monday morning quarterbacks

We’re in the 24-hour period when everyone in America is an ad critic, but it’s not as great this year. As I tweeted during the “big game”:

I’m not going to get into critiques of the individual ads. In general, I agree with the ad critiques of most of the major critics with three exceptions: I liked Kia’s “Sandman” and I disliked Chrysler’s “Halftime in America” and the Coke polar bears.

But here are some larger points about the biggest night of the year for advertising:

1) Out of a little over 50 total ads, around 38 ads were released BEFORE the game. This ruins the Super Bowl advertising experience. While it does create a little pre-game buzz for some advertisers, it ensures that your ad will be seen by consumers as a ‘rerun’ during the game and an excuse to go get another spoonful of guacamole.

2) The main problem with many Super Bowl ads (and a lot of advertising in general) is that the agency and the client forget what advertising is meant to do. There needs to be a call-to-action. You must raise awareness of your brand. At some point, the ad needs to make someone come to you and give you money in exchange for goods/services. Prime example last night was the kid peeing in the pool. Clever ad. What was the ad for? Some people might remember tax prep, but what kind of tax prep?

3) Sure seems to be a lot of excitement over TV ads. Traditional media is not dead. It’s just transformed.

4) I beg one thing from the creative teams who will work on concepts for next year’s ads. Don’t try to make a “great Super Bowl ad”. Instead, try to create a “great ad” and it will shine in any media placement. We’re sick of monkeys, celebrities, talking babies, and the like. Super Bowl ads have become clichés. Don’t be a cliché.

creepy fancy feast

The first time I saw this my immediate thought was that it was some sort of joke. But the punchline never came. It’s real.

Obviously, I’m not in the target demo of “cat lady wanting love”, but I’m dumbfounded (and a little creeped out) by it.

Yet I can’t quite put my finger on the problem. The big thing is that it’s just so over the top that it stops being effective. From the music to the looks on their faces to the entire creative concept, it seems like a parody as evidenced by my initial reaction.

I think the casting is a big issue as well. AdFreak is calling it the WASP-iest ad ever created and says “feels like a housing association’s welcome video for living the Hamptons”. I agree.

The media placements have included shows like ABC’s “The Bachelor” where the target demo has already opened the tender parts of their heart. Maybe it’s a genius ploy to associate the Fancy Feast brand with strong emotional ties while the consumer has her defenses down.

There should be alternate male P.O.V. version where the guy expresses remorse that he took the trouble to paint and redecorate the room after the stains and smell set in. (As Hank Jr. declared, “and I’m against cats in the house.“)

And in case you’re not sick enough after just the :60 broadcast version, there’s a 2:42 extended cut!

so bad it’s good

On the local level, small businesses develop their print/broadcast creative for ad campaigns in 1 of 4 ways:

  1. Some entrepreneurs are either creative or stole somebody else’s good idea. (the best ideas are always stolen ideas) These people either have a good marketing head or they hired someone who knew what they’re doing. Some of this local “homemade” advertising is as good (and some is much better) than what would come out of a traditional agency.
  2. Some small businesses waste their marketing money on generic template or spotrunner type ads where they just stick their logo and phone number in a generic ad and then wonder why they get generic results. (If your whole business can be represented by a generic stock photo, then it’s not going to be hard for a competitor to replace you.)
  3. Some let the graphic artist burger flippers down at the radio/tv station or newspaper develop their entire marketing philosophy for them on the assembly line
  4. And then there are the people who have no idea what they’re doing, but still decide to create their own advertising. For me, these have always been like watching car wrecks. It’s horrible, but you can’t look away. In fact, some of these ads are so bad — they’re good…like enjoying a really bad movie.

The comedy duo of Rhett and Link have capitalized on local bad advertising from this 4th group with their “Custom-built, Micro-Budget Commercials for MicroBilt Customers” series. They took a few real small businesses in North Carolina and made a farce out of a farce.

(Update: If you’re reading this through RSS, you may have to click through to the site to see the following videos)

One of the spots, Black and White People Furniture, is getting some buzz because of the racial issue and the simple fact it’s so bizarre.

There are lots of businesses that are the one stop shop like Bobby Dennings:

And the Cuban Gynecologist Auto Salesman is just odd:

Even though these spots are causing the phone to ring for these local businesses, I’m not ready to advocate that you change your tv campaign. But it’s a growing trend for professional marketers to “Astroturf” a grassroots phenomenon both online and in traditional media with a tongue stuck in their cheek.

The key to all marketing, homemade or store-bought, is grabbing attention and keeping that buzz.

may i have your attention

I had a conversation today where one of the participants said that most people consider advertising annoying.

I responded that people don’t think advertising is annoying. They think irrelevant advertising is annoying. But these days it’s hard to separate the two.

I’ve often used the example that advertising is like the biblical parable of the sower. Too many advertisers broadcast their message to eyes and ears that really don’t care. Some of it takes root and grows, but most of it is wasted. It’s better to narrowcast the message to an audience that you’ve cultivated. You’ve done the work to find people who might be interested in your offering and are more likely to pay attention to a message that is relevant to them.

Narrowcasting takes more effort on the marketing side, but the ROI is incredible. It’s much more effective and cheaper just to talk to the people who have need of you. Today’s targeted technology helps. But you can also do a good job narrowcasting using traditional media too.

This type of advertising is extremely useful to the recipient. When you deliver a marketing message to me that solves a problem that I have, then we both win.

When you do a generic message thrown out to the masses, then…
You’ve wasted your money.
You’ve wasted your time.
You’ve wasted my time.
You’ve wasted my attention.

While money and time are important, the real trouble here is the attention. People recover pretty quickly after a waste of time or money. (some even enjoy wasting time and money)

But after you’ve wasted my attention a few times, I’m just not going to pay attention to your message anymore. And that’s a death knell that you can’t recover from.

the most annoying banner ad of all time

Here’s one of my online marketing rules. Audio that auto-plays on a website is bad. The main reason is simple. Studies show that the majority of web browsing is done at the workplace. Auto-play audio alerts fellow cube dwellers or the Bobs that they’re slacking. They surf off the site when you disturb the peace.

Personally, I just like my web silent. If I want to hear something, I’ll unmute my speakers and hit play. Thanks.

The most annoying of these auto-play audio ads are when a “person” tries to talk to me in an one-to-one manner.

Alltel is currently running a skyscraper with their publicly-hated spokesdude, Chad. Instead of clicking, the ad’s audio goes live when you mouse over.

So I’m on a website and I accidentally mouse over the Alltel ad and Chad starts talking. I see there’s a volume control on the ad and I click it. It mutes Chad. Chad stops talking and looks up at the volume control and looks back at me with a hurt look on his face. Then he starts talking again (muted) and keeps looking between me and the volume control shrugging his shoulders and looking hurt and confused. This goes on the entire time I’m on the page reading the material I came for.

And the whole hurt act annoyed me even more than the sound being on. So much so that I grabbed the attached screenshot to use in this post.

No Chad, I don’t want to hear your pitch. The whole ad represents the main problem that ALL marketers have trying to reach an audience. Not everyone wants to hear your company’s marketing spiel. No one really cares about your marketing except you and your agency (maybe).

I’m sure the Alltel ad wizards thought it would be a cute way to work the creative with a target who wants to disengage. But at what cost? Seems the public hates Chad. Why give them even more reasons to hate him?

Don’t look hurt, Chad. Just don’t place an annoying audio banner ad in front of me. And let’s keep it down in here.

BTW: If you google the phrase i hate alltel, you’ll find that this post that I wrote back in 2005 is the top result. In fact, that post is also consistently one of the most trafficked posts on the entire blog. When I look at my stats, I try to ignore its effects on keyword searches and overall traffic. So I’m interested in how this post will affect all that.

just use the other ad

Good points made in this Ad Report Card article from Slate about what’s killing the effectiveness of online video ads.

Just like “in the good old days” when all businesses threw up a website that was nothing more than a virtual version of a brochure, we’re seeing advertisers use old-school models of creative and scheduling to do video on the web. Instead of developing creative that’s made exclusively for the web, broadcast creative is retooled to work online. Or worse yet, web only content is developed using the ideas that work for broadcast.

As with the writer of the article, using these types of web video ads may be hurting those advertisers rather than helping them.

Even though it’s a new format, it’s the same problem that marketers have always created. People tend to believe the creative tack that works well in one medium will work in the others. Back when I was in radio, salespeople would sometimes hand me a client’s newspaper ad and tell me to produce a radio spot from it. Lots of small businesses lift the audio track off their TV spots to run as radio commercials. It doesn’t work. Each form of media (especially online) needs special consideration to play to that medium’s strengths and work on that unique audience.

You’re an idiot. Buy our stuff.

A new trend for the last few months in “me-too” marketing has companies telling their customers that they are stupid. From Burger King discontinuing the Whopper to Microsoft trying to convince people that Vista isn’t as bad as they think it is, there suddenly are an avalanche of “A-ha! I tricked the customer” campaigns bombarding the public.

Aside from the poor decision to imitate other campaigns (Got Milk, run amok), these ads are just bad on several levels. And the one that’s killing me most is Pizza Hut.

I’m about fed up with Pizza Hut anyway as they are the poster child for R&D train wrecks. There are only so many ways you can put cheese, sauce, and dough together. And guys, you ran out of variations a few years ago.

But this entire campaign, whether for the chocolate dunkers or for these pastas, says that “we have to trick people into eating our food”.

All of these trickery campaigns have a basic problem. They talk down to the people that they’re trying to get into the store. Hello potential customer! Did you know that we think you’re as bright as these morons who don’t know they’re eating “bacon flavored mac and cheese” in an Italian restauarant!?

Sure. 99% of a brand is perception. And if you have a large negative perception like with the MSFT Vista example, maybe you need to do something to rock the boat to challenge those perceptions.

On the other hand, if you have that large a negative perception, you’ve got bigger troubles with your brand than a cheesy ad campaign will fix.

proof shame

Let me first say that I have made many mistakes. A few have been made in life and many more have been made in my marketing efforts. I have approved print jobs with both minor and egregious errors. I have designed and sent ads to a publisher with misspellings. And this blog has been known to have more than the occasional typo. (Although, a copy editor friend is now reading the blog so I’m more careful than I used to be.)

As you go through the day, more than likely you’ll see a few mistakes in marketing pieces. Most of them come through hastily written signage, employees not using common sense, or the dangerous combination of minimum wage and brand messages. I’ve even provided photographic evidence of poor proofs here before. In fact, the problem has gotten so bad that we’ve come to the point that you get a write up in the New York Times because you know how to use punctuation on a sign.

It’s easy to find these singular errors. But occasionally, you’ll find an example where they just backed the dump truck up and let it all go. There’s a new restaurant in my hometown that has been publishing its menu in the local paper for the past few days. And it’s bad.

My wife is an adjunct college English professor and she took it to her night class. The students found copious amounts of misspellings, punctuation errors, and things that just made no sense. Here’s the ad, but because of the poor design and small type, you really can’t read it. But while trying to find an online copy of the menu to show you, I did find that the restaurant has already become a local laughingstock because of others who have noted the horrible job on the ad and menu.

This is not nitpicking. This is being in control of your marketing. There’s no reason for it. Shame on the newspaper and salesperson for letting such a horrible thing be published on behalf of a client. Shame on the graphic designer who didn’t proof the work. And shame on the owners for not taking responsibility for their own marketing and image.

If a company is not going to take the time and effort to properly craft the marketing messages that they’re paying for, how bad are the other aspects of the marketing experience I’m going to have with the company going to be? As you can see in the laughingstock link, shoddy craftsmanship in preparing a menu spills over in the preparation and quality of the food on the menu as well.