Marketing Innovation: Red Tape and The Inversion Tool

Innovation Resolution
June 13, 2011
The LAB: Innovating Pharmaceuticals with S.I.T. (June 2011)
June 27, 2011

Marketing Innovation: Red Tape and The Inversion Tool

"Red tape" is defined as the collection or sequence of forms and procedures required to gain bureaucratic approval for something, especially when oppressively complex and time-consuming. That's how Southwest Airlines describes other airlines' frequent flyer programs versus its new Rapid Rewards program which has none of the traditional limitations like blackouts and point expiration. In a series of highly innovative commercials, Southwest demonstrates not one but two of the eight advertising tools described by Professor Jacob Goldenberg in "Cracking the Ad Code." These ads are flawlessly executed, funny, and memorable.

"Red tape" is defined as the collection or sequence of forms and procedures required to gain bureaucratic approval for something, especially when oppressively complex and time-consuming.  That's how Southwest Airlines describes other airlines' frequent flyer programs versus its new Rapid Rewards program which has none of the traditional limitations like blackouts and point expiration.  In a series of highly innovative commercials, Southwest demonstrates not one but two of the eight advertising tools described by Professor Jacob Goldenberg in "Cracking the Ad Code."  These ads are flawlessly executed, funny, and memorable. 

Take a look:

The first pattern is the Inversion Tool.  It conveys what would happen if you didn’t have the product…in an extreme way.  It shows the benefits “lost”  by not using the product.  It is best used when the brand and its central benefits are well understood by the viewer. It is particularly useful when you want to emphasize a secondary benefit as Southwest has done by emphasizing their less restrictive loyalty program.  To use the Inversion Tool, start with the components of the brand promise.  Take each one away one at a time and envision in what ways the consumer would be affected…in an extreme way…if it did not have this aspect of the promise.

As Goldeberg notes, an important tactic of Inversion is to show unlimited generosity, understanding, and empathy for the poor consumer who does not use your product.  The idea is to convey your product as having great understanding for your dilemma and generously suggesting assistance.  The Southwest commercials do this perfectly by showing their employees rescuing travelers from being all wrapped (literally) in the competitor's red tape.

The second pattern is the Metaphor Tool.  It takes a well-recognized and accepted cultural symbol and manipulates it to connect to the product, brand, or message.  The trick is to do it in a clever way.  The process is called fusion, and there are three versions:  Metaphor fused to Product/Brand, Metaphor fused to Message, and Metaphor fused to both the Product/Brand and Message.  In this example, the huge red tape ball represents the bureaucracy of other airlines' frequent flyer programs.  The commercial fuses the red tape metaphor against the competition's weak spot. 

Brilliant!