Red - Column for 2/7

An advertising wasteland

I've seen a lot of stupid ads recently, and I'm not sure why there has been such a streak of them in the last year. The one that most recently caught my attention as being particularly stupid was an advertisement on the metro (the light rail system here in DC). I'm not sure that my html skills are up to doing it justice, but I will try.

finisH Your BaCheloR'S DegRee

iN As LitTle As 18 moNtHs

AnD aTTeNd Class JusT

ONe NiGht A weeK.

The random application of large and small letters and capitals, was certainly attention grabbing, but somehow wasn't the image I would think an institution of higher learning would try to project. As I looked at it I couldn't decide whether it looked more like a ransom note with the letters cut out of half a dozen magazines, or a something written by a child who had learned to print, but not the fine control to make the letters the same size. Either way, it didn't make me want to run and take classes from them.

Another fine example of an ad that makes me less likely to buy something are the ads for a car (I think it is the Volkswagen Passat) with the line "It only looks like a million bucks." The problem with these ads is that they spend the whole 30 or 60 seconds telling you the awful things that can happen to you if someone thinks that you have lots of money. The specific ad I'm thinking of here is the one where this lady parks her car in front of an old clunker and maybe tapped the bumper as she parallel parked. Anyway, the action in the ad itself is this guy telling the world he's going to sue for damage to his car and physical injury (when he wasn't actually in the car at the time it was tapped), and just generally making a scene.

This ad plays a lot, and every time I see it I think, "Yeah, sure, I'm going to buy that car."

Another people-being-mean-to-each-other ad is one for Chex cereal I saw recently. The product was Chex in a portable little bag, like trail mix. Anyway, the husband says he thought of that idea years ago, and his wife belittles him really brutally. I'm sitting watching this, thinking, "that would be a marriage not long for this world." Now I have this image of Chex cereal associated with a marriage between a slightly goofy guy and his heavily sarcastic wife.

So if I buy this product, I will wake up grumpy and sarcastic, and take it out on my husband-to-be. "Yeah, sure, I'm going to buy that cereal."

In contrast, the mlife ads are just annoying. Actually any of the ads where they don't tell you what their product does (this also includes about half of the prescription drug commercials) annoy me. Partially because they clearly think that the curiosity of not telling me is going to go make me look at their web site... "Sorry, Charlie." I simply have better things to do with my time, than go look up information on a product that you want to sell me. If you seriously want me to buy it, I know that eventually you will give up the stupid games and tell me what it does. I'm not in a hurry... I have clearly been living with out what-ever-it-is for my whole life, so I probably don't need it anyway.

I guess what I don't understand about this type of advertising campaign is usually the products have a very limited market in the first place. So, if your true target audience is only one 100th of the people who watch the commercial, why are you beating around the bush, and not giving the information to the one tiny group of people who might find it valuable. There probably are people out there who would like to know about a new arthritis medicine. But, are they going to know that the commercial with someone ice skating and a voice over urging them to talk to their doctor about some product with an X in the name, is even about arthritis medicine....not unless they got the information somewhere else.

Columns by Red