The power of fluff

Do you use the word ‘fluffy’? Do you use it as a criticism? Do you work in brand, marketing or advertising? And you use the word ‘fluffy’ to slag something off? You’re an idiot. Ah, that’s better. I’ve needed to get that off my chest for a few years.

The reason that I think using the word ‘fluffy’ pejoratively in a marketing context is idiotic is that it’s based on the assumption that marketing is rational and scientific. The idea that selling more stuff to more people is a simple equation.

In fact, what the science will really tell you is that the way that human beings make decisions is highly irrational. Half the time, we don’t even know we’re making decisions and certainly not why we’re making them. Much has been written about this but Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate , distilled his brilliant thinking on this topic in his book Thinking Fast & Slow.

Here’s a more low-brow example. In Location, Location, Location, when Kirstie and Phil show their prospective buyers around a house, they talk about getting The Feeling. People won’t buy a house unless they get The Feeling. That’s not their conscious mind providing a nice sensible rationale for why the property is right. It’s something else – the gut, the heart, the subconscious, the feeling in your bones – whatever you want to call it. When we ask ‘Are you feeling it?’ to mean ‘do you like it?’, it’s beautifully apt.

Brands need fluff. You need fluff. We all need fluff. Okay, I’m using the word ironically as a substitute for ’emotional content’ but brands win with big ideas, big emotions. Things that speak to our hearts and desires. It’s easy to prove. Ask people about the ads they like. The brands they like or dislike. Hey – even the products they like or dislike. Most of what they talk about won’t be to do with features, technical specifications, value for money, endorsements from Which? Magazine, or the quality of ingredients or components. It’ll be emotional matters: they love this or hate that or think that other thing is amazing. Silly, unpredictable emotions. Highly subjective, very powerful and fundamentally human.

It’s why Honda’s brand line is ‘The Power of Dreams’, not ‘Really Well Made Cars that Are Excellent Value For Money’. It’s why Budweiser was able to sell beer on the basis of ‘Whasssssuuuuuup?’. It’s why Virgin Atlantic is all about ‘entertainment in the sky’, not how many routes they fly or the fact that they are 8% cheaper than American Airlines or BA.

Maybe I’m preaching to the converted. But watch out for those highly rational marketing folk (usually client-side and corporate, I must admit) who’ll talk about fluff and fluffiness as if it’s anathema to effective marketing. Brands are fluffy. The best brands are often really fluffy. I mean they reach beyond rational benefits.

Of course, we need to appease the rational mind too. But let me ask you this. Why don’t you drive a Skoda? They’re really reasonably priced, the emissions are low, quite nicely designed these days and, hey — they’re built by Volkswagen.

So why don’t you drive one?

Remember the value of what fools call ‘fluff’. It’s emotion that drives our decisions, not logic. They call it fluff, I call it ROI.

All together now: “The power of fluff…..a force from above….”

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