Leading the horse to the water


Leading the horse to the water 

It was at one of those countless – and endless – client meetings where this question was raised. The usual conference room set up, about eight people in the room, including the national sales manager, a fairly senior guy, who asked us to explain how advertising produced sales. Maybe he wanted the newly hired marketing director to take him more seriously. The marketing director was a young guy who had just moved over from Unilever.  This was a major account at JWT, at the time the biggest agency in the country. It was a soft drink that we will call Popsie to protect its true identity. The truth is, it doesn’t matter who the client was or the brand in question. My answer would have been the same whoever was asking it —

You can lead a horse to the water, but you cannot make it drink.

Maybe you’re not supposed to. Advertising leads the horse to the water, but making it drink? That’s the salesman’s job. 

When a customer walks into a car dealer’s showroom, he has pretty much made up his mind that he wants to buy a car, perhaps even a particular brand and model, or he would be in some other showroom. But the actual purchase will not happen by itself. A salesman takes charge of the situation until the sale is concluded. Note that the customer did not get there by accident. Like a horse, he was led to the water. He had been exposed to countless advertising messages extolling the many features of the particular car that he wants. He has even done a bit of research, comparing it with other cars, made computations to make sure that he could afford it, and maybe asked a couple of friends for their opinions. 

Needless to say, it was a fairly lengthy process, this business of getting him to choose this particular car against all the others, or even just to convince him that it’s time to ditch his old clunker. And this is where the rest of the Marketing Machinery comes into play. Advertising does not work alone, and it certainly does not work in a vacuum. There is a lot more that goes on, most of it behind the scenes. Advertising is what consumers see. They do not see the many other activities that have to happen to get to that point where the customer is standing inside the showroom. 

Speaking of salesmen in showrooms, there is this story of the most successful salesman in the Mercedes Benz dealership in Manila. At a time when very few people could afford a car in the Philippines, let alone the most expensive marque in the market, he was asked, “How do you know that when a person walks into the showroom, that he or she will actually buy a car?” 

“Oh, that’s easy. They will ask me what colors are available, if they can have leather seats, what other options and accessories I can recommend, even how soon I can deliver. But they never ask me how much the car is. The moment they ask me that question, I turn them over to my assistant and I go on to the next customer.” 

A true Mercedes Benz buyer already knows how much is at stake when he walks into the showroom, and he is prepared to pay the price for the choice he is making. If he has to ask how much, then he is not ready to buy, or worse, he cannot afford it. 

True, there is a world of difference between a soft drink and an expensive car. But the principles involved are the same. A consumer has pretty much already made up his mind long before he goes to the store to make a purchase. When a teenager gets up on a Saturday morning and looks forward to spending the day at the mall with his friends (in pre-Covid days), he already knows what brand of hamburger, or fried chicken, he will have for lunch. He has already decided what brand of jeans he is buying that day, which shop he will go to to browse for new shirts to wear to his next party, and which coffee shop to hang out in with his pals. For the most part, whatever he will buy today, those decisions have already been made. Years and years of growing up in an environment where he has been exposed to nonstop marketing inputs from brands like Levi’s, Jollibee, McDonald’s, KFC, Robinson’s, and SM Malls, and so on, have conditioned his brain to think only along those lines – the parameters set by the advertisers determined to mold his conscious environment to their benefit. To an ever larger extent, that environment is dominated by the media that he or she consumes – whether that be traditional media, such as television, print, and radio, or “new media” on the internet, such as social media platforms like Facebook. Let us not forget that there is a physical environment apart from the media environment, and that that, too, is dotted with billboards, posters, and other advertising messages. The point is, marketers use whatever resources are available to them for getting their message across to the consumer – and that is, to buy their product. Making the sale is what it is all about.

Going back to marketing, there are four P’s in the conventional concept of Marketing: product, price, promotions, place. There is a fifth P, and we will talk about that later. In future articles, we will tackle all of them one by one. 


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