Chapter 1 – Most Ads Suck
“Every customer is the right customer. What you’re looking for is the right moment.” – Roy H. Williams
You’re in a room with friends, a plate of nachos in your hands. It’s the first Sunday in February. It’s a Super Bowl Party. Everyone is glued to the TV. Groans and high-fives and laughter fill the air. Some of your friends are second-guessing every move, every decision on the screen. Everyone is cheering for their favorite, even making excuses when it doesn’t go so well.
Then the game comes back on and you head to the bathroom then back to the kitchen to refill your nacho plate.
Once a year you watch the ads. One night out of three hundred and sixty-five you don’t fast forward or change the channel or—in many cases—even care about the actual programming, just the ads in between.
You remember the good ones from years past. You remember how a few years ago the Budweiser Armed Forces in Airport commercial made you feel when everyone started clapping slowly, then faster until the whole airport was standing and applauding the soldiers walking through. You remember the kid looking you in the eyes and telling you he wanted to work in middle management even though you can’t recall which employment service did that ad and which one had the monkeys in the office.
You also remember groaning at some of the really bad ones, wondering how in the world that ad got approved for production, let alone a multi-million-dollar TV slot. You wish your own business was like one of these big companies with millions of dollars to waste on advertising knowing that in two weeks no one would remember and you would still have tens of millions to spend on the boring, crappy ads everyone runs the rest of the year.
Why is that? Why, you wonder, do all these companies spend so much time, money and creativity on their Super Bowl ads only to run them once a year and leave you with the same tired sales-pitchy stuff the rest of the year? While you’re at it, you wonder why so many companies spend so much time, money and creativity only to miss the mark by a wide margin. Puppymonkeybaby? Really, Mountain Dew? That’s the best you could come up with?
Your friends tell you they’ve switched to satellite radio. Too many ads on regular radio, they say. Other friends tell you the greatest invention is the DVR or Netflix or Hulu. Don’t have to suffer through so many ads, they say. They do have a point. You seem to recall some study about how you are bombarded with over 5,000 advertising messages a day. You’re not sure if that number is right, but you do know that everywhere you turn there is another promotional message staring at you. Heck, every sub-segment of the Super Bowl was “brought to you by …” some auto/food/beer/insurance/drug company.
Maybe there are too many ads.
But there you are on the first Sunday in February, ignoring the brought-to-you-by announcements and even the game itself, and instead comparing notes with your friends on which ads were the funniest, the most moving, the most memorable.
Suddenly it dawns on you. The real problem with advertising isn’t that there are too many ads. The real problem is that most ads suck. If they were more creative or funny like the ones you saw tonight, you’d pay attention. If they were entertaining, you wouldn’t be switching channels. If they touched your heart, you might actually take action.
You think you’ve figured it out. You think you’ve figured out what famed retailer John Wanamaker couldn’t when he famously said, “Half of my ad budget is wasted. The problem is I don’t know which half.” It’s the half with the lousy, looks-like-everyone-else, boring, stupid ads.
You want to shout it from the rooftop. You’ve solved the advertising equation. The first half, at least. You start thinking how fun it would be to meet with the advertising executives of every major company out there and tell them to quit spending all their money on Super Bowl ads and instead spend that money to make the rest of their ads better.
Then you wonder. “Wait, do I have it all wrong? Is it really that simple? That these billion-dollar companies with their million-dollar advertising budgets and their million-dollar ad agencies with all their fancy metrics just don’t get it?”
Yes, you do have it right. Yes, you understand what many ad agencies and major corporations don’t. You get it because you’re the consumer. You know what works on you and what doesn’t. You know what gets you to tune in and tune out.
You’re also smart enough to realize that some ads just aren’t speaking to you. You still appreciate clever writing, creative copy, and smart messages. If they’re entertaining enough, you’ll tolerate ads written for someone other than you. But your internal filter shuts everything down as soon as it looks, sounds, or smells like the plethora of phony, deceiving, too-good-to-be-true ads out there.
You’re about to start making a list of the worst offenders, the ones whose offices you’ll visit first to tell them about your new revelation, when it dawns on you. You know what they shouldn’t be doing.
But if they ask you how to make their ads more interesting and memorable and effective, you don’t know where to start.
PS Chapter 2 – It’s the Message, Not the Media