Funny marketing campaigns and advertisements are a dime a dozen in the advertising industry. A prime example of annual Super Bowl commercials in the U.S. demonstrates that humour sells, and is hence widely used, albeit executed in a wide spectrum of ways ranging from clever to inane. Which brings us to the star of this blog post: the Diamond Shreddies advertising campaign, which in its brilliance managed to combine both ends of the humour spectrum to incredible success, and exemplifying the fact that beyond sheer humour, interacting, understanding and respecting your customer can be effective methods of persuasion.
First, a little background for those uninitiated to the wonderful world of breakfast cereals: Shreddies is a long established breakfast cereal brand(over 60 years old!) sold in UK and Canada, characterised by square-shaped, latticed wholewheat cereal as seen above left .Kraft Foods Canada, seeing declining sales of the product and declining popularity in the market, approached advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather in 2006 to revamp Shreddies' unexciting and tired image. There wasn't anything wrong with the product quality per se, according to focus groups - in fact, the taste was described as nostalgic of childhood and still well-loved by many. It was just that with so many other more exciting breakfast products, the reliable,healthy and wholesome image of Shreddies was simply not on their minds.
Therein lies the problem : How to add value and novelty to a brand to increase awareness without changing the product that consumers were already happy with? Well, the answer begin as a joke from Hunter Somerville, a 20something intern at O&M, who rotated a Shreddie by 45 degrees, and said, “it isn’t a square, it’s a diamond!” Amazingly, his senior colleagues saw great potential for this geometric revelation and thus began a huge marketing rebranding campaign. IT was amazingly effective, resulting in 18% increase in sales. How did this happen?
Persuasion in the form of parody
The campaign used a unique brand of humour in the form of irony, and the “square VS diamond” schtick became a sort of in-joke with consumers. The use of humour in such a memorable way creates positive affect and through evaluative conditioning, the Shreddies brand appeared more likeable and fun by being consistently paired with positive stimuli in the form of humour (De Houwer, Thomas & Baeyens, 2001), and hence the message of the advertising campaign became more persuasive as consumer attitude towards Shreddies improved.
The pervasiveness of the campaign ensured that via the availability heuristic (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973), consumers are likely to recall the campaign joke and hence more likely to think of Shreddies as a fun and consumer friendly brand in the future. Schwartz (1991) demonstrated that when it was easier to think of examples of occasions in which they were assertive, people rated themselves as more assertive.
Another remarkable aspect of the in-joke was that Shreddies didn’t underestimate the consumer’s capacity to realise that (spoiler alert) the original and Diamond Shreddies were the exact same product, as well as their ability decipher the campaign as a joke mocking industry conventions and a parody of the Shreddie’s brand. Consumers know that when they are being advertised to, and this made the audience feel intelligent, boosting their self-esteem. According to Katz(1960), the attitudes we adopt can have functions like ego defence (protecting one's self-esteem) and value expressiveness (allowing people to display those values that uniquely identify and define them). By adopting positive attitudes toward the Shreddies brand, consumers engage a self-concept that they are funny and intelligent consumers that Shreddies make them out to be. According to the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980), positive attitudes and beliefs toward Shreddies increase the likelihood of buying Shreddies products.
The Diamond Shreddies team went all out with a huge marketing rebranding campaign of billboards, TV ads, printed media, a website diamondshreddies.com with an online video and finally new box packaging consisting of the Diamond Shreddies logo - all in signature shade of cheerful yellow. Notably, the quirky nature of the campaign rapidly gained popularity on multiple social media platforms online, generating discussion in blogs and internet forums. In particular, a video depicting consumer focus groups sampling the ordinary and diamond shreddies went viral on YouTube. In other words, Diamond Shreddies was everywhere, in all its ridiculousness.
This illustrates the effect of mere exposure (Zajonc, 1968), where repeated exposure to a stimulus on several occasions is likely to increase our familiarity and hence liking for it. The effect has been applied to consumer products where attractiveness increased with exposure frequency (Herkert et. al,2013). In another example,Fazio (1990) demonstrated that mere repeated exposure to a product name on a radio message is effective in increasing liking for the product name and thus cause listeners to select it for purchase without much consideration.
In my opinion, the campaign was successful largely due to the level of engagement and respect it showed its customers to make them "wake up to shreddies" again, in stark contrast to some of the ads today which simply bombard us with attractive models or shocking images to get our attention.
Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980). Understanding attitudes and predicting social behaviour.
De Houwer, J., Thomas, S., & Baeyens, F. (2001). Association learning of likes and dislikes: A review of 25 years of research on human evaluative conditioning. Psychological bulletin, 127(6), 853.
Fazio, R. H. (1990). Multiple processes by which attitudes guide behavior: The MODE model as an integrative framework. Advances in experimental social psychology, 23, 75-109.
Hekkert, P., Thurgood, C., & Whitfield, T. A. (2013). The mere exposure effect for consumer products as a consequence of existing familiarity and controlled exposure. Acta psychologica, 144(2), 411-417.
Katz, D. (1960). The functional approach to the study of attitudes. Public opinion quarterly, 24(2), 163-204.
Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185, 1124-1131.
Schwarz, N., Bless, H., Strack, F., Klumpp, G., Rittenauer-Schatka, H., & Simmons, A. (1991). Ease of retrieval as information: Another look at the availability heuristic. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 195-202.