Do you remember the feeling of walking into school with a trendy new toy? Something analog like a yoyo? Or something totally state-of-the-art like a Gameboy Colour? There was nothing better than showing your pals how you mastered Walk-The-Dog or how you used crafty cheats to push Mario and Luigi to Level 8. There was even lesson time dedicated to it: Show and Tell. Pre-secondary school, it was all about the demo.
Fast-forward a few years, start a career in advertising, and you’ll find that demos have lost their allure. Suggesting "let’s show what the product does" is often met with eye rolls from marketers and creatives alike, along with requests for "something less obvious". To be honest, I don't blame them. How many times can you see a cartoon tooth become sparkly? Or a chocolate-y plate emerge gleaming from the dishwasher?
Still, there are demo ads and demo ads. For every fuel tank miraculously de-grimed by premium gasoline, there is a gorilla demonstrating the strength of Samsonite luggage. Volvo’s ‘Epic Split’ was one of the most talked about spots of 2013 and Burger King’s ingenious demo stunt which prompted Google Home voice-activated speakers to start reading descriptions of the Whopper snagged the Direct Grand Prix at Cannes last year.
We’ve even seen how the modern demo ad can be genuinely useful, providing opportunities for the consumer that more "artistic" ads could not. For example, 18 months ago L’Oreal ran the first Snapchat lens ad for a beauty brand to promote its Infallible Silkissime eyeliner. Consumers could use the app to take a front-facing photo and position a sponsored graphic of the eyeliner on their face to show exactly how the product would look "IRL".
These examples show that demo ads can be creatively challenging and don't need to compromise on imagination. In many ways, the restrictions of a demo ad strike an intriguing balance for a creative: tight enough to focus the mind, challenging enough to excite the mind.
Maybe we would be less dismissive of demo ads if we classified them as "product storytelling"? It may sound a bit pompous but it feels truer to the stories we narrated in childhood about our new Pogs and Power Rangers.
Sometimes nothing is so effective at evoking an emotional response as a 'rational' messageMartin Weigel, Wieden & Kennedy
Take Apple, which has claimed first position in both Aesop’s Brand Storytelling Survey and Interbrand’s Best Global Brand survey for five years running. Much of its brand strength arguably comes from their captivating product storytelling.
John Griffiths in his podcast 98 Percent Pure Potato remembers filming himself enthusiastically opening his first Apple product. He later found out that he was partaking in a common ritual known as "Apple Porn", where Apple fans record and share their unboxing story. This assiduous focus on product has translated into Apple’s advertising, recently with its far-reaching demo series "Shot on iPhone", a campaign that elevates users’ photos to gallery status, and projects a powerful vision of what can be done with the device.
Martin Weigel of Wieden & Kennedy tweeted "sometimes nothing is so effective at evoking an emotional response as a 'rational' message", a comment that supports the potency of product storytelling. Telling engaging yet useful product stories gives brands the ability to narrate exactly why their merchandise will enhance the user’s life. A collection of these stories therefore can fortify the overall brand, as each product story comes together to demonstrate how a company has the user front of mind.
So rather than assuming that demo ads need to be utilitarian (read: dull), we should use them as a contest to tell the most compelling product story possible.
Moral of the story: Brag about your toy like you did in Year 2 and show the class how it works.
Frederica Procope is a planner at Aesop Agency