One of the most effective ads I’ve seen was created by American General Finance several years ago. The ad was simple yet compelling. It pictured a man (perhaps in his late fifties or early sixties standing in the water on a beach with his pants rolled up above his ankles. He appeared to be watching a sunset. The caption under the image read “Live the life you’ve imagined” (a quote by Henry David Thoreau). The ad allowed the reader to interpret the message based upon his individual needs and desires. It was a great example of conditional versus absolute product positioning and the concept of less is more (not putting ten pounds of copy into a five-pound page).
Baby Boomer and senior customers are more resistant to absolutism. Absolute positioning aims to generate uniform perceptions of a brand while conditional positioning allows diverse perceptions of a brand. The younger mind tends to see reality in simpler terms than aging minds do, and they tend to see things in terms of absolute states or conditions: either something is or it is not. Nuance and subtlety often create more confusion in the younger mind about a matter than understanding of it. In contrast, Baby Boomer and senior customers tend to have greater appreciation for the finer definition that nuance and subtlety give a matter. This bias results from a combination of experience and age-related changes in how the brain processes information.
Conditional positioning also respects customer autonomy. It projects willingness to let customers largely define your message. But, it also makes it possible for more customers to connect with the message because they, not the copywriter, determine what the message says. That is the power of implicitly wrought conditional positioning. A conditionally positioned brand projects human values rather than product or company claimed characteristics, leaving consumers to infer product or company characteristics from the values projected.
Cognitive research has shown that the human brain will finish incomplete pictures or fill in missing information based on personal experiences. Adopting this tactic can provide marketers the ability to move from net fishing to fly fishing. From creating ads that attempt to push all the features of a product or service to try to meeting everyone’s needs and wants to pulling the customer into the ad using their imagination.
This approach presents your brand in a customer-centric manner, rather than with a product-centric focus. Through conditional positioning you make the messaging and imagery focused on the consumer and their needs, not on your brand and its features. Conditional positioning deserves greater attention from marketers because older consumers generally depend more on themselves to determine the value of a brand than on values espoused by a copywriter.