That's where an old radio friend is running the sales department at a radio station in Columbus.
He sent me a video and asked for my opinion.
The video is of a successful radio guru on a stage, presenting the results from a survey he conducted.
His thesis is that it's time for radio to make commercials shorter.
And his proof is in the form of the answers from a survey he conducted: radio listeners think radio commercials are too long.
IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO DENY THE EVIDENCE
He's an accomplished and authoritative guy with a successful practice.
And right there in his survey, the paid respondents are asked: when does an advertising message turn them off?
The number-one response was when it was too long.
Seeming to go hand-in hand with this is the proof from the behemoth of all things online, Google.
YouTube is now refusing to sell 30-second spots that are not skipable
That's right. If you want to buy a 30-second spot on YouTube, the viewer has to be able to skip through it, or it just isn't gonna fly.
SO, SINCE YOUTUBE IS DOING IT, SHORTER MUST BE OBVIOUSLY BE BETTER
They are, after all, part of Google's empire, which is set on world domination through digits.
Moreover, since radio listeners were paid money for their opinion in this survey and asked specifically what turns them off, it must all be correct.
Here's where I invite you to call me crazy.
In doing so, you won't be the first.
But isn't asking radio listeners what's wrong with radio commercials like asking a 6-year-old what's wrong with his mother's parenting skills?
Or asking the child's opinion on broccoli?
WHY NOT POLL THE LUNATICS REGARDING WHAT THEY DON'T LIKE ABOUT THE ASYLUM'S MANAGEMENT?
I'm not saying that the respondents in this survey are children, lunatics or even garden-variety 21st-century nitwits.
They are quite possibly average, highly sophisticated, digital-age information consumers.
The problem is, despite being consumers, they aren't sophisticated, digital-age information producers.
Your average consumer of media has no damn idea how to craft a smart story.
And THAT is the core problem: story.
AT ITS CORE, MEDIA IS ABOUT DELIVERING STORIES
Whether it's YouTube, Facebook, NPR, The Morning Zoo--it all boils down to story.
And when it comes to delivering a decent story, the vast majority of radio commercials are total crap.
There, I said it.
Sorry to have to drop that éclair into the punchbowl.
But it's just a fact of life.
Most radio commercials suck and almost nobody in charge cares enough to do anything about it.
RADIO COMMERCIALS DON'T NEED TO BE SHORTER
They need to be better.
And all you have to do is look at the results of the survey in question.
The very smart fellow who conducted the survey took the answers from the "What turns you off" question and created a word cloud. The most frequently repeated words show up as the biggest.
You can see the evidence right there: the biggest word is "Long."
But the other big words are "Loud," "Annoying," and "Boring."
So, couldn't that mean the messages are too long because they are "Loud," "Annoying," and "Boring"?
One of my favorite words in the cloud is somewhat smaller, but it says so much.
THAT WORD IS, "NOTHING"
There's a Seinfeld moment for you.
The long-ago NBC sitcom once went down a long and winding, self-referential, shaggy-dog road where Jerry and George tried pitching a sitcom to NBC.
Their big hook was that it would be a show about nothing.
Judging from the word cloud of the survey here, radio listeners don't care for commercials that are about nothing.
But that aside, here's my personal challenge in the guru's evaluation of the survey.
IT SAYS THE SYMPTOM IS THE PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED
And that doesn't work.
It's first necessary to understand WHY listeners are saying commercials are too long.
And it's probably because those commercials are loud, annoying and boring.
And is the real answer that we have to make those loud, annoying, boring commercials shorter?
Or is the real answer that we need to better the craft?
"OH, NO, WE CAN'T POSSIBLY MAKE THE CRAFT BETTER!"
I guarantee you, there are radio bean counters all over the nation who would blanch at this prospect.
Because it costs money, and they don't get it.
Radio at large is a chintzy, tightfisted and parsimonious little medium with an ignorance problem.
Not always, but often, radio decision makers do not understand the craft of their medium.
They will not hire the people with the talent required to make their commercials listenable.
So you end up with loud, annoying and/or boring messages about nothing anyone wants to hear.
WORST-CASE OUTCOME: THE LISTENER LEAVES
Let's go back to the YouTube model: not selling any 30-second advertisements that aren't skipable.
That's actually a brave step, and should scare the creator of mediocre advertising.
One of the things I find so satisfying about YouTube is the handful of advertisers who have figured out how to make me pay attention.
There's an expression in Hollywood screenwriting: enter in the middle of the scene.
And the best YouTube advertisements are doing that.
THEY COME FLYING AT ME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SCENE
They present a sudden and surprising dramatic moment that makes me think, "Whoa! What the--"
And I watch.
Yes, if it's really long and I feel like I've gotten the meat and don't need what they're selling, I may skip out.
But any advertiser who surprises me and makes me want to know more gets my undivided attention for the full spot, and I am glad to give it.
It's like getting a little gift from someone who respects their craft.
YES, YOU COULD MAKE COMMERCIALS SHORTER
But what good does that really do?
In the end, it's a crass, cynical and cheesy response to a real and disappointing problem.
"We can't afford to hire the talent to make these better, so let's just make them shorter."
It's the kind of moronic response delivered by an overeducated nitwit who thinks his goal as a broadcaster is to "increase shareholder value."
That is the single worst three-word phrase ever uttered in the history of radio. "Increase shareholder value."
The goal should be to deliver a high-quality product that people want to listen to.
THAT'S where shareholder value comes from: delivering a good product.
AND AS IT HAPPENS, THIS ALL DOVETAILS NICELY WITH ANOTHER SCREED NOT MY OWN
Just as your relentless scribe here was struggling with whether to screed or not to screed about this, an old friend reared his sensible head.
Broadcaster and broadcasting professor, Dick Taylor, posted his own screed about "Relevancy."
His premise is that, "A radio listener is always hearing, but listens only when something is relevant."
He proposes that radio programming departments should be allowed to approve any advertising that goes on their air.
He tells a story about a gig he once had at a beautiful music station.
The company had "strict guidelines about what content could be added to their music presentation and that included commercials."
THAT'S WHY THE LOCAL, LOUD, SCREAMING CAR DEALER WASN'T ON THEIR AIR
He was the city's biggest car dealer, but they didn't want his commercials as they aired elsewhere.
Dick says they "Finally convinced the owner not to 'wear a t-shirt to our black tie' radio station's over-the-air presentation.
They were able to create messages that fit in with the station's format . They avoided being loud and annoying to the listener who was there for something very different.
At best, they turned the advertiser into a friend who supported the listener's music habit.
That's called affinity. It's a powerful thing to give a listener.
DICK ALSO MENTIONS A STATION IN FLORIDA THAT IS UNLIKE ANY OTHER ANYWHERE
The reason is because the station is owned by a guy who insists on programming what he likes.
So the music mix is unique. Nobody else has it.
I went to their website. You can hear The Eagles, Ramsey Lewis, The BBC Symphony Orchestra, Rod Stewart, Pete Fountain, Chet Atkins--the playlist is the picture of eclectic.
Dick says, "The commercial breaks are just as carefully watched over as the music. The ads are about things that listeners attracted by the music will also enjoy. Be it theater, dining, travel, clothing etc.; it's all relevant."
RELEVANT. IMAGINE THAT.
To revisit a phrase oft repeated by he of Chickenman fame, the great Dick Orkin, "People do not pay attention to advertisements. They pay attention to what interests them. And sometimes, it's an advertisement."
To that end, this Florida radio station has another hook attached to interest and relevance.
Every weekday, they announce a winner of their "Business of the Day" and "Listener of the Day" contests.
Yes, they make their station interesting by making it about the people listening to it.
The station remains surprising.
And they try to not suck.
INSTEAD OF MAKING THINGS SHORTER, HOW ABOUT JUST NOT SUCKING?
It's not a lofty goal.
It's not even that hard to attain.
It doesn't take a whole lot of training.
How effective is it going to be, trying to get ahead by truncating the suckage?
How about making the stories better?
"BUT THEY'RE NOT STORIES, THEY'RE ADVERTISING!"
Yes, and advertising is, at its core, telling a story about solving a problem.
And advertising at its best appeals to a simple human emotion, and makes a listener want to know more.
Is it that hard or that expensive?
It's much harder and much more expensive to be ignorant.
And sadly that's where so much advertising continues to live.
Even if we must make it all shorter, let's also make it better.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Depends on how you look at it. The faithful subscriber to the screed knows: we almost never talk about the Super Bowl commercials the week after the Super Bowl.
We wait a week or two, then examine the fallout.
Who ran a commercial that was especially useful for the small-business marketer looking for a scalable idea?
What commercial was such smart advertising that a marketer can say, "I could do that."
And here, two weeks out, we have winner.
No, it's not 84 Lumber and their sprawling, calculatedly heart-tugging, pro-immigrant message.
It's not Peter Fonda half a century after the anti-establishment, anti-materialist idealism of Easy Rider driving away from a bunch of bikers in a $100,000 car.
It's not Audi's debatable "Daughter" commercial or Budweiser's Horatio-Algeresque, immigrant saga "Born the Hard Way."
THE WINNER IS E-COMMERCE AND CLOUD-COMPUTING EMPIRE, AMAZON
Were they the funniest commercials in the big game? No.
Were they the most entertaining or the most poignant? Hardly.
What they were was salient--and they used one of the single smartest tactics in the advertiser's toolbox.
Amazon gave an engaging demonstration of the product as a problem solver, and did so with frequency.
Yep. Sounds really un-sexy.
But again: we're not talking million-dollar stunt commercials, of which the Super Bowl offers plenty.
WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A TEMPLATE FOR THE COMMON MAN
We're talking sensible creative executions and strategy that make sense no matter what's in your wallet.
A big problem with the Super Bowl commercial paradigm as an example of good advertising is it's an aberration.
It's a stunt.
Rarely is does a big-game advertiser think, "This message will make people race into our stores."
Instead, the typical advertiser who spent $5 million on a single 30-second spot that cost a million bucks to produce is looking for what the Big Guys call, "Brand Lift."
UH-OH--SOUNDS LIKE JARGON
No matter. It is what it is and, for our purposes, is arguably as silly as a $5-million spot buy.
Brand Lift refers to improving how an audience perceives a brand.
For instance, 84 Lumber's story about a Mexican woman and her little girl trying to reach the United States and being blocked by a giant wall is not designed to make anyone think, "Look at that wall! Wow, they have good building materials!"
It's designed to make the viewer feel something else entirely. It is political, polarizing, and might even piss people off. So it goes.
It's still going to make a lot of people feel good about 84 Lumber.
It is not driving traffic for a specific product or service. It is not a sales message. It is an institutional message calculated to make you feel a certain way about the advertiser's behavior.
SO, WHAT ABOUT AMAZON?
An especially good question if you know that, several years ago, Amazon pulled much its marketing budget out of advertising.
They took the money they were spending on production and media and put it into free shipping.
It also paid off huge! Huge!
But obviously, they're still advertising.
And for the big game, they were advertising a specific product: Amazon Echo.
"ALEXA, WHAT IS AMAZON ECHO?"
As I was writing this, I thought, "Let's ask her that question."
She replies, "Amazon Echo is a device designed around your voice that can provide information, music, news, weather and more."
Not as much as much fun as asking her, "Alexa, what do you look like?"
Her reply is, "I look like lots of ones and zeroes."
So anyway, if you don't know the product, Amazon Echo is what they call a "smart speaker." It's a cylinder about 9 inches tall. And via the internet, Echo connects to Amazon's voice-controlled intelligent personal assistant, Alexa. She's a little like Siri. Only, she sounds prettier.
AND ALEXA WAS STARRING IN THIS YEAR'S SUPER BOWL NOT JUST ONCE, BUT THREE TIMES
Generally speaking, one spot is not usually enough to have an impact on a prospect vis a vis getting a sale.
A salient, surprising and evocative message delivered frequently is how an advertiser penetrates the prospect's psyche.
Which is probably why, instead of seeing a single 30-second spot for Amazon Echo, you saw three 10-second spots.
One was called, "Buster."
It's a single take of a shot of a coffee table.
The table is filled with a vast spread of game-day food. In the middle of it all is a Boston terrier, standing in the guacamole and chowing down. Off camera, a guy with a Boston accent yells, "Buster!" He sighs. "Alexa, ask Pizza Hut to place an order." Alexa says: "OK. What would you like to order?" Cut to product shot. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
NOT GENIUS--BUT AMUSING AND MAKES A RELEVANT POINT
Alexa can solve your sudden dog-in-the-dip problem.
Another commercial was called, "My Girl."
It's another single take. Shot of a guy sitting on the sofa with his young daughter. They're watching a football game.
The girl looks frustrated and says, "They're relying on the blitz too much."
The guy looks at his daughter, then looks off screen. "Alexa, play 'My Girl." Alexa says, "OK." We hear the strains of "My Girl" by the Temptations. Daughter gives the barest hint of a smile. Dad nudges her with his elbow. Cut to product shot. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
OK, THAT MIGHT TUG AT THE HEARTSTRINGS OF THE FATHER OF A DAUGHTER
The third commercial might be repellent.
It's called "Finger Lick."
Sound of the game on TV. A close-up shot of a mouth licking orange dust off greasy fingers.
Cut to shot of the guy committing this egregious act sitting next to a woman on the sofa. He finishes licking and digs his hand back into a bowl of chips.
The Woman looks askance and says, "Alexa, re-order Doritos from Prime Air." Alexa says, "OK."
Cut to shot of product sitting in a window. Alexa says: "Look for delivery soon." A drone with the Amazon logo flies into the shot. Subtitle: "Prime Air not available in some states (or any, really). Yet."
IS THAT BUZZ YOU HEAR THE SOUND OF A DRONE?
More likely, it's the sound of people eagerly anticipating Amazon Prime Air delivery.
Gross-out photography and mastication audio is usually a bad idea.
It's hard to ever excuse it.
That said, viewers paid attention.
There was a whole lot of online buzz about this commercial even though drone delivery seems a long way off.
And all three of these commercials are simple storytelling with a theme of problem solving.
They are frequent and consistent in their delivery of the message.
And this model neither began nor ended with the Super Bowl.
AMAZON HAD ALREADY CREATED MORE THAN 100 SIMILAR MESSAGES
Most of them have appeared as online videos.
Overhead, subjective camera shot of a guy loading up a plate with dozens of chicken wings. "Alexa, how many calories in a chicken wing?" Alexa: "A chicken wing contains 88 calories." Guy hesitates, and puts back one chicken wing. "Anyone know where the potato salad is?" Product shot of Echo. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
Inexpensive to produce, clear and mildly amusing.
Close-up on frustrated man: "Alexa, ask Uber for a ride. For Todd." Cut to wide shot of a group sitting on a sofa in blue jerseys. Behind them, Todd is in a red jersey, jumping and pumping his fist. "YES!" Everyone else looks annoyed. Alexa: "There is an UberX two minutes away." A guy throws a jacket at Todd, who leaves. Product shot. Graphic: "Amazon Echo."
LONG BEFORE GAME DAY, AMAZON HAD ALREADY PENETRATED THE ZEITGEIST
These messages have been out there and making themselves known.
They've even been part of the advertising landscape during NFL broadcasts. Their first "Alexa Moment" aired in a game last November.
The commercial is called, "The Break Up."
It's about a sappy father using Alexa to comfort his teenage daughter over a break up with a boyfriend.
Then (SPOILER ALERT), he uses Alexa to turn his home's sprinkler system on the offending boyfriend.
THESE ARE SIMPLE MESSAGES DELIVERED CONSISTENTLY
There's a good chance they will not win any major advertising awards.
That's not what they're for.
They're for creating interest in a product that people are now buying in record numbers.
They are simple, relevant stories told with relentless consistency.
If you can take away anything from any Super Bowl advertising campaign, this is the one: stories, simplicity, relevance and consistency are your friends.
EXPENSIVE STUNT ADVERTISING IS NOT
For the small-business marketer, it makes little sense.
The sprint race of blowing a huge amount of money on a one-time ad message almost never pays off.
A marathon does.
Running the marathon with simple, relevant stories told with relentless consistency in an affordable medium usually pays off for the marketer with the patience and perseverance to commit.
To see the Amazon "Alexa Moments" campaign, including the Super Bowl commercials, click here. Or copy and paste http://tinyurl.com/zv592yl
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Last week, we talked about The Super Bowl Advertising Hall Of Shame.
The Super Bowl commercial in question was a $2 million spot in 2000's Super Bowl XXXIV, the infamous "Dot Com Superbowl."
The message we held up for a good-natured beating was advertising a long-since-forgotten business called Lifeminders.com.
The erstwhile e-mail reminder business had two weeks to produce a commercial before the big game.
What I'm about to say, I mean in the nicest possible way: The result was a disappointing, titles-on-the-screen message that lacked clarity and purpose.
THE TAKE AWAY FOR THE SMALL-BUSINESS OWNER WAS THIS...
Successful advertising, even under the duress of a time crunch, requires being resonant for your core customer--a quality that has nothing to do with the delivery platform, whether it's Google ads or Super Bowl ads.
Successful advertising requires clarity.
Successful advertising requires respect for the prospect.
Successful advertising requires knowing how to light up that prospect.
These qualities can all be implemented more easily by understanding and establishing a brand, and using that brand to inform the subsequent messages.
IRONICALLY, THIS YEAR'S SUPER BOWL IS EQUALLY ILLUSTRATIVE
There is even more shame to go around--epic shame with a $5-million price tag.
A 2017 advertiser says they fired their ad agency, leaving themselves with not two weeks to create a Super Bowl commercial--but two days.
And oh, what a commercial it was.
We're talking 30 seconds of WTF.
We open on an extreme close-up of a long, brown, russet potato. It's sitting on a white background.
Across the potato, written in all caps with a sharp-pointed black marker, is the word, "ADVERTISEMENT."
AND THAT IS ALL YOU SEE
For 30 full seconds, you get a static shot of the potato.
The camera never moves.
There is no audio beyond the dead air of the room in which the potato was shot.
WHAT WAS THIS AND WHAT WAS THE POINT?
This non-message was the brainchild of the folks from the fill-in-the-blanks party game, Cards Against Humanity. (Tagline: A party game for horrible people.)
And yes, this commercial message failed miserably--by Cards Against Humanity's own admission.
They've written a story about it, published at the social journalism site medium.com.
The story is entitled: "Why Our Super Bowl Ad Failed."
In it, Cards Against Humanity is very candid about their miscalculations.
The first thing they admit is, "We wasted time with establishment thinking" by going to ad agency, Wieden + Kennedy:
They wasted over six months of our
precious time pitching concepts like
people laughing while playing the game,
and amusing card combinations coming
to life on screen. Eventually, we realized
that they were burdened by conventional
thinking and fired them.
THEIR OTHER EXPLANATIONS ARE EQUALLY BRAZEN ADMISSIONS
Admissions like, "Overconfidence in the model."
"Failure to trust our customers."
"We were asking the wrong questions."
"Our ad failed to connect with young people."
"We didn't add music."
Really, it's hard to imagine such an epic series of enormous miscalculations coming together in a single $5-million spot buy.
You could even call it a perfect storm of hubris, arrogance and stupidity fueled by filthy lucre.
AND THE MOST EPIC OF OUTCOMES HAS RESULTED
Cards Against Humanity admits: "While we succeeded creatively, the advertisement showed a disappointing return on investment ($0), and we are now going out of business."
What is the takeaway for the small-business marketer here?
Be as wildly creative and out-of-the-box as you can be while remaining on-brand.
Spend as little money as possible.
And harness the power of the press.
This is fake news taken to a genius level.
If you've never followed the marketing efforts undertaken by Cards Against Humanity, they are masterful in what has evolved into a kind of 21st century marketing as performance art.
They never bought a $5-million Super Bowl spot. They are not going out of business. And this lunacy has created an epic stir in social media.
IT'S A SATIRE OF SUPER-BOWL ADVERTISING AND SELF-CONGRATULATORY AD-BIZ DOUBLESPEAK
It has also been widely covered in the press--and at least one news outlet thought it was for real. (Website newsy.com has added an editor's note to the story, saying, "Well, we fell for it.")
By spending virtually nothing to publicize this non-commercial, they created a fake news story that has millions of people paying attention to Cards Against Humanity.
They've done it before by doing things like promoting Black Friday sales by raising prices.
They've replaced their product with boxes of bull poop--and thousands have purchased it.
Last December, they spent over $100,000 digging a hole in the middle of nowhere.
During the presidential race, they set up an anti-Trump Super PAC called the Nuisance Committee. They bought a billboard with a comic-book image of the candidate screaming at a computer monitor. The headline read, "Donald Trump mains Hanzo and complains about team comp in chat."
Which means absolutely nothing if you weren't their core customer of a college-age gamer who plays the anime computer game Overwatch.
Know what this is?
EARNED MEDIA DOLLARS RIDING WILD
If you don't know the expression, earned media is essentially free advertising. Earned-media dollars is what that coverage is worth expressed in monetary terms.
It's what your business gets when you do something so attention-worthy, the press feels compelled to cover it.
Cards Against Humanity has probably earned countless millions of dollars in earned media, or as it's sometimes called, free media.
But this kind of thing is not limited to people who have national reach.
Slow Burn Marketing has a client who makes a Bloody Mary mix. She is the queen of earned media. She works constantly to get her product in local press, most recently with a prominent mention in the Sacramento Bee.
Back in the pre-digital era when I worked for a homemade ice-cream business in Miami's South Beach, I would routinely get them covered on local radio and in the local newspapers--including a full-page Miami Herald story about a burgeoning ice-cream war in South Beach. (The ostensibly warring parties were good friends--but the press didn't know and they loved the story.)
Slow Burn also works with the first-ever winery in Park City, Utah. That might sound like the punch line to a joke. And that's probably one reason why their story keeps catching the eye of journalists in the local area. And the wine is excellent.
WHEN YOU UNDERSTAND YOUR BRAND, YOU CAN THEN UNDERSTAND HOW TO BE A FASCINATING STORY
The news media need news.
They need stories people will pay attention to.
And especially in an age where everyone is overworked and underpaid, stories that seem made-to-order are especially profitable.
The small-business owner who understands the business's brand can then understand how to promote that brand in ways that get headlines.
And there may be no better scalable example from this year's Super Bowl than the fake Super Bowl message from Cards Against Humanity (a party game for horrible people).
They make it work.
They make it fun.
They make it profitable.
And their strategy can easily be scaled down for even the small-business owner working on the local level.
To see Cards Against Humanity's Super Bowl failure story, click here. Or copy and paste http://tinyurl.com/zmey3ch
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Yes, it's that time of year. We're all busy vacuuming up crushed, salty corn products while lauding the winners and savaging the losers among the Super Bowl commercials.
But here in the rant, the critique for last weekend begins next week. We always like to take a week for the dust to settle and get back some reports on how it all shook out.
In the meantime, we're going to look back at the arrogance and the apathy.
Yes, it's the Super Bowl Advertising Hall Of Shame.
And perhaps the saddest advertising maneuver of all comes not from Groupon and Timothy Hutton diminishing the plight of Tibet for great restaurant deals, nor from GoDaddy and its endless parade of medically manipulated stripper cleavage, but from a business you have never heard of, and probably never would have heard of, were it not for this little screed.
REMEMBER SUPER BOWL XXXIV?
It was played on January 30, 2000. It's also referred to as the Dot Com Super Bowl. The dot-com bubble was blowing up big. Many of the commercials aired during the big game included companies whose names you simply cannot remember today.
One of those companies ran this commercial:
OPEN ON A YELLOW SCREEN.
PLAYING UNDER IS A BAD RENDITION OF CHOPSTICKS ON A LOUSY PIANO
TITLES THAT ARE WRITTEN IN A BLACK, SMEARED COURIER FONT, AS IF FROM AN ANTIQUE TYPEWRITER, BEGIN APPEARING OVER THE YELLOW.
"This is the worst commercial on the Super Bowl.
"But it might be the best thing you see tonight.
"We send highly personalized emails on topics you ask for. Free.
"How can we do this for over 7.5 million members?
"We're information experts. (geeks).
"But we don't know diddly about making ads.
"OF COURSE! LIFEWONDERS! HOW COULD WE FORGET THEM?!"
No, not Lifewonders. Lifeminders.
"Lifemenders! How could we forget them?!"
Not Lifemenders. Lifeminders.
"Lifewinders! How could we forget them?!"
Never mind. Don't know diddly about making ads, indeed.
What is Lifeminders?
Funny you should ask. I played the commercial for the Fabulous Honey Parker. Her first question was: "What do they do?"
THAT SHOULD NOT BE THE FIRST QUESTION SOMEONE ASKS AFTER SEEING YOUR BUSINESS TO CONSUMER MESSAGE
Especially not after you spent over $2 million to place that message one time on national television.
To find out what Lifeminders was about, I did some research.
After reading several press releases, I still had no idea.
Finally, in a release issued about three months before the big game, I learned that they offered email reminders.
You'd fill out a profile with your interests.
They would send sponsored emails to help you manage your life.
IN OTHER WORDS, IT WAS OPT-IN EMAIL INTRUSION
Can you imagine managing your life with email today?
You need a full-time assistant just to manage your email.
My in-box is flooded with spam about dating hot, lonely Russian women, or commanding me to browse psoriasis creams, or how it's time to learn how to talk to my cat. (Which would be a fool's errand. He doesn't listen.)
Anyway, how did Lifeminders decide they needed to be in the Super Bowl?
Hard to know. Maybe it had something to do with lots of venture capital. People will tell you that VC and egos go hand-in-hand.
But not long after the Super Bowl, with a stock price of $90 a share, a 12-month sales figure of $14 million, a 12-month income of almost $33 million, assets totaling almost $71 million, and liabilities of just over $10 million, how bad could things be?
"BUT WHAT DO THEY DO?"
Well, yes, there's that question.
But here's what they decided they didn't want to do: they decided they didn't want to be in the Super Bowl.
They'd bought the spot and later wanted out.
But then, they couldn't unload their $2 million investment.
So, with two weeks to the big game, they turned to their advertising agency, the illustrious Fallon Worldwide (then known as Fallon McElligot), and said, "Hey, we need to produce a Super Bowl commercial."
You can probably hear the riotous laughter echoing in the halls of Fallon's Minneapolis HQ. But they were probably very polite when they turned back to their client (whose account was worth an estimated $50 million or more to the agency) and said, "Ah, afraid we can't do that."
SEND IN THE FREELANCERS!
A big-agency freelance team known to the VP of marketing was called in, and the self-proclaimed "Worst commercial on the Super Bowl" was produced.
Further research reveals that about a year and a half later, Lifeminders.com was sold to Cross Media Marketing Corp for more than 68 million bucks.
And about two years after that, Cross Media Marketing Corp filed for bankruptcy.
Yes, you can hear the sad sound of dot coms circling the drain.
But back to the Super Bowl commercial. Big-money meets big arrogance for a big flop?
Again, hard to know.
Because Lifeminders did try to pull out. When they couldn't, they tried a Hail Mary.
And they eventually sold their business for a staggering amount of money.
Still, when you're spending two-million bucks on one advertisement, isn't a little clarity a good idea?
WHERE IS THE THINKING BEHIND THE MESSAGE?
Who was it for?
What was it trying to tell them?
I still have no idea.
And I'm guessing the freelance team (which had a big-agency pedigree) also wasn't sure. If they'd spent their careers working on creating big-brand advertising, and had never worked in direct response, it's entirely possible they never considered who they were trying to reach and what the specific message might be.
Or maybe they didn't even have the time to think that hard.
Or maybe the client wouldn't let them.
Whatever. It's all conjecture and nothing more. Monday-morning quarterbacking on this is impossible.
It's just tragic that, with a $2-million buy at hand, the best that could be done was a message that makes a savvy professional ask, "What do they do?"
AND IN A PROPHETIC NOTE FROM THE SAME SUPER BOWL...
We get another commercial.
The infamous chimpanzee dancing on a spackle bucket.
Two rhythm-challenged dimwits are sitting in a garage on lawn chairs. The chimp runs up, tunes the radio to a cha-cha, jumps on an upside down bucket, and starts dancing--while wearing an E*Trade T-shirt. After 20 seconds of this comes the message in two graphics:
"Well, we just wasted two million bucks."
"What are you doing with your money?"
ANNCR: It's time for E*Trade, the number-one place to invest online.
It's almost advertising art imitating commercial life.
SO, WHAT'S THE TAKEAWAY FOR THE SMALL-BUSINESS MARKETER?
Beware arrogance in advertising creative decisions. That big idea of yours might really be bad enough to fail.
If you've got pros around you who have a track record, listen to them. If you don't have any pros, find some.
Don't be fooled by bright lights and shiny keys. Being in the Super Bowl--or anywhere else--is not a goal for your advertising. The goal is for your advertising to generate results.
We literally know local advertisers who've said, "But they gave us a spot in the Super Bowl!" And if you ask what good that spot did them, they can't tell you.
We also know a guy who runs a venture capital investment company that specializes in funding tech start-ups. He says that routinely, companies who come to them are spending huge amounts of money on Google ads.
The ads aren't producing any results.
BUT THAT DOESN'T STOP THEM FROM WRITING $30,000 CHECKS EACH MONTH
Dude, you're spending someone else's money without having a plan of attack, without a strategy or tactics, and with no idea of how to craft a salient, resonant message that generates response. What are you doing?
We've worked with tech companies, and the ones who Get It are a joy to work with.
The ones who don't get it don't work with us because we aren't hip enough and we certainly aren't smart enough. How could we possibly be smart enough? They know tech!
Look at the company that inadvertently started the Super Bowl of Advertising.
Go back to Super Bowl XVIII in 1984.
Yes, that's when Apple Computer unleashed its brand upon the world with a commercial called, 1984.
THEY DIDN'T TELL YOU IT WAS GOING TO BE THE WORST AD IN THE SUPER BOWL
They also didn't tell you it was going to be the best.
They just lit people on fire.
And to inspire that kind of conflagration requires knowing about something more than zeroes and ones.
It requires knowing that you're not necessarily smarter than everyone else.
It requires knowing that being resonant has nothing to do with the delivery platform, whether it's Google ads or Super Bowl ads.
It requires respect.
It requires understanding the emotionally resonant core of your customer.
It requires finding that core, and then knowing how to light it up.
And having a little clarity.
"Don't know diddly about making ads," indeed.
Don't be like Diddly. Be like Bo. Bo knows Diddly.
(How's that for a shameless mashup of a advertising reference you're probably too young to remember with a shameless rock & roll reference you're definitely too young to remember?)
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.