Why (Insert Your Brand or Product Here)?

True story. I’m on the subway heading downtown in NYC. I notice an ad for Fiji Water. It was a picture of the bottle and this copy:

Message In A Bottle

FIJI water is from Fiji

What caught my interest most of all was the question “WHY?” handwritten in black pen next to the bottom line. They say the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls…

Why? It’s a great question. Works for anything really, but this next generation of marketing and advertising needs to be able to deliver this answer and in a way that will attract the user’s attention.

Why? Why was FIJI water from Fiji? Is the water cleaner there? Is there some sort of special element besides hydrogen and oxygen contained in it? Do people from Fiji have an average life expectancy of 95 years? Why would I want to buy FIJI instead of another brand? The subway scribe had it right. This ad answered not a single question. It only raised questions. That’s poor marketing. Your ad messaging needs to be the answer to the question why.

With so many marketing messages being absorbed in user’s brains each day they have ad overload. Add to this the fact that users trust ads less and less. Ads that attempt to answer “why” can cut through the noise because they actually help user’s fulfill their goal. Nowhere is this more evident than in search.

Daniel Rose and Danny Levinson’s seminal Yahoo study Understanding User Goals in Web Search directly correlated the goal of the searcher with the answer to the question why.

The “why” of user search behavior is actually essential to
satisfying the user’s information need. After all, users don’t sit
down at their computer and say to themselves, “I think I’ll do
some searches.” Searching is merely a means to an end – a way to
satisfy an underlying goal that the user is trying to achieve.

Satisfying the user’s information need is the key idea here. It’s clear that search facilitates the obtaining of information magnitudes greater than anything that came before it. In fact, search is the most adopted and useful intelligence tool ever known to man. Am I overstating this? It is because of this that in a few short years search has created a marketing paradigm not conceivable and certainly not wanted by marketers (especially brand marketers) even ten years ago.

There are new rules. There are new measures of tracking, performance and accountability. There are new ways of delivering contextual relevance. The beautiful thing about all of this is that it benefits consumers. Actually to be effective in this new paradigm it must benefit consumers. After all, this is user-controlled media. So where is the easiest place to begin strategizing the messages of your product and brand? The easiest place to begin with this is to answer that simple question.


Ads and marketing messages that don’t answer the question why will not be effective. So hand over the benefits messaging quickly. If it’s cheap, tell me. Why do you deserve my attention? I’m pretty busy doing things I want to be doing…maybe I even need to be doing. What good reason do you have to make we want to stop what I’m doing and give you my time and attention?

Here’s a very simple example from Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart understands better than just about anyone why. Their new TV ads have the tagline “get smart before you buy” and show an attractive 50ish woman talking to a salesman and explaining that she already knows what 1080i resolution is. She’s only interested in one thing, the best price.

This ad works on many levels. First of all, Wal-Mart gets how the web has fundamentally changed brick and mortar retail. That’s a story that hasn’t been told enough but is gaining some traction this holiday season with agencies (Circuit City is another major retailer advertising the benefits of web research and user generated content in their TV spots, but surprisingly not on their website). What really makes this ad work is the answer to the question why. Why Wal-Mart? Answer: Low prices. Yes, it’s that simple.

If you are not messaging the answer to “why” at every consumer touch point you are going to lose the consumer. It needs to be the core messaging your company brings to users across all mediums. From TV to radio, from search ad to landing page. Reinforce it constantly. On every page on your site. In every touch point with a user. The prophet’s optimize, and prophesize…

“Still the searcher
must ride the dark horse.
Racing alone in his fright.
Tell me why, tell me why.”
-Neil Young

I will be speaking on these ideas and presenting a case study on work done for Audible.com at the ad:tech panel Next Generation Strategies for eCommerce, November 7th in New York. Stop by and say hello.



, , , ,



One response to “Why (Insert Your Brand or Product Here)?”

  1. Avinash Kaushik Avatar

    Jonathan: I am being a bit cheeky here but have you tried Fiji water? It was in one of my hotel rooms and I tried it ($5 per bottle) and it actually tasted good! 🙂 Maybe I should say it was different.
    Of course your post is 100% on the money and I completely agree with your point of view here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: