How an audience-first approach can improve your ads strategy

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Would knowing the amount of water you were saving convince you to buy a refurbished phone?

Sharing facts and stats alone doesn’t drive behaviour change. Alongside informing your audience, you need to inspire and empower them to take action.

In ‘The Art of Rhetoric’, Aristotle outlines three broad requirements for effective persuasion – logos, ethos and pathos. Logos: the application of logic, ethos: an appeal based on character and credibility, and pathos: an appeal to the emotions.

Facts, which apply reason and logic, and can help to build credibility, still come across as dry and uninspiring if applied without emotion.

And to be effective, all advertising needs to be interesting and inspiring as a minimum. 

Research by eye-tracking company Lumen Research found that ad recall increases from 25% for ads viewed for under one second, to 45% for ads viewed for between one and two seconds (in print advertising). 

If you can hold your audience’s attention, you stand more chance of being remembered –  the first step to inspiring action.

Which is why we were initially surprised to see tech refurbishment platform Back Market running an Out Of Home ad campaign focusing on the amount of water saved by choosing a refurbished phone instead of buying new.

At first glance, it’s unclear how sharing such a large number, out of context, with very little emotional connection, would work as a lead advertising message.

When behaviour change specialist Livvy Drake shared it on LinkedIn, it certainly sparked debate among sustainability experts about whether this was a good way to position their impact. It also encouraged several people to provide positive feedback about their experience of Back Market, and Livvy even shared that she ended up becoming a customer, although that wasn’t her intention when she originally posted. 

So despite not being the most effective messaging angle at first glance, we decided to dig in with an audience-first approach and understand the decisions that go into creating a campaign like this…

Up until recently, Back Market has focused most of their digital content on the cost-saving benefits of buying refurbished devices. 

With a bold visual style, strong focus on the brand names they carry, rebellious tone of voice and content challenging the lies of planned tech obsolescence, Back Market have built a brand identity positioning them as a liberator, a rebel, sparking a revolution. 

Their style is upbeat, naturally humorous and incorporates the latest pop culture references and online trends. Their brand archetype mix of Outlaw and Jester brings their rebellious streak to life in a fun-loving and playful way.

It’s a brand positioning that typically resonates well with a Gen Z audience – the newest spending power on the block. 

The oldest Gen Z consumers will turn 24 this year. 45% of Gen Zers say they are online almost constantly, and most cannot remember a time before smartphones and social media. They are media savvy, and unlikely to be reached through more traditional marketing channels.

According to First Insight, 73% of Gen Z consumers surveyed said they were willing to pay more for sustainable products – but the attitude behaviour gap still comes into play, and as the youngest generation with spending power, consumers in this group are still highly budget conscious. When deciding where to shop, their primary motivator is still price, according to research by Business Insider. 

Ultimately, Gen Z consumers would prefer to have money in the bank, and will prioritise thrifty shopping habits, making them a prime audience for more affordable resale and pre-loved options. 

As a generation growing up with sites like secondhand fashion marketplace Depop, which enable them to participate in fashion trends in a more sustainable and budget-friendly way, Gen Z don’t have the same stigma towards secondhand products as some older consumers.

Unlike older generations, Gen Z are less loyal to brands, and will prioritise price over loyalty. In other words, they’re the ‘low hanging fruit’ demographic most likely to buy a refurbished device.

To win over these younger consumers, brands must show that they understand them and reflect their values, and be available at the right price – making Back Market’s rebellious positioning, challenging the high prices, waste and standard sales practices within the tech industry, ideal for resonating with this digitally-native demographic.

The youngest members of Gen Z are still pre-teen. As an audience segment it is yet to reach its full spending power, so targeting this young audience may be a lucrative decision to build future revenue potential, but in order to grow now brands like Back Market still need to reach older demographics that hold more spending power. 

While many audience experts warn that Gen Z is not a clear extension of the previous generation and should not be thought of as such – but instead treated as a distinct audience with unique experiences, beliefs, and behaviours – there are some overlaps with their millennial predecessors.

Many millennials entered the job market during the 2008 crash, and while they are now statistically a high-earning generation who likes to spend, they do prioritise saving too. 

Millennials are also digital shoppers, with the majority conducting purchases from a smartphone. Convenience and price are significant driving factors behind their purchasing decisions, and they also prioritise brands that are socially and environmentally active. 

However, unlike Gen Z, most millennials stay loyal to the brands they purchase from, with 60% of millennials saying they’ve been loyal to specific brands for 10 years or more.

Which is likely why Back Market seems to be bringing more sustainability-focused content into their messaging mix more regularly.

This is the strongest cross-over point in Back Market’s messaging that is likely to resonate with both generations. The price element is important, but not enough for a disruptive brand to break a decade of Millennial loyalty. Whereas the environmental message can lend itself to more compelling stories and emotional connections – creating a stronger driving factor to convince millennials to switch their loyalty and change their behaviour away from buying new direct from brand.

Core eco-audiences make sense for the refurbishment platform, as refurbished tech is less wasteful and more eco-friendly than buying new. Having already made significant lifestyle changes to live in line with their sustainable values, eco-audiences are more likely to purchase a refurbished device.

So with this audience intelligence in mind, running an ad campaign centred around eco messaging makes sense for achieving increased cut-through across multiple demographics and likelihood of driving ROI.

(While an audience-first approach can empower you to segment your audiences and target different groups with different messages, small teams without specialist support may still need to run the same content to multiple segments to save time. And of course, some campaign mediums don’t allow for specialist micro targeting – as is the case with this Out Of Home campaign).

The water stat is an interesting choice, rather than perhaps the more obvious focus on carbon emissions the brand could have chosen. Water scarcity is rapidly rising up the awareness scale as an environmental risk in consumer polls, but it’s still a less mainstream issue. 

For a highly engaged, highly aware eco-audience this probably would be more effective than the carbon emissions messaging they are overly-familiar with. They would welcome the education focus widening environmental awareness to other issues, and it’s just disruptive enough to subvert category expectations and grab attention (step 3 in our sustainable marketing strategy process).

It would also give them fresh talking points, allowing the brand to harness the power of word-of-mouth. Core eco-audiences tend to be highly activist, meaning they will champion the credentials of the brands they buy from once trust is established, especially among millennial consumers where loyalty is higher.

However, OOH advertising is harder to target beyond basic geography and income levels. Any OOH campaign needs mass market appeal to be effective. And in the mass market, you’re up against the unconscious quality biases that secondhand and eco-friendly aren’t as good. 

From a behavioural perspective, this water stat is almost meaningless as a standalone message because such a large number is hard to visualise. The message lacks enough relevance to form a persuasive argument – even for eco-conscious consumers if they’re in a rush.

At first glance, it might make more sense for this campaign to use a message driven by social proof instead – to break down the stigma around secondhand and overcome quality concerns and lack of trust objections. Back Market could easily achieve this by leveraging their 86% excellent, 4.7 star TrustPilot rating, and highlighting their money back guarantee, as well as showing how many people have shopped for refurbished devices with them already.

But the bold style and unexpected message of this creative is certainly attention grabbing, which statistically will achieve higher recall by encouraging the audience to read the ad for more than one second.

It’s also worth noting that OOH advertising is 382% more effective than TV, 200% more effective than print, and 63% more effective than radio in driving consumers online. And when targeting younger audiences who don’t typically engage with more traditional advertising mediums, OOH can be an effective way of introducing your brand to them and getting them into the top of your sales funnel.

One study found that consumers are 48% more likely to interact with a digital ad after being exposed to an OOH ad first.

In terms of Out Of Home ad placement, Back Market seems to have chosen some clever locations for this campaign where the audience is likely to be pausing (such as the back of toilet doors, bus shelters, train stations etc) long enough to read and absorb the stat and really consider the message. This not only increases recall, but given that their target audiences are predominantly tech savvy younger generations, it also increases the likelihood of them taking the next step in the journey – to connect with the brand online.

Once in the brand’s digital ecosystem, potential customers can be retargeted with specifically tailored messaging more accurately through digital ads. And by serving a range of ads to each segment, brands can build up the story behind the stats to elicit a more emotional reaction and personalised connection with the brand.

In today’s highly connected world where the customer journey extends to over 11 touch points on average, across multiple channels, all expected to deliver a strong sense of connection with a brand, OOH can be a clever, high-level way of driving more digital traffic.

In terms of Back Market’s campaign, however, there is still a case to be made that a greater, more measurable ROI could have been achieved with a micro targeted digital campaign, or a combination of the two (depending on available budget). 

This OOH messaging still speaks primarily to the eco-conscious echo chamber, who, as a niche audience, can be targeted very effectively through psychographic and demographic factors on digital platforms, and even in micro advertising environments (like niche digital publications, blogs etc). 

OOH remains one of the most expensive and hard to measure platforms, and leveraging niche interest messaging in a broadly targeted way is not necessarily the best way to harness all the footfall around these OOH placements.

Plus, exploring their Facebook ads library (at the time of writing) revealed that only 3 of their 160 ad sets were running with an eco-focused creative. The majority focused on encouraging app downloads – a sensible strategy given that retail app users buy 33% more frequently, purchase 34% more items, and spend 37% more than non-app user customers. But jumping straight from top-level eco information (with no storytelling), to asking customers to download the app or purchase a device (their other active ad sets were device-specific sales messages), feels like too much of a jump to be high converting. 

The creative is well positioned for the multiple audience segments Back Market wants to target. The placement of the OOH campaign has been well thought through to encourage engagement. They’ve managed to find a message that will resonate across generations to save time on creative development, and it certainly got the core eco-audience talking when Livvy shared it. 

However, this feels like the first step in what could be a highly successful campaign for the brand, if more thought was given to the sales funnel sitting behind it.

OOH ads are powerful tools for driving offline-to-online conversions. When you include QR codes on OOH ads in high ‘dwell time’ formats (like bus shelters), the conversion moment can happen almost instantly. 

Back Market could have added an interactive element engaging people directly with their product (the digital device they’re using), and brought the storytelling, credibility and character needed to create a persuasive argument for refurbished tech, by leveraging interactive, digital content through a QR code as part of their campaign. 

Video would have been the perfect medium to bring the large number leading the static OOH creative to life, and, if delivered correctly, could have given the campaign even more ‘shareability’, enabling them to extend their reach and further leverage word-of-mouth.

As an additional step in the journey to build narrative, this would have primed the audience well for retargeting, and introduced additional touchpoints before asking them to download the app, which would increase the likelihood of conversion once the ask was made.

What can this teach you about your own strategy?

Key takeaways:

  • If you haven’t done detailed audience profiling before or you’re short on time or staff resources, even some top-level research, segmentation and message mapping can identify which creative will get the greatest cut-through across demographics. Investing in this when you’re planning your campaign can drastically improve ROI, and it shouldn’t be skipped. The more detailed you can be, the better.
  • As you’re building your message and creative, you should aim for views longer than 2+ seconds (which sounds easy, but is actually only achieved by 4% of digital ads!) Consider how subverting the norms of your category can help capture and hold attention and make your ads more memorable. (step 3 in our sustainable marketing strategy process).
  • When it comes to any ad campaign, placement matters. This decision should be driven by your audience insights – remembering that target context is just as important as target personality. (Read more to understand why here).
  • Your ads shouldn’t exist in isolation. Customer journeys are complex, multi-channel, and there is an expectation that brands will deliver personalised content. Static, mass market ads should be as interactive as possible to create near-instant conversions that bring people into a more tailored digital experience that nurtures the sale by building a compelling and engaging story, incorporating trust-building factors like social proof.
  • Plus, don’t forget that if you’re using environmental messaging, you need to be careful not to alienate your audience by triggering their eco-anxiety. Read this post for more advice on communicating sustainability effectively and inspiring action.