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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

(SALES) Is Creativity Killing Commercials?


"I'm Rob Lowe. . .and I'm creepy Rob Lowe and I have cable?"

Carolyn and I were at dinner the other night where there was a TV monitor on the wall. Carolyn got excited and said, "There's another one of those Rob Lowe commercials. Those are so funny, I wish the sound was up."

Because brand marketing is something I specialize in I thought I would turn this into a research study. "What was the brand they were advertising?" I inquired. Carolyn said she couldn?t exactly remember the brand, all she remembered is that you were a creep, or hairy, or a geek if you had cable. Even after some additional questioning, I had to tell her that the commercials were for Dish Network. Here's the funny part: I was wrong too! I saw the commercial again last night and it?s actually for Direct TV. Carolyn is a "normal" consumer. Because of my profession, I'm an "abnormal" consumer of commercials. This means I'm supposed to pay even closer attention. Both of us got the product wrong.

I'm a fan of creativity, but if used improperly in advertising, you will do nothing for the enhancement of your brand or sell products. You will merely entertain your audience, as these commercials do for my wife. She loves the ads but is not engaged with the actual product because she can't remember the "solution" the ads were presenting; she remembers only the problem ? don't get cable.

In my early years of commercial writing, I always tried to use word plays, creativity, humor, and anything else that would capture the audience's attention. It wasn't until I started studying branding that I realized how much of my clients' money I was wasting simply entertaining my audience and trying to make them think I wasn't advertising a product.

There are plenty of examples where creativity and humor have hit a home run and done a great job enhancing a brand. Apple with the "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" campaign; Staples with the "That was easy" campaign; and "I could save 15 percent with a 15-minute phone call -- everybody knows that" campaign from GEICO.

So what makes creativity work sometimes and other times fail miserably? It starts with the brand marketing strategy. Sadly, some people don't have a strategy, and that is the problem. Your strategy is the mission of your advertising. What do you want people to do as a result of hearing your ad?  What do you want their "take-away" to be as a result of hearing your commercial?

If you cut away all the layers, the single and most important purpose of advertising is to make advertisers "known before they are needed." Al Ries and Jack Trout pioneered this concept in their 1969 book, Positioning. That is the essence of branding. The next question is, "What do you want to be known for?" This is where most companies go astray. They try to be all things to all people, yet in reality the way our minds work, we associate a single attribute to a brand.

If you think of the most successful advertisers, what resonates with you is a single concept, a single "point of differentiation" that separates that brand from its competitors. Your marketing strategy flows from first identifying the point of differentiation, then creating tactics to "dramatize" that point of differentiation.

KFC took the worst attribute of eating chicken -- sticky fingers -- and turned it into the positive attribute they became famous for: "Finger Lickin' Good."

When humor, or creativity, is focused on the point of differentiation between the product and its competitors, it can work magic in helping to not only position your brand, but also position your competitors. For years we watched as "I'm a Mac" was the cool, hip guy who used Apple products that just worked. "I'm a PC" by contrast was a geeky, suit-wearing Bill Gates lookalike. Not only did those commercials position Apple as "cool," they positioned Windows as a thing only "the man" and "geeks" do. Then each commercial in the series pointed to a different product attribute in a very funny way that dramatized that point of differentiation. Recall the one where "PC" was sick with a virus and "Mac" explained that he doesn't get sick. They never strayed from the core strategy: "Apple is cool, and just works." Every commercial helped to dramatize that.

There are only two types of commercials. Event advertising is limited time, high-frequency promoting of a specific event or sale. Brand advertising is strategy-based, long-term advertising that works to build the brand of a business so that they are "known before they are needed." 

With event commercials you can use the journalism rules of:

? Who
? What
? Where
? When
? How
? Why

For branding commercials, start with the story. Stories are engaging for the audience and capture their attention. Who doesn't like a great story? The most effective branding commercials I've seen have used this flow:

? Why - Start with why. Why do we do what we do? What is our core value/belief?
? How - How do we do what we do? How do we bring our core value/belief to light?
? What - What does it mean to you? What are the benefits to you?

We have created a "grading sheet" for event advertising, and we have a BrandIgnition Ignitionpoints evaluation sheet to get you started with the strategy. I'm happy to share both tools with you if you send an email requesting them.

If you spend less time worrying about creativity and humor, and more time worrying about clarity and comprehension, your commercials are far more likely to get the intended result both you and your clients desire.

Carolyn could remember Rob Lowe and don't buy cable, but she didn't pick up the phone and order Direct TV because she couldn't remember that part and neither could I. Wasn't that really the most important part of the commercial?

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and Partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. You can reach Jeff at

Twitter: @JeffreyASchmidt

(12/5/2014 1:35:18 PM)
Because I know you are a bright, informed individual, Jeff, I'm going to press you on this one.

The absolute WORST media to expect "recall" is anything electronic. By comparison, people remember stuff they read (print-hard copy) when they were 12 years old. :)

At first blush, that's terrifying. But, not so. There is hope and relief.
Electronic bypasses the intellectual and content-memory portions of our neurology and goes directly to those capacities to be motivated by emotionalism and... to produce behavior without any conscious recall whatsoever.

If this power of electronic media were better known, some paranoid do-gooder in Washington would be freaking out and making moves to shut us all down!

And considering people don't remember dick about radio/TV content, this is exceptionally exciting and career-saving information. :)

(12/5/2014 11:47:55 AM)
Hi Ronald,

Clearly there is much more "brain science" than I had space for and I'm glad you articulated some of it.

I would add to your "ultimate goal" of making the listener "feel good" that we also want them to TAKE ACTION as a result of those feelings.

The point I was making is we could not take action but we both felt good about the ads, but not the product because we couldn't remember it. :-)

(12/5/2014 12:26:24 AM)
Jeff wades into piranha-laden waters on this one, so let's not have any bleeding, okay?

The two hardest groups to accept "creative" are a.) advertisers. and, b.) radio sales reps.

The factors not accounted for, but still assumed, include the assumption that radio creative works only as well as a listener's consciousness and memory are still functional after being exposed to the spot(s).

Indeed, there is a great deal more going on in a listener's neurology than just a stimulus/response mechanism playing out.

Long-term, unconscious motivations and triggers are in play, and so is the most powerful and astounding element, that of: behaviors being generated without conscious recall.

And no, I wouldn't expect advertisers or radio salespeople to buy into that one right away, either.

Anyway, to simplify: The desired and useful affect of successful 'creative" is to generate an affinity for the product/service and the listener. In other words: a "Feel Good".

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