term that means a fear of things new. It could be argued that all kids like new things but the reality is quite different. Children actually do not readily adopt new things even though they may request something new or different from what they are used to because they have seen it advertised.

Some adults are like this also but the preference is for things that are ‘familiar’ and, therefore, ‘safe’.  Familiarity and liking are highly correlated. Work undertaken by Professor P Pliner of the University of Toronto has shown that exposure increases liking, favourable experiences with new things decreases neophobia, combining unfamiliar with familiar decreases neophobia, and acceptance by peers increases liking.

Equally, good-for-you information - such as ‘health’, nutrition, ‘wholesome’ – can have little or no effect and may actually decrease liking.  These are sound principles confirmed in CKC’s work to reduce kids’ innate neophobia.
Children absorb the world through observation and imitation, and adults are often like kids in this regard. They must be able to absorb communication in the same way for imprinting to be effective.

Brand managers need to be aware that incremental step changes are far more powerful than total change and they should aim to focus on creating brand cues which are motivational and truly ‘imprint’.

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