Having worked at an ad agency once upon a time, I can almost tell when a television or radio ad was conceived by a bunch of people sitting around a conference table and brainstorming the pitch. Take, for example, that Laughing Cow cheese. (You know – the little, individually wrapped one-bites that cost more per mouthful than a Mercedes?) Did you ever wonder how in the world they came up with the name “Laughing Cow”? I don’t know for certain because I wasn’t there, but I’m willing to bet it went something like this:
“We need a unique name – something that stands out from all the rest.”
“Okay, then that rules out any use of ‘diary,’ ‘farm,’ or ‘cheese’ – although it is cheese. How about we focus on it being healthy?”
“Cheese? Healthy? Are you kidding? No one in Alabama, the ‘deep-fry’ capital of the world’ would even buy that! The only thing with a higher fat content is bacon.”
“He’s right. Why do you think they only wrap one bite at a time?”
“And with all that wrapping, we can’t even tag it as convenient.”
“That’s for dang sure!”
“So what image are they trying to sell?”
“Well, it tastes good.”
“What cheese doesn’t? What else you got?”
“How about the whole comfort food thing? It makes you happy!”
“That might work, but how are we going to sell ‘happy’?” (Smirk.) “It’s not like we can hire a laughing cow!”
“I know just where we can get one…!”
And the rest is advertising history. But let me ask you this: If you’ve ever bought that cheese, was it because the cow was laughing?
I thought not.
The thing about “image” advertising is that the client and agency want you to focus more on how the product or service makes you feel than on the selling points of the products themselves. And one of the biggest markets for this? Women. See, according to image, women don’t make decisions with their heads; it’s all emotion. So if Madison Ave. can just make women “feel” good about a product, they’ll buy it. They don’t care how much it costs, how long it lasts, or whether it even works! And don’t worry about their husbands; they’ll buy anything their wives tell them to buy…
Don’t believe me?
It all started a couple of decades ago with “The Softer Side of Sears” campaign. That’s us women, by the way – apparently, we’re soft (in the head). That ad campaign began to sell “man” things for Sears like refrigerators, mowers, and Craftsman tools. How? Showing women cuddling with their families around the new fridge or tossing a ball with the fam on the freshly-cut lawn or – you get the pic. You’ve seen it enough.
And then there are the kidlets. I see them in the dumbest ads. One of the early TV ads was the baby placed inside of a Michelin tire (picture an inner tube). “Because so much is riding on your tires.” Remember? The subliminal message: You don’t care about your kids if you don’t buy Michelin tires.
Since that ad, it’s gotten even more ridiculous. Do you ever wonder how stupid they think we are? (Never doubt that Madison Avenue thinks we’re stupid.) Take a certain insurance company, for instance. Have you seen the ad where there are two moms, each needing an estimate for a damaged car? One mom is an idiot wreck, her three boys running madly around the inside the car mechanic’s dark garage while she pulls her hair out trying to keep them from running under the jacked car? One of them is even missing? Meantime, the other mom is standing serenely in the sunshine, clinging to her two well-behaved children, Statue of Liberty positioned conveniently in the background. The point is that this mom is soooo busy caring for her two well-behaved children that she can’t possibly make it to a garage to get an estimate, so she has to pick an insurance company that does it for her. News flash, mom: You probably don’t want the insurance company picking the garage and getting the estimate for you. Of course you don’t think of that – you’re too busy hugging the kids. Or chasing them around the garage. Here’s another news flash for both you moms: All five of those kids are school aged – which means they’re tied up for seven hours a day, five days a week, ten months of the year. And neither one of you can find time to get to a garage without them??
Frankly, the only time I want to see kids in an ad is if someone’s selling diapers, Cheerios or there’s a sale at Toys R Us.
But the best of the worst are the Subaru ads. They show all kinds of gooey family scenes with lots of kids included and the tagline, “Love – it’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.” Can I just say – I don’t care. I want to know what really makes a Subaru: the brakes, the engine, the speakers – any details would be great. I’d also like to know the price range. I’m not particularly interested in some teenage actress playing somebody’s kid learning to drive. Sorry. To prove my point, I’ve taken my very own poll on that campaign:
Question: Has anyone ever bought a Subaru because love is what makes a Subaru? No? Me either.
Last but not least – all of the places that “treat you like family”. Am I supposed to pick a car dealership or a dentist or a restaurant because they “treat me like family”? What’s that even mean?? Do I get a free root canal? Are they going to take me to dinner? Pay for the kids’ college? In addition, I don’t care whether it’s a family business or whether it’s been around since the Civil War; that doesn’t guarantee a good product, service or price.
Maybe you could just focus on the product, service or price?
If you’re marketing your business – whatever it might be – may I simply suggest that you stay away from image campaigns that say nothing about your business? Here’s the image those project to any thinking person: Consumers are stupid and easily manipulated. We’re not. So just give us the facts. What do you do or sell? How good are you or your products? What’s the bottom line? That’s all we want to know – despite what the pricey experts are telling you. Want a really original concept? Forget the kids, forget the sappy emotions, forget the “we’re-all-family” routine.
Just tell the truth.