This appears to be a radical concept.
There is a lot of really lousy advertising out there. It’s not just misleading banner ads on websites, or spam that promises low mortgages. Be honest, have any of you actually bought anything based on a pop-up ad? Television and radio ads are quite awful these days. Here are some examples of basic ad types that I can’t imagine being effective.
Hey kids! Adults are idiots! Make Mom and Dad buy this product for you! Mistake one, forgetting where the money to buy things comes from. Mistake two, insulting that source of money. That “idiot” adult is where kids get their revenues. You don’t see kids counting up their allowance money to buy breakfast cereal and hyper-mega sugary snacks.
“Wow, that was a funny commercial for…. what was it again?” Stop me if this is too logical, but if your customer can’t remember your product from the time he sees the commercial to the time he buys something, it wasn’t a very good commercial. Remember those “Ernest” commercials back in the late 80s? Very funny. What were any of them for? Darned if I remember. By contrast, we all know that Gilbert Gottfried’s characterization of the Aflac Duck is supposed to remind us to ask our employers about supplemental insurance. Those of us old enough to remember know that the “Where’s the beef?” lady was exhorting us to go eat at Wendy’s. We know that when he’s not getting high, Steven thinks all us “dudes” need to call Dell and get a computer sent straight to our doors. This case, by the way, illustrates the dangers of having a single, visible, fallible spokesperson.
Hey hey! Who here likes to polka?? It doesn’t matter how good an ad is if it doesn’t reach people apt to buy the product. Thankfully, advertisers have more or less realized that kids looking to buy dolls, toy cars, and GoGurt are not watching Cartoon Network at 11 PM on a school night. Likewise, the readers of Sesame Street Magazine are not in in a position to buy a new minivan. They aren’t even in a position to reach the pedals.
Here, have some heavy-handed morality to go. Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are not actually trying to sell us anything. They are trying to get us to do something — or not do something. Just Say No. Save Water. Talk To Your Kids. All are generally good messages. But sometimes they take themselves way too seriously: if you use drugs you support terrorism; won’t somebody please think of the children. Even the best of this class of ads lends itself to parody: This is your brain; this is your brain on drugs; this is your brain on drugs with a side of bacon. Let’s take it easy here. I think we all know the PSA message of the week.
Some of the most perplexing ads are “image ads.” Basically these are run by large companies, often with many subsidiaries, to remind us they exist. Sure, maybe you aren’t in the market for a GE product today, but maybe your dishwasher will break next week, maybe you’ll need a light-bulb next month, maybe your company will need jet engine next year, or maybe you’ll buy some GE stock for your retirement account. It’s hard to say whether these ads are effective.
An effective ad makes someone want to do something. That is all any of us needs to remember.