October 02, 2010

Commercially useless

A few months ago, The Consumerist ran nominations and voting to identify the worst commercials on Television. The winners have just been announced. You may disagree with the actual order, but I doubt you will contest the fact that these are annoying advertisements indeed.

Taking the top spot was the loud and obnoxious ad from Staples, featuring the stoned, fit inducing loud-mouth that yells "Wow! That's a low price!" as he examines each and every one of the price tags in the store. If you have missed it for some reason, here it is, in all its grating glory.

The winners circle included a number of other gems, including this category: "Most grating performance by a human" which includes the surprise hit from McDonald's - The (not-until-I've-had-my-coffee) jerk.

Which makes you wonder. What is it that reason companies produce advertisements like this? Why do they think that loud, in-your-face ads are better than more subtle ones? And why is it getting worse?

My hypothesis is that this is because of the takeover of advertising by the left brain instead of the right. That is the gradual replacement of the creative by the logical. As companies have started to place more focus on linking costs to benefits, the marketing departments have been impacted. Ad spending may be going up, but it is going with caveats - spend only if you deliver. As a result marketing teams are increasingly becoming short-sighted, literal, non-emotive and defensive. Here is how I imagine the conversation for a new advertising campaign goes:

"Why do our sales suck?"

"I don't think we are making a good enough connection with the customer's needs."

"What do the customers want?"

"Our market research says they want lower prices."

"Ok, but our prices are reasonable and low."

"Yes, but our brand perception is not for low prices."

"So we need to increase the linkage between our brand and low prices. I authorize a marketing campaign to strongly increase this linkage. And I will give you pennies to do it in."

"Ah ok. So, we will feature a small set of national ads that feature s guy alternately yelling - 'company name' and 'low price'"

"That sounds great Bob, now why do our margins suck?"

"I think we need to immediately raise our prices."

"Ok, then that is what we will do."

Lo and Behold, this is how you get funding for the worst at on Television in the United States.

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