Borrowed interest. This is where you import an idea, a headline, a visual treatment or something else irrelevant to the product or service you’re selling from somewhere else.
It used to be something that only your local builder, minicab or beauty parlour did. Because they didn’t know any better and it, sort of, looked like the advertising they saw from the big boys.
They’d nick the campaign line from famous brands, so you’d get Betty’s Hair Art Refreshes the Styles that Other Salons Cannot Reach. Sid’s Plumbers. No Other Plumbers Look like us, or Plumbs Like Us. And so on. You get the idea.
Or they’d nick a line from a famous song. Or use a naff library shot image to create a lame visual pun. Much easier than understanding what your customer needed and presenting a compelling reason why they should buy from you rather than somebody else.
Nowadays, because of the democratising of the ad industry, where sales promotion folk do ads, where ad folk do dm, where dm folk do PR, we’re starting to lose our craft skills. On the agency side and on the client side.
And this has resulted in Borrowed Interest creeping into the work of agencies (and brands) that seriously ought to know better.
So what’s wrong with it?
The problem is, it’s usually done because the client/planner/suit/copywriter/art director can’t be bothered to delve deeply enough into the product or service they’re selling. It’s hard work to get inside the head of your target audience and understand their specific motivations, needs and desires.
(Another reason why so much work these days looks like it’s aimed at 19 year olds, even if it’s clearly a product for 50 year olds.)
So instead of isolating a really interesting and compelling idea that’s firmly rooted in a consumer benefit, you get an idea that is simply bolted on to the product. The dimmer suits and clients go “Oo, that’s clever!” because you’ve turned the title of a film or song into a headline for weedkiller.
This means that you lose the opportunity to say something really distinct and ‘ownable’ about the thing you’re supposed to be selling.
Instead of crafting a bespoke advertising solution (much as I hate that word, it’s appropriate here) you’re simply taking an off the peg idea and sellotaping it to something far more interesting.
It’s lazy and it’s ineffective. And it’s everywhere.
It’s really no different from your local car repair shop’s calendar with naked women all over it. In fact, it’s arguably worse than that. Here’s why…
But what about celebrities, aren’t they borrowed interest too?
Social psychologists have studied this phenomenon. And it’s crystal clear that using celebrities harnesses the power of what these boffins call ‘association’. So if you associate your product with a celebrity (or a sexy naked woman) it will share the goodwill that the celebrity engenders in the audience already.
If you’re selling a service where you’ve got nothing physical to show, like a bank, it’s often an interesting solution to create an ownable character (think of the LLoyds TSB people, for example, now dumped. DOH!) or import a celeb as the face of your faceless brand. Santander have got Jessica Ennis and Jenson Button all over their stuff at the mo. This probably does good things for the brand, especially when banks and bankers are so unpopular, as they are currently.
But a problem arises when you don’t buy out the celeb concerned. I was convinced I was looking at a Santander ad the other day, but it was Jessica wearing her Prudential hat. Big mistake, allowing your brand’s pet celeb to work for a direct competitor. DOH, DOH, DOH!
But as long as your celeb is saying something relevant about your product and ‘fits’ with your brand values then it’s often a good way to bring your brand to life.
And we all like a bit of domination
Cleverer brands often use another psychological technique called Authority. Endless experiments have shown that we defer to authority figures. Doctors, headmasters, tall people (really), generals, royalty…
So if you’re selling toothpaste, get a dentist to talk about its benefits. Even better, get a celebrity dentist.
Selling makeup, get a Hollywood makeup artist (or film star) to talk about its benefits. Selling insurance for old people, get a famous old person to endorse it.
I won’t insult your intelligence by listing the big brands that do this all the time. Just turn on the telly.
Of course, you have to choose the right person. Pick someone who’s completely irrelevant to your product or service and, although, you may get a little bit of traction through the association principle, you’re basically slap bang into good old-fashioned borrowed interest territory.