Visualizing The Intangible

No product is easy to advertise. But it would be remiss to say that there aren’t some inherent advantages to advertising certain products over others. Even if an ad for a beverage doesn’t focus on the taste, consumers will likely have had that beverage before—or at least something like it. A beverage is an easy-to-understand product; there’s a tangible outcome that we experience from using it. Clothing or accessories are similar in that sense; a brand may be pitching to us that wearing their clothes will make us feel a certain way or will turn us into a different person, but we’ll be able to find that out after purchasing the product and wearing it.

While I know what a beverage does and know what I will experience while drinking it, I couldn’t tell you what motor oil exactly does or how it works. While I’m the furthest thing from a car person, I can imagine I’m not alone in my naivety of how exactly motor oil works, why I should use a certain type of it, and—perhaps most importantly—how I can tell that the oil I’ve bought is working properly.

I’d lean on my mechanic for that—and even then, I’d venture to believe that my reaction to their explanation would be to nod and smile as though I was a lost tourist who’d just asked for directions and was receiving them in the native tongue. Brands whose products may be difficult to explain, products where the advantages of which aren’t apparent to the naked eye or to someone without technical expertise, are consistently in an interesting position. They need to tout their products to the masses without confusing them, getting too granular, or worse off, boring them.

Many brands have fought this battle. Castrol, a leader in motor oil, has long faced the task of advertising its product to people who don’t understand exactly how it works or have quick, tangible access to its benefits (like me!). For their new Castrol MAGNATEC oil, they urge customers to “listen to your engine.” Of course, that’s a difficult thing to do in practice. So in the ad, Castrol uses an innovative mix of robotics and light to create a visualization of the sound an engine makes, both with and without the use of Castrol MAGNATEC. I may not know much about car engines and how they work, but it’s pretty clear to me after viewing the ad that the engine sounds—and “looks”—a lot healthier and smoother with the Castrol product. Castrol’s ad literally brings to light something most people do not notice, and proves that sometimes what you don’t know (or see or hear) can hurt you.

Sharp found itself in a similar position when advertising an Air Purifier, a product with invisible benefits. In this ad for their purifier, the brand decided to use something tangible to represent the intangible. We can’t see germs, but we can see balloon animals that are made by a clown. In the ad, the clown makes so many balloon animals that soon they take over the atmosphere of a room, causing discomfort for a baby. (Perhaps the moral of the story here is that clowns are terrifying.) The “purifier” pops the balloons, clearing the air.

As technology continues to evolve and improve, there should be more opportunities for brands that create technical, intangible products to give consumers a better idea of how the product can benefit them. Perhaps there will come a time where there’s no room for simply saying that something “makes your home cleaner” or is “the best for your car” if there’s no form of proof that comes alongside it. Better data and technology looks as though it will be able to help these brands find some way to better prove the worth of their products that previously banked on consumers’ naïve confidence.

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