Sun Ra - Column for 2/18


Advertising requires a certain genius - no, scratch that. Good advertising requires a certain genius. Advertising, as clearly evidenced by the widespread mediocrity and not infrequent actual badness of most advertising, takes a certain amount of money and an idea that stuck to the wall better than other ideas. Whether it was because the idea was of a higher caliber or because it was simply stickier than the rest of the shit is irrelevant. It's actually quite incredible how many advertisements are not just mediocre, but actually bad - the Quiznos superbowl campaign, those fucking 'the Truth' ads that make me want to ship tobacco companies boxes of money purely out of spite, or those Volkswagen ads where they basically inform you that your car will make you look so rich, all sorts of unpleasant shit will happen to you. Sure, these ads make me remember the product. On the other hand, and this hand is much larger and nastier than the first hand, with hair on the back and at least five rings chosen for the imprint they'll leave in a face, these ads make me actually want to avoid the product in question. Like the plague. Ooops.

But this column isn't about advertising fuckups, much as they are an easy target (and, as Harlock observes, it's all about gunning for the easy target). No, it's about advertising success. Advertising genius, in fact. And the product in question is: hair color.

This is a product that there really isn't much to say about. Ha! Simpleton. There is no product that a good advertisement can't find much to say about. Sure, if the product works perfectly, it gives you the hair color pictured and/or described on the box. That's it. That's what the consumer wants, right? A product that gives them a certain color hair? Wrong again. Tsk tsk. The consumer is an igoramus. We will tell them what they want.

You see, they aren't just buying hair color. They are buying Feria! "Feria: pure color, undiluted, with 2 times the highlights. Plus super hydrating conditioners so it won’t wreck or ravage your hair."

Wow. It's bullshit from beginning to end, but it sounds so great. It's genius. I mean, "pure color, undiluted"... what the fuck does that mean? It's hair dye - if it makes your hair the color on the box, who gives a fuck if it is diluted or not? Is being diluted bad? Shit, then I'd better stop adding water to my frozen grape juice concentrate. Of course, the real kicker to this totally throw-away phrase is that it is contradicted in the very next sentence. It sounds like the "pure color" (whatever the fuck that is) will get just the teensiest fucking bit diluted by the "super hydrating conditioners". Hell, they don't even say what the "pure color" is - it could be pure color, but if half of it is yellow and half red, don't color me impressed that it comes out orange.

"Two times the highlights", eh? Versus what? Two times more highlights than Bisquick? I fucking hope so. Two times more than your old product? What if Feria version 1.0 was shitty? What if "sundown red" turned your hair the color of Bill the Cat with highlights the color of Starburst fruit chews? Two times that ain't too fucking good, is it? In fact, do you necessarily want to go from four types of highlights to eight? Or eight to sixteen? You could wind up looking like there's a giant prism somewhere shining on your head.

And what's all this about wrecking or ravaging? Ooooh - apparently, if they hadn't taken special precautions, this product might HURT YOU. Obviously, the implication is that the competition's products still may. Sure, if they were including fucking hydrochloric acid. But the worst that happens with hair dye is that you get a color you don't like. Hydrating conditioners, my ass. Does this stuff let you save money by not buying regular conditioner? And why do they need more than one? Kind of implies that their conditioners aren't all that effective, if they have to give them backup.

Also, I find fault (I bet that surprises you) with their choice of the word "hydrating". Your hair gets pretty damn hydrated when you wash it. If you really need "hydration", just carry a pitcher of water around with you, and keep your head damp. I wouldn't put that past people who are impressed by this ad anyways... What their goop is doing is not adding water to your hair, it's adding oils to it. Like lacquering wood. I know that my hair is much shinier and more manageable when it's had a day to get nice and oily - and hey! Now Feria offers that greasiness without the wait! But, of course, the good people at L'Oreal have opted not to use the word "greasing", but rather "hydrating". Gotta keep the plants watered.


"Feria: pure color, undiluted, with 2 times the highlights. Plus super hydrating conditioners so it won’t wreck or ravage your hair."

It sounds so good, don't it? It makes you think that here, HERE is a product that will take care of all sorts of things you hadn't thought you needed in a hair dye, but obviously you do, AND a product that is obviously superior to the competition. It's an advertisement full of nothing, of pretty words that convey no real information at all. But it impresses you with the product. That's genius.

By the way, the real kicker is at the end of the ad. The L'Oreal slogan. "Because I'm worth it." You know what that means? "I am willing to pay more." That's profit margin, right there. At business school they were spunking all over themselves at the cleverness of that. It's cosmetics, the same as any other cosmetics. To have any sort of profit margin, L'Oreal has to charge a higher price than all those companies competing down at their cost to make the stuff. And not only do they do so, they distinguish themselves by doing so. "Because I'm worth it," which means "I will prove that I value myself by paying more than I have to." And the extra 50% L'Oreal charges (for nothing other than your warm glow of self-satisfaction) goes from your pocket right to theirs, and everyone's happy. Genius.

- Sun Ra

P.S. Oh, I almost forgot. Despite my frothy ranting, every claim that they make in their ad is true. They have "hydrating conditioners", they have "two times the highlights". Any claim any major consumer-goods company makes in an advertisement as regards the qualities of their product is true. Another thing I learned in business school. Of course, your milage may vary somewhat. And whether those claims, and those qualities, are at all relevant is another matter entirely. But if they say they have hydrating conditioners, it's because they have very specifically developed hydrating conditioners that do some stupid, minor but tangible thing, and added them to their product so that it is different (and hopefully, superior) to other companies' products. Believe them when they say what they've got - just be sure to ask yourself if you should care.

Columns by Sun Ra