Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Most [BLANK] Advertising Stinks

Read through marketing blogs and publications and sooner or later, you’ll see an article entitled “why most [blank] advertising stinks,” or some variation thereof.

For example:

And so on.   I picked these three articles based on the sole criterion of that they came up numbers one through three in organic search results on Google.

So here, now, I shall explain why most articles about why advertising stinks stink.

Almost universally, these articles apply the standards from advertising in one field to other fields.  Some might claim that advertising in the auto industry relies too much on features and not enough on emotional branding.  Others might claim that advertising for packaged goods relies too heavily on unrealistic or outdated depictions of the modern American household.  Advertising for African-Americans or Hispanic consumers hinged on stereotypes or the wrong skeins of those societies.  Someone actually made a movie about the oldest of these complaints: that male marketers don’t understand women.  (Disclosure: I never saw it.  For me the gold standard remains Putney Swope.)

The problem in these articles, I think, lies in the assumption that all ads must conform to a single approach, whether that be emotional, factual or social.  The British have an expression “horses for courses” that I think suits the occasion.

Let me give you an example.  Many years ago, the agency where I worked had a major alcoholic beverages marketer as a client.  We worked on their smallest brand.  In fact, the agency had launched this brand successfully before I arrived.  Around the time I worked on the brand, the marketer brought in a new director of marketing, who came from an even larger non-alcoholic beverage marketer.

Immediately, the new director instituted a process for developing advertising strategy that resembled what he had used previously.  This approach focused on a Universal Selling Proposition (USP) and measured its effectiveness in part by a standard industry metric.  This metric involved surveying adults of legal drinking age and asking them what they drank the last ten times they consumed alcoholic beverages.

This approach worked well for their big seller, but it proved a roadblock for our brand.  Why?  

For one thing, the big brand sold over 50 times as much volume as our brand.  Accordingly, it had a media budget 20 times or more as large as ours.  They had more than enough media weight to get their message across on national TV and to back it up with posters and other collateral in every bar.

For another, drinkers of the big brand generally consumed a lot more of the product per person than the consumers of our little brand.  Moreover, the little brand’s consumers often defined themselves by not drinking only one brand.  Rather, they made a point of sampling different brands.

In short, what worked well for big brand worked horribly for little brand--even though they sold products in (nominally) the same category.

That experience taught me to begin every assignment with the question “how does this product want to be sold?”  Maybe persuasion revolves around a quirk of the marketplace.  Maybe it involves an untapped element of the human psyche.  Maybe the product fills a social role that its competitors do not.  The marketer cannot make the assumption that only one way in will result in an optimal advertising campaign.

So, to answer the authors of all these articles, don’t assume you have the answer.  I certainly don’t have the answer to all advertising problems, just the answer to the problem of all articles about advertising problems.

No comments:

Post a Comment