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Looking at ads

I must confide that I learn as much from a magazine’s advertisements as I do the articles themselves. I don’t read them as a consumer, rather as an observer of the passing business parade (and contemporary ad agency thinking). After our milestone July-August 1998 HBR, “Welcome to the Experience Economy”, Robert Jones of Wolff-Olins wrote in a (Nov.-Dec. 1998) letter to the editor: “a brand is nothing but the promise of an experience.” Yes indeed, but too often the actual experience fails to fulfill against the promise.

I must confide that I learn as much from a magazine’s advertisements as I do the articles themselves. I don’t read them as a consumer, rather as an observer of the passing business parade (and contemporary ad agency thinking). After our milestone July-August 1998 HBR, “Welcome to the Experience Economy”, Robert Jones of Wolff-Olins wrote in a (Nov.-Dec. 1998) letter to the editor: “a brand is nothing but the promise of an experience.” Yes indeed, but too often the actual experience fails to fulfill against the promise.

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Print ads are usually the worst culprits in making unfulfillable promises. Or worse, immersing the brand promise in imagery of the most fake kind. In the spirit of that observation, let me share some observations as I flip page by page through FC’s September issue:

–Saturn Sky: “Like never before. There is a way to deliver a primal sports car experience…” This strikes me as an appeal to authenticity via originality of design (“Like never before”). And the scenary in ad makes an authentic appeal to driving in a natural setting, but most roadsters will seldom spend time in such scenic settings. Why not show real-world driving conditions? But my main complaint: I cannot get past the horrible formulation of “deliver….experience” when in fact one delivers a service and stages an experience. Whenever, I see “deliver an experience” I know the company just doesn’t get it. I do like that one can “Build Your Own” online.

— Adobe: “Work Together Naturally” with picture of a hippo with a bird on its back. A hippo! Who comes up with this stuff? (A feeble appeal to authenticity via nature.)

— CapitalOne: “I’ve passed kidney stones…” An appeal to authenticity through exceptional treatment of your small business.

— Marriott: “…experience our new bed today.” An appeal to authenticity via a referential image of lazily sleeping in.

— JAGUAR: “Gorgeous plays HARD TO FORGET.” Ah, experiences are memorable events. Too bad its hard to forget that its Ford that now makes Jaguars.

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— Budweiser SELECT. the very term “Select” is an appeal to exceptional authenticity.

— Microsoft. Does any Microsoft print ad ever entice? Yawn.

— Cingular: “Wireless e-mail”. What’s more effective, this ad or a Nokia Experience Center (a Customer First honorable mention) where one can actually test functionality?

— Visa. Note the real-life situation depicted — although it seems rather “staged”. Wouldn’t a real photo, say one posted at a Visa web site soliciting such, by a consumer of an actual multi-tasking moment be more credible because more real?

— NRDC. A referential appeal to natural authenticity.

— RSM McGladrey. The use of black and white is an appeal to authenticity.

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— Copystar. The contrived male and female workers matches the awful colors in the ad (a real business scene rendered fake in its photography). it doesn’t help to be placed opposite the interview with Diego Scotti, with its rich color scheme (a fake business scene rendered real through its photography).

–Hertz. Again an open road in natual setting. Too bad the image is so far removed from the typical environments where one rents and drives a rental car.

— Natural American Spirit cigarettes. I’m always impressed by how this brand renders natural authenticity

— Great-West Healthcare. Note use of earthy “pay dirt”

— Right Now Technologies. Might not the ad be more effective by making referential to Animal Hosue scene with devil and angel, verus having devil and devil?

— New Orleans CVB: “Creating an exceptional business experience…” It’s nice to see NOLA back in business. Truly? But wouldn;t the ad be rendered more real if it made reference to coming back from Katrina, at leastin the five lines of text that center the ad?

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— North American Conference on Customer Management and Sarasota Design Summit. I’ll leave it to you to decide which ad comes off as more real!

— E-trade. E-nough already!

— Range Rover. It’s worth visiting landroverusa.com pointed to by the ad. Clickon “Extraordinary Perspectives” and then “The Artist:” and “The Experience”. Why does this extraordinary material get lost in (indeed not match) the print ad?

Target.com/careers. I had a conversation just last week with Robert Stephens, founder of The Geek Squad, at our annual thinkAbout about how employment ads may provide companies with greater brand-building value than ads promoting product. Ads seeking workers can be crafted as statements about the brand without making promises about the actual experience. Target’s ad here may provide a remarkable illustration. While not pitching for one to shop at Target it actually serves to make on go to Target. not for a job, but to buy something.

— Iowa: “life | changing”. I once held a chaired position at Iowa State University, although in the College of Family and Consumers Sciences and not the Virtual Reality Application Center depicted in ad. I’ts a most interesting ad, but I’d think that at least an outline of the state’s boundaries, say around the “Iowa: life | changing” logo/text would help acknowldge we’re talking about Iowa here!

— Wait, an Microsoft ad that holds my attention. It might prove an interesting exercise to compare and contrast the two Microsodt ads in this issue. What works? What doesn’t?

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— National Pulic Lands Day. Another appeal to natural authenticity.

— IBM: referential to “Arm and a Leg” gasoline prices. A smart move?

— USO: “Until Every One Comes Home”. The use of handwritten font strikes me as an appeal to authenticity.

— Hitachi: “Projector Networking Tools”. Great concept, and I love the idea of “confidence room”

— Mastercard: “priceless”. Consider how the print version of the “priceless” ads fails to engage as well as the TV version. Similarly, the TV ads fall short of the potential that could be had via 3D experiences.

I share all this as fodder for additonal comments on ads….

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