Is your brand a personal trainer or a drug dealer?
A view from Daniel da Costa

There are two types of brands: personal trainers and drug dealers. Which one are you?

Coca-Cola's "slam-dunk" recycling campaign is the perfect reminder of how brands can tap into human chemical reactions to deliver more creative and impactful marketing campaigns.

Two chemicals rule the human mind: dopamine, which delivers an instant, pleasurable rush, and serotonin, which makes us feel relaxed and in control.

For brands, learning how to trigger these chemicals to create rushes is pivotal to driving relevance and value. To do so, brands must adopt one of one of two personas – the "personal trainer", delivering consumers a sense of calm and empowerment, or the "drug dealer", creating buzz and anticipation.

Coca Cola’s "slam-dunk" campaign is a fantastic example of how to be a "personal trainer". The cross-channel campaign seeks to reward customers who recycle their bottles, encouraging them to create and share their own "#CokeDunk" across social.

This personal trainer approach to the campaign has Coca-Cola delivering a purpose-led boost to consumers when they engage with it. This means that not only are they getting a feel-good rush but they also feel in control of how they activate the brand purpose in their own lives. The campaign works because Coca-Cola has led with customer-centric messaging centred on emotional engagement rather than product alone.

Outdoor company REI adopted a similar approach for its now iconic "#OptOutside" campaign, which saw the company close stores on Black Friday and encourage staff and consumers to spend the day outside instead. By actively choosing this personal trainer role, REI gave its customers a wholesome rush in the most natural way possible, encouraging them to experience the calm of the outdoors with an on-brand message.

It doesn’t always have to be big brand-led gestures however – empowering content alone can often be enough to make customers feel in control, creating a halo-effect for the brand by default.

Barclays, for example, has long been helping boost customer serotonin levels through its Digital Eagles and Life Skills programmes, which help viewers feel more in control of pivotal moments in own lives. Adopting a personal trainer approach means focusing on what will benefit the consumer first, trusting that a boost to the bottom line will soon follow.

Immediate thrill

In contrast, brands looking to surprise and delight consumers with an immediate thrill will do best when they don their "drug dealer" hat. This approach centres on providing a dopamine hit; building anticipation, and offering a fleeting rush that makes consumers hanker for more. Personalisation, experiential activations and allowing consumers to shape the brand interaction themselves is a great way to create these.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the strength of the brand, Coca Cola has donned this hat too; the "Share a Coke" campaign, launched in 2013, used personalisation effectively to create a rush for both their buyer and the receiver of the moniker-ed bottle.  

Paddy Power creates a thrill in a slightly different way, offering consumers both a quick hit with every topical pun they push out, alongside the excitement of being the first to share and comment through social. By creating this buzz, the brand successfully leaves consumers asking, "What will Paddy Power say next?"

Such an approach is also evident in the way certain media platforms are designed. Snapchat’s value as a medium goes deeper than its reach or demographic, offering users a thrill every time they share a Snap and engage through the platform. The rush is in the anticipation of sending a photo with a quirky Lens – and it keeps users coming back for more.

So, how can brands leverage each persona effectively? Despite their differences, both approaches share five core pillars:

Put the customer first

Audience should be your number one client. Leveraging audience insight to address tensions and aspirations ahead of product messaging will unlock ideas more likely to give them that "rush".

Be creative

In an already cluttered market, creativity is the only thing that will give you access to consumers ahead of your competitors. Don’t settle for OK; aim for awesome. Fortune may favour the brave – but cut-through favours the creative.

Take a risk

The best marketers in the world go with their gut, even in a world of data dependency. That’s because you can’t pre-assess something that’s ground-breaking – come back to the data once the campaign has worked its magic.

Make it personal

Making it personal means a unique experience for every consumer. The more tailored the interaction is, the stronger the urge to share – and seek the opportunity to do so again.

Prioritise big emotions

Think System One, not System Two. Emotional messages will be shared wider and further than product information, and resonate a lot deeper too. The customer will find the rational proof points to justify their emotional responses on their own.

Ultimately, the brands that will win in the retention, love and buzz game will be the ones that can effectively tap into the way in which our brains are wired to give us the "hit" we’re always chasing, one way or another.

However, real success is only possible if the content remains authentic, responsible and true to broader brand messaging – offering a hit just for the sake of it could risk oversaturating consumers with marketing messaging, and have a negative impact in the long-run.

By Daniel da Costa, strategy director at Mindshare