Chapter 3 – Don’t Look or Sound Like an Ad
“If you want to waste a lot of money on advertising, just target exactly the right audience and then make an offer that fails to move them.” – Roy H. Williams
The alarm clock startles you awake. Maybe three hours of sleep? Your brain still won’t let go of your new revelations on advertising. As you get dressed for the day, you make a mental note to pay closer attention to the billboards along the drive to work. You’re also going to listen intently to the ads on your favorite radio station. You’re going to try to figure out what they are doing wrong and how to make them better.
The music winds down and two voices you recognize start talking in a phony conversation, one you know would never happen in real life. Before they even get to the punch line your mind has already wandered, thinking about how many ads are using those same voices. Before you realize it, another ad, this time with only the male voice, is droning on over a loud backbeat about some biggest sale ever, just like they did last week. You laugh at that gimmick, wondering if anyone even cares. Pretty soon the whole advertising block is over and you can’t remember a single company, just that they all sounded exactly like all the other ads you’ve ever heard.
None of them could hold your attention for more than a few seconds. None of them said anything interesting or memorable. You started thinking: if you really are bombarded with 5,000-plus advertising messages a day, your brain must be hard-wired to ignore them all. Otherwise you would have to remember some of them, wouldn’t you? Even if you aim a fire hose at a teacup, there still is bound to be some water in that teacup at the end.
Once again you start rubbing the back of your neck, wondering if it could really be that simple. “Could it be,” you ask, “that our brains are wired to filter out anything that looks or sounds like an ad? Could it be that we immediately shut down and turn our focus elsewhere when a regular, boring ad comes on the air?”
You remember the groans that came up at the Super Bowl party when the local ad blocks ran. Those who were actually interested in the game finally got a bathroom break. Even though you know the local Ford dealer personally, you still ignored his ad and used the time to critique Ford’s national ads.
You get out of your car at work and hastily write your thought down on a piece of scrap paper.
Principle #1: Don’t Look or Sound Like an Ad
The best ads from your Super Bowl party didn’t look or sound like anything you had seen before. They were interesting, said interesting things, and had interesting images. You liked the ones that surprised you. You liked the ones that moved you. You hated the ones that pitched you. You looked away from the ones that were just as phony as the usual fare the rest of the year.
You ask yourself, “Why don’t companies write creative ads the rest of the year?”
You start thinking about all the auto ads you’ve ever seen. A vehicle on a mountain road, or doing donuts in the desert, or simply driving with a scenic background followed by a sales pitch of $299 down, $299 a month. How many car companies have run a variation on that ad? All of them, you guess. And all of them have the same small print about professional drivers on closed circuits. Gee, even if you buy their car, you don’t get to enjoy it the way the commercial portrays that you should.
Same thing with the drug ads. A few seconds of flowers, swimming pools, and active, happy lives, followed by enough disclaimers on the side effects that make you think you’d rather die because it would be more humane than taking a drug that you still aren’t sure what it fixes.
And if you hear the words “mouth-watering” about some cheap restaurant chain one more time, you fear you might throw something at your TV screen. The steaks you order from those places never look quite the same as what they show you. In fact none of the food ever looks like the ad. Yet all the restaurant ads show you staged food and people having fun, laughing while dining. All. Of. Them.
There hasn’t been a restaurant ad that made you interested in visiting since Wendy’s ran the Where’s the Beef? campaign back in the late 1980s. They all look the same and you ignore each and every one. Oh sure, the Taco Bell Chihuahua was funny, but that didn’t get you to make a run for the border.
You’re adding a third item to your list for the stuff you want to tell all these companies.
- Most Ads Suck
- The Message Is More Important Than the Media
- Don’t Look or Sound Like an Ad
PS Next up … Chapter 4 – Make Only One Point