A new billboard campaign in Northern Utah proclaims that it was none other than explorer Jim Bridger who discovered the Great Salt Lake. That must surely have been a surprise to the many Native Americans already living in the area at the time.
Here is Taco Bell’s ad in response to the class-action lawsuit. Thoughts?
— Steve Cuno
Hullabaloo over Hulu — According to The Wall Street Journal, Hulu owners NBC Universal, News Corp. and Disney are concerned about their precocious child, Hulu. The problem, it seems, is that Hulu is a hit. Its success may threaten their traditional broadcast model. Such things happen in a consumer-driven economy. But at least the networks own Hulu. This puts them in a better position than in which the music industry found itself when Napster came along.
Quasi-celebs in cyberspace — Thanks to reality TV, advertisers have a wider than ever range of “celebrities” to choose from. And, they also have a more affordable way to exploit them: simply have them them endorse products on their Facebook fan pages.
A triple pittance is still a pittance — Twitter expects to triple ad revenues in 2011. But then, 2011 ad revenues were $45 million, negligible in the online world. But then again, they have to start somewhere.
Targeting, FB style — Facebook continues to find ways for advertisers to better reach people who click related “like” buttons. Before you get worked up about alleged privacy intrusion, consider that as a result you will be more likely to see ads that are meaningful to you when you log in. This could be a win-win.
Super Bowl commercials update — National spots on the Super Bowl have sold out at about $100,000 per second. This year, there will be a resurgence of auto ads, including Chevy, Hyundai, Kia, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and others. Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch will use Facebook to run seconds-long “trailers” of its upcoming Super Bowl commercials . They hope to make us eager to see the spots in their entirety during the game.
Stupid Headline of the Week Candidate — From AAF SmartBrief comes this gem: “Loss of Olbermann may hurt MSNBC — or not.” Yeah. I’d say that about covers the possibilities.
MTV’s new show “Skins” is in trouble. Consumers are raising a ruckus about the show’s portrayal of casual teen sex. Thus advertisers are bailing due to fear of losing consumers. Bailers so far include Taco Bell, Wrigley, GM and H&R Block.
Did you catch that? At the foundation of “Skins” losing ad revenues is consumers. If ad revenues continue dropping, the show will go off the air.
In a market-driven economy, the persistence of programming that you may find objectionable tells you more about what your fellow humans consume than about a supposed agenda that Hollywood is trying to push. Do you really think Jerry Springer remains on the air because some entertainment mogul wants to expose us to trashy people parading their dysfunction? Nope. Somewhere, lots of people — who buy things — are gobbling it up.
Back when I was a client, my employer’s ad agency brought me a concept that made substantive claims without bothering to prove them. When I asked why readers should believe the claims, the creative director said, “Because you’re bringing them the message.”
There’s a term for such reasoning: begging the question. The question begged is whether the underlying assumption — bringing a message makes you de facto credible — holds. Hint: It doesn’t. Else, our lexicon would not include replies like “nonsense,” “my foot,” the ever-handy sardonic “yeah, right,” and a host of less polite terms meaning roughly the same thing.
If you want people to believe your claim, back it up. When rational-thought champion James Randi claims that homeopathic “remedies” are nothing of the sort, he explains medical science and shares controlled studies. He even swallows a bottle of so-called homeopathic sleeping pills before a live audience, following which he stays not just awake, but alive. Never does he assume people will believe him simply because he is the one bringing them the message.
Just as advertisers should be able to prove claims when selling to consumers, ad agencies should be prepared to prove their own claims when selling to clients. When your ad agency tells you that a concept is likely to work, ask why they think so. If they have evidence to back them up, great. But beware hollow, glib answers that beg the question.
Sometimes a positive attitude isn’t helpful.
Behavioral economists have conclusively shown that, under the right circumstances, loss-avoidance is more motivating than the prospect of gain. That’s why time-limited offers, limited quantities and phrases like “don’t miss out” work.
The only problem? Clients who indulge an exclusive diet of positive-mental-attitude books and tapes and may reel at the thought of a negative word. Such are apt to order the writer to change “don’t miss out” to “take advantage of.” Ironically, by so doing, they could be missing out.
A prospective client I declined wanted to create an informercial.
Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with informercials. Nor was his product bad. The warning sign was in what he told me: “I want to blaze new trails. I want to throw out the established formula and start from scratch with something entirely new.”
I pointed out that all successful direct response formats that survive and persist, informercials included, do so because they work. There’s nothing wrong with a responsible testing approach to improve performance. Indeed, such can lead to breakthroughs. But to discard what we know to start afresh would be like setting out to invent a new airplane without regard for what we already know about aerodynamics. The end result might fly. Might. But I wouldn’t count on it. I told him that to increase his odds of success, he would be wise to imitate the most successful infomercials on the air.
It also struck me odd — and this happens more often than you might think — that someone would seek out an expert with the intention of overruling the expertise.
Not long after, he produced an infomercial. It was an artsy, expensive production. It sold nothing. Meanwhile, infomercials in the established style continue to thrive, and not because they do well in sweeps weeks. Simply, they sell lots of stuff.
I should add that more infomercials flop than fly. That’s because it takes more than the correct format to create sales. The most fundamental ingredient to a successful informercial (or to any other direct response tactic) is to have a product that people want to to buy.
Besides being a powerful selling tool, direct response is a remarkably reliable market research tool. To figure out what motivates buyers, direct marketers needn’t count on survey respondents to introspect (which doesn’t provide reliable data anyway). The direct marketer’s knowledge as to what works comes from more than a century of sending people direct mail and then simply watching what they do (which does).
From a standpoint of social responsibility, much of what direct marketers know is neutral. For instance, incentive offers multiply response, large envelopes sell more than the standard Number 10, and First Class Mail reply cards increase response, even when phone and online orders are an option. Useful tips, but hardly socially significant.
But sometimes direct mail knowledge proves as helpful to humankind as to the bottom line. For instance, direct marketers have long known that sales increase when readers identify with people depicted in an advertising piece. Contrary to marketing folklore, you will sell more to women if you show a believable woman using the product. For men, show a believable man. Observing this rule will help you increase sales. Happily, it will also help cut down on objectifying the sexes.
The markets aren’t entirely self-honest. Research shows that most people consider themselves above-average in looks, fitness and intelligence. That’s a mathematical impossibility, but perhaps it explains why the over-70 market is more likely to respond if you represent them with photos of active, white-haired people who are actually in their mid to late 50s.
This discussion would be incomplete without a look a race. Marketers who fail to depict non-Caucasians risk missing out on sales to more than one-third of the population of the United States. That’s more than 100 million people. Studies disagree on the percentage of total ads in the U.S. that depict non whites. Reports range from 30 percent down to 8 percent — somewhere between too low and way too low. Equally disturbing is a reported tendency in advertising toward racial stereotypes. No, I won’t list them. No need to give them more ink.
Taking care to be racially inclusive offers advertisers a significant opportunity to increase sales while, at the same time, reinforce the scientifically established and socially crucial message of humankind as one family.
Want to increase your market by 50 percent or more, and do the socially responsible thing while you’re at it? Take a look at your marketing. See if you’re leaving anyone out.
It all started with the dentist’s direct mail. As you might expect, it was laden with photos of beautiful people showcasing perfect smiles. Yet something was missing. Namely, people who weren’t Caucasian.
Last time I looked around, much less checked U.S. Census Bureau data, I found that non-Caucasians account for more than a third of our nation’s population. Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, they all grow teeth.
But since that was just one direct mail piece, I decided upon an exercise. I piled all of the past few days’ worth of direct mail, most of it from national advertisers, on the desk. Then I counted the photos and illustrations with people in them. In the final tally, 89 percent showed white people only, six percent showed non-whites only, and five percent showed both.
Further indulging my gluttony for punishment, I grabbed two mass-circulation magazines and counted anew. In one, a news magazine, 71 percent of ad photos with people in them showed whites, seven percent showed non-whites, and 22 percent showed both. The other, a general interest magazine, was less encouraging. In every ad with a photo of people, the people were white. Period.
The exercise was admittedly non-scientific, but the results are suggestive—and disconcerting. Purely from a marketing standpoint, an advertiser who depicts customers of just one race risks losing sales, since those who are excluded may fail to identify with the ads, or even take offense. But from a human standpoint, the concern runs deeper. The human ability to spot small differences proves useful for helping children keep family members straight from strangers. But the same ability proves harmful when societies needlessly separate into “us” and “them.”
Needlessly is no exaggeration. Decades after the hippies sang about filling the world with love, buying it a soft drink and treating one another as brothers and sisters, science has borne out the “brothers and sisters” part. Evidence from mitochondrial DNA shows that any two people from any two points on the globe share not just ancestors, but lots of them. In fact, there are more genetic differences between members of the same race than between races themselves.
So, to be mercenary about it, advertising that is more inclusive will appeal to more people. But to be human about it, advertisers have a great opportunity to reinforce the fact that humankind really is one vast family. Let’s not waste the opportunity.
I doubt that the dentist intended any slight. Everyone could do with the occasional reminder. I hope this one serves.
Do not assume that no one likes to read long copy. The numbers prove otherwise.
An ad is a virtual salesperson. Successful salespeople take the time to explain features and benefits, and to ask for the sale. They NEVER utter a few quick bullets and then walk away.
It IS true that no one reads irrelevant fluff. Nor will anyone pore over 500 words of copy before buying, say, a Bic pen. But people who are thinking about spending a large amount on a product they care about will gladly devour useful information.