Monday, February 4, 2008

Superbowl Commercials

Okay, it's been Superbowl time again, and the upset has occurred. No, not the upset of the Giants over the Patriots. (Though, technically, that's a three-time upset, with the Giants being underdog victors over the Cowboys and Packers as well. Sheesh!) No, I'm talking about the real upset -- the loss of the entertainment value from the commercials shown during the Superbowl. There wasn't even a wardrobe malfunction to rescue us, this time.
Most people think of the Superbowl in terms of having the best commercials to be seen all year. I think of it somewhat differently: It's the one time of year when television advertising producers actually do their job. For 364 days out of the year, they show repititious, boring, sado-masochistic crap which is about as likely to make us buy their product as a thrown rock. Then, for one glorious day, they actually show something good. Consider it a preview of the commercials which will get re-shown roughly 1 billion times during the course of the baseball season. But now, it seems, we can't even count on that. Shall we endure yet another generation of fools producing ads which not only don't work but which deepen our jade while boring us into desperate channel-surfing?
Not on my watch!
I've decided to write these silly ad-spinners a letter. For your entertainment (seeing as how you didn't get any during the Superbowl), here it is:

Dear Mr. Advertiser,
I’m fully aware that you are an intelligent, college educated individual who knows what he’s doing, and endeavors to do his job well. I know that you spend hours each day going over data spreadsheets and professional periodicals telling you what the public needs so that you can try and inform us that your product, whatever it may be, fills that need for us. You’d like to think that your message, which you’ve worked so hard on, couldn’t possibly sound stupid. But it usually does.
Oh yes, I know, your internal polling numbers tell you exactly the opposite. But there’s a problem there. Your average, everyday, Joe-or-Jane-Consumer, is far too busy with his or her vastly more important daily matters to really care much about answering your poll questions when you call. Most of them have gotten cell phones to make sure they don’t have to deal with you calling anyway. They usually walk right past your pollsters when they stand inside shopping malls with pens and clipboards. They don’t bother filling out those little cards which came with their newly-purchased product saying, “We’d like to hear from you! Tell us what you think.” Those people that do, well, let’s be honest, tend to be people far too easily led about by the nose, and so end up giving you a perspective far too representative of the most affably gullible members of our nation's population. You really don’t want that sort of data.
So what’s a good marketing professional to do? Your job demands that you get consumer data, but you really can’t get it at all. Well, not good data, anyway. So, left with no other alternative, you buy into the bad data that you’ve already been using.
Well, Mr. Advertiser, I’ve decided to come to your rescue. I’m an average dude who doesn’t give a rip about questionnaires or feedback cards. My friends and I continually complain about the same, recurring faults in the advertisements we see, and so I can give you a small but representative sample of what the more skeptical side of America thinks of your work. It’s finally time you heard from those who don’t answer questionnaires, and I really think that our nation will be better off for it.
So here are my bullet-points for you:

1.) We don’t trust you. And we never will. The moment you come on the air, interrupting our beloved television program with your polished delivery, we know you’re selling something, and all our defenses go up. So don’t bother with the testimonials and depictions of people who are deliriously happy with your product. We know they’re either hired actors or carefully pre-screened individuals. We’re not fooled by ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots, and celebrities are nothing more than famous pretty people whose opinion doesn’t count. Telling us to compare with the competition and see for ourselves may be cliché, but it’s your only choice, and better than the alternative!
2.) Entertain us! You’re not just competing with a bathroom break or a trip to the refrigerator for another beer anymore. There are no longer merely three premium channels and one UHF channel to hold our attention. Now, there are over 900 channels, and the internet, to persuade us to flip to some other station the second your commercial becomes even slightly less appealing. There’s also Tivo and similar technologies which allow us to cut your petty little message right out of the equation! How does one compete with that? By making the commercials fun enough to make people want to see them! Make it new, make it interesting. Make it different. Stop thinking like an ad executive and start thinking like an entertainment executive.
3.) Enough with the repetition! In one commercial, you’ll use the same phrase three or four times. Then, we hear the same phrase, in the same commercial, over and over. Sure, it makes us remember your product, but it’s damned annoying! So we gladly buy the generic alternative, hoping you’ll get the idea. But still, you repeat the same stuff. Knock it off! And while we’re on this point, do we have to see the same commercial over and over? You might find this surprising, but a series of low-quality, shoestring-budget commercials which are different every time will hold our attention far better than one expensively produced commercial shown fifty times. In this age of digital photography, there’s no reason a commercial can’t be different each time it’s on. And there’s really no excuse for repeated commercials on the radio! So try it! Watch the consumers flock to your product in appreciation!
4.) Finally, treat us like adults. This goes without saying, but you keep trying this tactic anyway. Teddy-bears don’t sell fabric softener. Cartoon characters don’t sell brand-name cereal. Guys in fruit-costumes don’t sell underwear. Cowboys don’t sell cigarettes. And babes in bikinis (while greatly appreciated, thank you) don’t sell beer. Or anything else, for that matter. Hot bodies fall under the entertainment category mentioned earlier. Use them (by all means!) but don’t try telling us that we’ll have bodies like that, or be surrounded by bodies like that, by drinking all those pilsner calories.

We know better. Really! And we’ll appreciate you with our wallets, if only you’ll let us.

Sincerely,
Your Jaded Public

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