The importance of Ontology in a campaign: Make or Break

Ontology started out as a concept debated by the great philosophers. In its purest form, it’s the investigation of what entities actually exist in the universe – it’s the science of ‘being’. However, as words do, the concept of ‘ontology’ has evolved and found itself embraced by other avenues of meaning. In the marketing world, ontology has become an important part of the success or failure of a campaign.

Knowledge is knowing a tomatoe is a fruit; and wisdom not to put it in a fruit salad - Miles Kington

“It takes knowledge to know that a tomato is a fruit, and wisdom not to put it in a fruit salad.” – Miles Kington

Nailing your Ontology

To help your marketing campaign, you need to make sure that it is ontological. Essentially, this means that you have a full understanding of what your company is, as if it were a living entity. But we’re not talking about the mechanics of the business. Ontology means knowing what it is that your customers expect from it, how it is perceived and understood. Once you’ve nailed that, it can inform the strategies you implement when it comes to spreading the word.


Estée Lauder’s Illuminating Approach

Estée Lauder had its ontology well and truly sorted when it launched its Breast Cancer Awareness campaign, ‘Global Landmark Illuminations Initiative.’ Estée Lauder understood that its clients see it as a company that understands women, their needs and the issues that affect them. When it was looking for a high profile event to communicate that message, Breast Cancer Awareness seemed the natural platform. As a result, Lauder has worked with them for the last 13 years, promoting the charity in conjunction with its own campaigns.

However, Lauder wanted something that would grab the public’s attention, highlight the campaign and have their brand forever associated with that message – further defining its ontology. The marketing bods came with the idea of setting a world record for the greatest number of global landmarks illuminated in 24 hours. Working in conjunction with Guinness World Records, the company successfully illuminated 38 landmarks in the set time.

In terms of the campaigns reach, it was a complete success; 24 countries reported on the event through radio and TV broadcasts and footage was shared on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. With 24 hours, over six million people had seen and shared details of the event.

Graze Healthy flapjacks

Credit: Graze

An Ontological Misfire

By contrast, Graze fell foul of not fully understanding what its consumers expect from it.

Graze began as a start-up, delivering fresh and healthy food to people who wanted it. However, as it grew, it branched out. Marrying technology with the demand for nutritious and healthy snacks, they found they had a new target audience: office workers who wanted to save money and a few inches on their waistlines by snacking healthily. Boxes of snacks were delivered straight to their homes or offices, allowing them to enjoy a little treat, without the accompanying feelings of guilt.

Stack of FlapJacks with Butter

Credit: Information Architect Abby Covert


A Schoolboy Error?

However, Graze went wrong when it tried to market itself in the States. As part of its campaign, which pushed the health aspect of its service, Graze was advertising flapjacks. The reality is that these flapjacks were a healthy alternative to sugary snacks, made with nutrition and taste in mind. However, Graze’s research into the cultural differences between the UK and the US failed to pick up on a deal-breaker. In the States, a flapjack is a fluffy, sugar-laden pancake that’s traditionally served with honey or syrup. As a result, the public might feel confused as to exactly what Graze is offering them.

Ontology might be a broad concept but, when it comes to marketing, the Devil is definitely in the details.