I’m one of those people who don’t appreciate commercials. They annoy me and, for the most part, I think they’re a waste of money on the advertiser’s part and definitely a waste of time for me. If there’s a commercial on, I usually just change the channel. Print advertising can be slightly better, but that too I generally don’t bother to even glance at.
I remember a statistic from a media class I took at the London School of Economics: only 2% of advertising has actually been found to have a demonstrable effect on consumer purchasing. Whether this statistic actually holds any weight or not, advertising can be damn expensive, and the returns often just aren’t proportional.
What really flummoxes me is those advertisements that assume you know what they’re for so that they offer you nothing but an ambiguous name attached to an esoteric image. Maybe they’re banking on you to be curious enough to Google them as soon as you’re near a computer. I for one always forget.
So, being the skeptic towards glib marketing efforts that I am, when there’s a commercial or a campaign that I take notice of, it sticks with me. Quirky, powerful, containing an element of surprise or originality, and capable of eliciting emotion or a connection of sorts… That’s what I think good advertising is.
A commercial for affordable dental coverage by the freelancer’s union recently caught my eye. The ad shows a designer giving a presentation when her teeth begin falling out one by one. The tagline: “People pay more attention to the words coming out of your mouth. When teeth aren’t falling out of it at the same time.”
Another campaign, some years old now, that really grabbed my attention was a particularly powerful series of commercials aimed at getting smokers to quit.
Pretty much everyone I’ve asked remembers this commercial: it’s a series of shots of body parts sticking out of garbage cans. The commercial is so effective because it isn’t afraid to be a hard hitter. Initially the viewer is both horrified and puzzled – there’s no logical explanation for what this could be a commercial for (unless it’s by the disgruntled Department of Sanitation.) And so you stay, riveted, until you’re provided with an explanation at the end: “Every month tobacco kills more Americans than there are public garbage cans in New York city.”
A recent public service campaign by the New York University Child Study Center that aims to raise awareness about “the silent public health epidemic of children’s mental illness” also grabbed my attention.
Controversial “ransom notes” say things like: “We are in possession of your son. We are making his squirm and fidget until he is a detriment to himself and those around him. Ignore this and your kid will pay – ADHD,” and “We have your son. We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives – Autism.”
The campaign’s primary premise is that 12 million children are “held hostage” by a psychiatric disorder. The advertisements, which appear in NewsWeek, New York Magazine, on billboards and other places around the city, have stirred up enough controversy to ensure that their message, although contested, cannot be ignored.
Critics say that the campaign is harmful and misleading, reinforcing negative stereotypes about autism, ADHD and other conditions. The Center’s defense for its decision to continue running the advertisement: politically correct and uncontroversial were getting them nowhere-.
I for one think that the campaign is already something of a success. Yes it’s controversial to depict a child with ADHD as a “hostage” of his condition, but it’s attention grabbing, it raises awareness and it’s making people sit up and listen.
If you haven’t been around forever, you don’t have as much money as a companies like Coke or Pepsi (who bombard consumers with brand messages so hard and consistently that it’s a wonder the subconscious hasn’t caved under attack), distinguishing yourself, making people care, and making them remember who you are can be tough. Before you agree to pony up thousands for a pretty face, a catchy tune or just the services of one more run of the mill advertising firm, make sure you think about how effective your portrayal of your brand message is within the already over crowded space that is the consumer’s mind.