Don’t Mess With…the Customer Perspective

A deep understanding of your target audience is the only way to create ideas that resonate and break through the noise of modern life. Being able to connect authentically and directly to a buyer persona’s culture is an effort in alignment. Alignment is not just for vehicles–it is critical to business success! When people begin to see your product or service as a part of their identity, then you have built a connection with stickiness to it!

Keep America Beautiful launched a campaign years ago aimed at deterring littering. In it, an actor made to look like an Indian cries when he sees trash detracting from an otherwise majestic scene. While an emotional memory was built through the public service announcement, a cultural connection was not formed and very few behaviors were changed. Littering is still a problem today. (In fact, one of the things that irks many are cigarette butts all over the ground, thrown out car windows, and piled up at entrances to office buildings.) Why smokers can’t keep their butts to themselves is a mystery! 

A market research project in Texas sought to understand who litters. What they found in terms of demographics were that 70 percent of “litterbugs” were males, who also usually had the following characteristics:

  • they are young
  • they drive trucks
  • they drink beer
  • they have a “king of the world” attitude

The research project led to a marketing campaign recommendation to engage culturally with these young males. Ever heard the slogan, “Don’t Mess With Texas?”  In the mid 1980s, actors and athletes were recruited as spokespeople for a new breed of PSA in which the stars shouted out the now famous slogan. For instance, two burly defensive football players from the Dallas Cowboys team during that era are depicted roadside, picking up trash and vowing that they want to give litterers a personal message!

Megastars like Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Love Hewitt, George Foreman, Owen Wilson, Chamillionaire, and Chuck Norris all did cameo endorsements for the campaign. YouTube videos show that it went viral. When a leading research organization suggested that a 10% reduction in littering would be good and 15% stellar, its team had no idea what a campaign that truly connected could do. In the first five years after the slogan was launched, litter in Texas was reduced by 72%!!!

Something else that really connected was Cadillac’s launch of is Escalade SUV. Escalades became iconic in hip hop culture, appearing in music videos, lyrics, and becoming the ride of choice for many to demonstrate status. John Manoogian, who oversaw external design at Cadillac, was asked why it became the bestselling full sized SUV for a number of years.  Rather than attributing success to something like product placement, he admitted that Cadillac missed its target audience with the Escalade. It was intended for  older affluent males. When it didn’t sell as planned, he visited a dangerous neighborhood in Detroit to see who else might be in the market for the luxury SUV. While the “business” that the owners of Escalades appeared to be in was not what bigwigs at headquarters may have wanted, he realized they had a winner. From there, it was a matter of building a strong marketing approach to reach the target audience and tweak the product based on feedback–just like any other niche!

What can be learned from these two “case studies?” Simply that we must not try to educate people into taking another perspective that is conducive to our personal or corporate success. Instead, we should find out what is important to the target and meet them culturally with an offering that resonates with their environment, way of living, and motivations.


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