Mad Science: Advertising Agency Walton Isaacson Takes a Holistic Approach to Influence Consumer Behavior
Hughes, Alan, Black Enterprise
WHILE MAD MEN MAY HAVE MADE EARLY 1960S FASHION IN VOGUE AGAIN, IT ALSO highlights the massive changes in the advertising industry. Back then, traditional advertising agencies dominated the landscape. But long gone are the days when an ad exec could charm a potential client with smooth talk, a martini, and a Cuban cigar. In today's world, where everything can be measured and quantified, agencies--particularly multicultural agencies--fight to remain relevant and help clients sell products.
The industry is much more cluttered with public relations firms, consumer promotion agencies, and media-buying companies, as well as sports and entertainment marketing firms, and digital and social media agencies. Boutique firms must confront all those entities and contend with ever-increasing competitive pressure from larger general market agencies as they continue to grab for market share overlooked during more prosperous times.
Walton Isaacson (No. 8 on the BE ADVERTISING AGENCIES list with $12 million in revenues) is one of those boutique agencies. The Los Angeles-based company, which also has offices in Chicago, New York City, and Tokyo, was founded by Aaron Walton and Cory Isaacson, and is now in its sixth year, boasting a client list that includes Jim Beam Brands Co., Tequila Avion, Philips, Lexus, and Unilever. The firm uses a holistic approach that marries research and target marketing with the creative means that influence consumer behavior.
So when the firm was tapped to develop a strategy for Lexus' hybrid CT 200h, a vehicle the automaker wanted to target toward younger consumers, the agency combined art with science. By applying market data from the automaker, and conducting focus groups and brand analysis, the team was able to craft a multiplatform campaign that included innovative television spots, live events, a strong digital component, and music downloads on iTunes. As a result, the CT 200h exceeded Lexus' sales targets by 109%.
DIGGING THROUGH THE DATA
It all begins with a big idea: how to create an emotional connection with the consumer. To do that the key word is research. "We round that thirty-somethings want what they want. We know that Gen X and Y believe in independence, they are free-spirited. Also, they're used to the information age, and everything is catered and customized for them," says Ed Han, Walton Isaacson's executive creative director, general market. "So we wanted to suggest that the brand did not do things the way that conventional car companies might, and suggest that the CT was born out of this idea of independence and free thinking and doing things your own way."
Developing that message sometimes involves trial and error, which is where focus groups come in. "In addition to gaining a deeper understanding of how consumers feel about a particular model or advertising platform that we have developed, focus groups also provide us with a platform to explore similar relationships consumers may have with our competitors," says Walton. "One of the things we try to understand is how consumers feel about file brand and how they are interacting with all forms of media. We like qualitative data because it can unveil a rich picture that often quantitative data cannot. It helps us gain a better insight into their lifestyle dynamics."
The research goes deeper. The team looks at specific sales by region and by product model to understand consumer purchasing patterns, and determine what is attracting consumers to certain models. If it applies, the team analyzes recall, as well as the use of creative to push a given model, and whether it's moving the brand in the right direction. In the case of the CT 200h, Walton Isaacson wanted to bring younger consumers into the franchise. They evaluated the prior work of the brand to help develop creative that would appeal to this younger consumer segment. …