A few years ago in Wellington, New Zealand,
during the question and answer session of a public lecture
about advertising, a woman who had just returned from her
vacation in San Francisco asked, "Why are New Zealand commercials
so bad?" The simple and obvious answer was that most of them
aren't bad at all, not really.
The real "problem" behind her question is that
New Zealand's total national population is smaller than the
number of people in the metropolitan areas of U.S. cities,
such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and
Los Angeles. Companies spend a small proportion of the total
budget on production-this is not a formal rule that any-one
is forced to follow, but a general practice stemming from
various pragmatic constraints-and since the size of the potential
media audiences sets the budget, most of the smaller-scale,
tinier-audience, New Zealand commercials probably have weaker
production values than the national (or even some local) commercials
that she and her husband saw in the United States. But a cheaper-quality
video style or acting at the level of an Ed Wood movie doesn't
necessarily make New Zealand advertising bad.
The source of most bad advertising is not a
lack of creativity, entertainment value, or money for production.
Actually, a lot of really bad print ads and commercials are
creative, entertaining, and well produced because misplaced
marketing can readily be found in some of the most expensively
produced campaigns from the largest advertisers and agencies.
It is easy to forget a basic dictate found in
any undergraduate's textbook (and, as a practical matter,
it is often ignored by too many people in business): a good
idea badly presented is still better than a bad idea that
is well presented. And with the misplaced marketing behind
some advertising efforts, the men and women involved in making
many print advertising or broadcast commercials failed to
consider the audience interests that a marketing perspective
The business term for advertising writing and
writers contributes to many misdirected views of message quality.
The people involved with the day-to-day decisions of advertising
message planning and writing are called "creatives"; they
work in the "creative department"; and their job description
involves "creative strategy and tactics." For many years,
Coca-Cola's advertising was produced by Creative Artists,
a group that, like many big names in the business, was known
only for their work in producing interesting and unique advertising
By placing so much emphasis on this being a
creative job, business assessments often allow entertainment
interest, artistic value, or simple originality to outweigh
concerns for the advertising as a message that has a pragmatic
job to inform or persuade a target audience. And some of this
emphasis loses track of a focus on management of the message
or planning how and why the message might play a role in the
Many advertising agencies allocate large sums
of money to decorate the work areas (or floors) where copywriters
are housed. They believe that clients who see the decorations
will therefore know that very creative people are working
on their advertising (as if decorating a room or a hallway
translates into business communications). In an agency with
a conservative dress code for account executives or media
planners, people involved with message strategy and tactics
have more freedom to look different and convey their personal,
creative style in the clothes they wear. Similarly, good copywriters
might be criticized if their sartorial tastes run toward conservative
suits. Years ago, the undergraduates in the advertising program
in which I taught were angry that Fred was teaching the course
titled "Creative Strategy and Tactics." They could not believe
a person who always wore an expensive business suit, a white
shirt, and an in-style (but conservative) tie could know anything
about good advertising writing, despite Fred's very solid
credentials as a successful businessman prior to his getting
To a certain extent, this is easy to explain:
so little is known about how or why advertising works (or
if it works at all). As the dean of the University of Illinois
College of Communications, Kim Rotzoll, has often noted, the
uncertainty of the advertising process explains more about
all advertising thought and practice than any other variable.
To people in the business, this becomes the "creative dilemma."
Since they are uncertain about just which advertising ideas
would work or why, assessments of the advertising itself turn
on creativity, values, and aesthetics. And since there is
typically no closure for most mass-media forms of advertising,
the people who write and produce those messages often seek
feedback from the praise of peers or awards.
Unfortunately, few awards make any reference
to assessments of success in doing the marketing job and,
of those that do, the actual assessment is usually intuitive,
ad hoc, and only weakly related to any pragmatic accomplishments.(1)
In one direct comparison of this issue, a sample of viewers
were found to respond positively to commercials if the message
touched on their personal concerns, regardless of whether
it was a past award winner, while creative department employees
responded best to commercials that won awards.(2)
Years ago, Mike was assigned to prepare the
commercials for a new type of car battery. Possessing one-and-a-half
times the cold cranking power of what was then a commonly
perceived standard for a powerful battery, the Sears Die Hard,
the new battery would offer a major benefit to people starting
their cars during the bitter cold winter mornings in places
such as Minnesota or North Dakota. The selected approach for
strategy was a demonstration that started with a question:
"How do you get the power of 1½ Sears Die Hard batteries?"
In the preliminary television commercial, Mike's script gave
two answers. First, you could saw a Die Hard in half and strap
it to another battery, as the "demonstrator" did on camera
with a chain saw and booster cables. Or, using the product
as a solution via the second answer, you could get the new
brand of battery.
Time was tight and secrecy was important, so
they could only pre-test the rough commercials with a few
small focus groups. But the results were consistent.
"Where did the battery acid go when he used
the chain saw?" several people asked. "Does sawing a battery
in half give you half the battery's power or just a mess?"
"Why would anyone want to cut a battery in
half?" some people wondered.
"I can't see how cutting the battery and strapping
it to another with cables gives you more power [or 1½ batteries]."
In other words, the demonstration was eye-catching,
but distracting from the message. Most respondents did not
even notice that the first battery was the then-famous Sears
product and no one seemed to remember the advertised brand's
name or what it could do. The commercial had to be scrapped.
And Mike was livid with rage.
"I could have won a Clio award," Mike angrily
snapped at all who passed by for the next few days. He would
name all the members of the creative team who thought his
original storyboards were a real "breakout" effort-they say
that a lot in the business, "breakout," meaning different-and
he insisted that their creative assessments should outweigh
the "dumb research." How can anyone get an award, he asked,
if you depend on research? Prior to the research, his fellow
creatives all thought it was a good idea and that should have
carried more weight than a copytest, or so he thought.(3)
No one seemed able to make him understand that he was missing
the basic point: The idea was so different and unusual that
the attention-getting idea was the only thing that left an
impression on the audience, while they did not remember anything
about the client's product.
At least in this case, the agency and client
realized the problem and scrapped the original commercials
that were unable to do the job. In many other cases, millions
of dollars are spent on commercials that never had the consumer
In fall 1988, the then-new CBS News program
48 Hours spent the two days "on Madison Avenue."(4)
Among the various activities covered in the program was the
filming of commercials for a new Reeboks advertising campaign,
including interviews with the people who created the effort
for what was then the top-selling brand of athletic shoes.
The commercials featured a collection of vignettes of people
doing all sorts of possibly strange and certainly different
things-a group of people running up a hill with bicycles on
their shoulders; a man walking back and forth with a false
third leg; a woman coming out of the subway wearing a fairy-tale
wedding gown and running shoes; a camera shot that focused
on the distended stomachs of fat people wearing brightly colored
lycra tights while doing exercises. The advertising theme
proclaimed that "Reeboks let U.B.U.," with "U.B.U." typed
on screen, lest viewers not catch the cute label.
On camera in an interview for the program, one
of the commercial's creators working on the account said that
the ads should evoke a longing for the milieu of innocence
and other aspects of an inner drive in the psyche of the populace,
speaking in a syntax and style than might get a spark of attention
at a doctoral seminar in psycholinguistics or semiotics or
even in a popular culture seminar presented in an English
professor's deconstructionist dialectic. The CBS interviewer
cut away from the audio of this rambling statement by the
advertising manager about what he "hoped" to evoke in consumers,
stating in a voiceover of the still-viewed interview his personal
impression about this clearly creative speaker: "He's hip.
He's articulate. I have no idea what he is saying."
And, apparently, the commercial audience was
equally lost. The campaign lasted less than two years and
the formerly top-selling brand lost market share during that
period. But, then, one wonders why the commercials were even
produced. Even if consumers understood the commercial message,
it could have been a good campaign idea only if people would
buy athletic shoes as an expression of personal style and
individuality. If people did not seek these types of shoes
to be different, if the primary motives for buying them were
performance, current styles, or emulating a favored athlete,
then the ads were a simple case of misplaced marketing.
That same CBS program also included several
interviews with noted advertising creator and agency owner
George Lois, filming him as he had meetings, planned, or produced
campaigns for a variety of clients: Lifestyles condoms; Jiffy
Lube; the New York Post; Mug root beer; and a new,
yet-to-be-introduced coffee substitute. As he often does in
such interviews, George talked about his 1972 autobiography,
since it had what he thought was an appropriate title for
describing why he has been a success in the business, George,
Be Careful. (5) The title was selected because everyone always
told him to be careful, but, as he said, you have to take
risks in this business. And he's right, since there is so
much uncertainty about what works and no one can research
every detail or potential misstep.
As commercial clutter increases, consumers seem
to be more able to physically avoid advertising or mentally
tune it out. Every advertiser has a pragmatic need to stand
out. As they focus on developing messages that stand out,
too many of them forget that their focus should be on the
subject of the message, not the message itself.
A basic marketing question starts from consumer
perspectives and asks what consumers consider important.(6)
Beyond wanting the advertising to get attention, it also has
a communications job, and if the marketing perspectives are
misplaced, the advertising effort will probably not do that
job, regardless of how creative or original it might appear.
A lot of advertising seems to get attention
but do little to sell a product. Many people think that if
they have the audience's attention they have done the job.
However, an attention-getting device that is unrelated to
the message will not attract readership or viewers interested
in what the advertiser has to say. At best, the audience will
remember the device and not the message.(7) This loss of focus
on the audience and message makes for a lot of misdirected
In one of his advertising reviews for Advertising
Age, Bob Garfield once noted that there are two things
that could be done by a fool with a lot of money: (1) run
for president promoting some crackpot idea, even though you
have no charisma or intellectual appeal; or (2) mount an elaborate
advertising campaign, featuring expensive celebrities with
no connection to your product whatsoever. His point was that
no one (except Steve Forbes) would ever be so foolish as to
undertake the expensive and humiliating effort of the first
but, amazingly, many business owners will quickly go after
the latter. "As we have said repeatedly, celebrities are seldom
used in support of an advertising idea; they're used in place
of an advertising idea."(8)
This is not to say that celebrities should never
be used in advertising. Many decades ago, George Lois's ads
for Maypo cereal had to fight the product's image as something
just for small children. Since people saw it as something
children would "outgrow," he used Mickey Mantle and other
rugged sports heroes, crying "I want my Maypo." The star presenters'
images were tied to the message. Maureen O'Hara, whose movie
star image included her beautiful hair, appeared in advertising
for Lustre-Creme Shampoo. A more contemporary good use of
a celebrity in marketing is when Olympic winners are on the
Wheaties box, because the cereal is "the breakfast of champions."
A movie or television actor whose media-generated image is
of a demanding person who is trusted might be a useful consumer-trusted
presenter for an investment firm.
Unfortunately, many celebrities are used in
advertising in a way that can only be a waste of money. In
addition to the costs of hiring a good actor to take a part,
the star celebrity also costs a high-priced premium for his
or her appearance. But if the image of that star does not
fit the advertising message, the audience will only recall
the celebrity, not the product. In these cases, the advertising
message costs more to make but does not improve its communications
to the audience.
Bill Cosby's talent with children probably helped
communicate the fun message of various Jell-O products. However,
featuring William Bendix in advertising for the American Meat
Institute four decades ago probably did more to promote his
television program, "The Life of Riley," than it did to encourage
people to eat more meat. Michael Jordan's championship image
is a good fit for selling Gatorade or Nike shoes, but it is
questionable as to whether his personal charm enhanced the
images of MCI's long-distance service or McDonald's restaurants.
Charles Barkley probably did not sell many Hyundais, though
he certainly increased the cost of the advertising, and Chevy
Chase did not enhance the appeal of Dollar Rent-a-Car.
Similarly, advertising that makes direct comparisons
with competing brands also needs to take the consumers' mind
set into account. Just because the other brand is a better
seller or more famous does not mean that there is a value
in making comparisons. A comparison advertisement is a good
idea only if the compared brand is the target audience's standard
for a quality product and the advertising message would show
a consumer-desired benefit for which your brand is better.
Lots of comparison advertising forgets this, using the better-selling
brand for just the attention getting value, and having an
audience that remembers only the competitor.
Entertainment values or outright humor can help
a selling message. Federal Express' jokingly made strong illustrations
of how deliveries "absolutely, positively have to be there
overnight," turning the company into an icon of the reliable
overnight delivery business. More commonly, irrelevant humor
gets large numbers of people to watch the commercials or read
the ads, but fails to encourage those people to buy the products
or go to the stores. Audiences remember the joke, or the entertaining
ad, but all too often they don't remember the sponsor or the
advertised reasons given for them to become customers. As
was repeatedly observed on numerous business news programs,
the sometimes entertaining Internet company commercials on
the 2000 Super Bowl, which cost millions of dollars per spot,
did not generate an upswing in visitors to the sponsors' Web
And then there's sex.
An advertisement for a pizza place near a college
campus ran an advertisement in the school paper that said,
"Put a hot piece between your lips. We're hot and easy, fast
and cheesy." In another city, a Mexican restaurant showed
a woman dressed in lycra and posed with her hands on her hips
over the headline, "Tickle my taco." Running for years in
various sporting magazines is a bold-type proclamation, "Better
than five-gallon jugs," over a picture of a bikini-clad woman
with most of her large breasts visible as she bends over to
fill the boat gas tank with gas from the product-"gas dock"-an
extra large gas tank built on a wheeled cart. As the movie
Eyes Wide Shut filled the news, newspaper advertisements for
a gardening supply store in New Zealand ran the headline "Eyes
Wide Open for Spring," with a picture in the center of the
page of the rear view of a person's thigh to mid-back, covered
only by bikini briefs.
In each case, the advertiser probably thought
it was good advertising, not realizing that the irrelevant
use of sex distracts the target audience, hinders communication,
and fails to persuade. It is intuitively obvious that a product
is sexually relevant for marketing communications only if
people buy it for a sexual reason. While breath mints, clothes,
or exercise equipment may be purchased to enhance sex appeal,
it is doubtful that anyone buys pizza or tacos in anticipation
of an orgasmic experience, even on a college campus. The garden
shop advertisement draws so much attention to the sexy body
part that it would only be read by people in search of the
latest bun-tightening video or maybe an exercise gym.
The issue, though, is more than just simple
misdirection and distraction. The people who wrote or produced
these ads lost track of what they were trying to say to the
target audience. A California pager company ran newspaper
advertisements asserting that its product is the brand preferred
by pimps and hookers to "keep in touch," thinking perhaps
that these "working people" are a consumer-perceived standard
of working men and women who need to keep in touch. In the
print advertising for a shower gel brand, the body copy is
in the middle of two pictures: The product sits on a shower
stand to the left; on the right is a naked man from the thighs
upward (discreetly side-ways), with a headline "The one on
the right can also stimulate your mind." This could be considered
an effective message in a woman's magazine only if the audience
would perceive a shower gel as a sexual and mental turn-on.
After years of talking to advertisers and watching
them produce these less-than-optimal efforts, one comes to
the ineluctable but reluctant realization that some of the
advertising creators are so myopic that they believe that
publicity prompted by offending people is always beneficial.
They do not see it as being a distraction from saying positive
things about the restaurant or store. Instead of communications,
attention of any kind-to anything, at any cost-is their goal.
The man who wrote the "Tickle my taco" advertising thought
it was the greatest campaign he had ever written because the
numerous complaints generated publicity.(10)
However, advertising is a very limited and limiting
form of communication, costly to undertake and difficult to
carry out successfully. The marketing question of how to best
communicate is a conservative one, but it is also an effort
to maximize the likelihood of a favorable consumer response.
Because, in the end, there is a communications job to be done.
In the newspaper advertisement from Los Angeles,
the woman wearing only jewelry with her hands covering her
breasts and exclaiming, "What do you mean they're not real?"
might convey an association and image that helps sell imitation
and fake jewelry. The message to either a male or female audience
is definitely not about sex. And yet it must be noted that
the message's various innuendos and associations also would
carry the negative connotations about breast implants while
gratuitously offending many people, both of which would get
in the way of communicating anything to anyone about fake
Some marketing textbooks give "specialty advertising"
its own section and definition as an advertising medium that
uses imprinted, useful, or decorative products. Numerous companies
make all sorts of products available for this special printing
of advertising messages with company names, logos, slogans,
addresses, and phone numbers. Many of the men and women selling
the products are top-notch marketing planners, helping the
clients use this unique medium to solve advertising communications
problems. Unfortunately, people buying the products sometimes
let their interest in the communications tactic override their
Many years ago, Lou's company serviced the various
trucking companies in Chicago, repairing seats and canvas
tarpaulins as well as providing various products used in cargo
hauling. An undifferentiated service with non-unique products,
his success depended on his customer contact abilities and
his willingness to be available for customers who needed him.
In an area of work where business cards are thrown in drawers
and lost (I guess, just as in many other businesses), there
was a unique opportunity for advertising specialties to keep
Lou's business and phone number in front of every customer
if they needed his services between his regular sales calls.
And therein arose a puzzling problem. All his
colorful wall calendars were grabbed up by everyone as fast
as he could print them, with some people asking for three
or four (or more). Illustrated with a set of explicit sexual
pictures in a style often found in many of the men's lockers-I
don't have to spell it out, do I?-most truck drivers loved
that calendar! Yet when he would call on the small trucking
companies that made up the bulk of his business, they couldn't
remember Lou's company name or his phone number.
Of course, the unasked first question was this:
"Who calls Lou when they need him: the truck driver, the company
owner, or a secretary?" The answer was the office secretary,
who set up the purchase order or other paperwork.
"Were these secretaries former truck drivers?"
No. While the dispatchers or company owners were former drivers-usually
men-the secretaries at these mostly small businesses were
often wives or daughters or other women hired to do a clerical
job. Even if men were doing the work, rarely were they former
Knowing that Lou's wife often came into his
office, the next obvious question was what Margie said when
she saw the calendar in his office. Of course, I knew the
answer: He didn't have any of his own calendars in his office
because he knew she wouldn't like them.
The solution was easy. Knowing that many of
the blue-collar men and women working in these offices were
weekend campers and (sometimes) hunters, Lou commissioned
some specially designed outdoor and wildlife scenes that they
would be happy to look at day after day on the office wall.
In these litigious times, when all sorts of
charges are raised against pictures in an office that might
create a "hostile environment" for the women who work there,
Lou's attorney would have stopped him from even thinking about
making his first type of calendars. But, then, recently visiting
the back areas of a small shipping and storage company, the
"bare bodied" calendars for various service firms were still
in evidence on inside doors of the men's lockers. But beyond
any potential for offending employees, the marketing question
still involves first assessing who makes decisions for a purchase,
who needs the information on service suppliers, and what type
of specialty advertising product the purchaser would find
Marketing gets misplaced in a lot of specialty
advertising when the advertiser forgets the basic definition
of the medium: The usually short advertising message is placed
on useful products. The "useful" part of the definition of
specialty advertising is what often gets lost, since they
must be useful for the target market. As happened in Lou's
case, sometimes even questions of who might be the target
In all areas of marketing work, there is the
"danger" that tactical decisions sometimes lose track of the
initial marketing plan and its strategy. With the buying of
specialty products, the problem is com-pounded, since advertisers
are buying a product that is to be given to the audience and
also carry the message. So it is easy to forget that a useful
pen is one the target audience will use to write notes, not
a pen that is so cheap the customers will quickly toss it
aside. Marketing planners want the target audience members
to hang the calendar over the desk and not to give it to a
friend. A name on a coffee mug is supposed to be a reminder
and aid that would encourage customers to make a purchase,
though the mugs selected (or maybe all mugs because the target
receives so many) might get tossed onto a collection shelf
along with those from all competitors.
The reality is that various advertising specialties,
such as pocket knives, radios, coffee mugs, and a host of
other products, are often bought by advertisers for all types
of reasons unrelated to marketing strategy or tactics. Sometimes
the marketing manager just spotted a new toy he or she would
like to own or give away, and the manager is seldom a typical
consumer. Yet important questions of marketing strategy still
need to be asked about the target audience and what it considers
useful. If these are forgotten, the specialty itself becomes
useless from a marketing point of view.
The annual National Football League championship
game, the Super Bowl, has become a major advertising event.
Arguably, the Super Bowl draws the largest single mass-media
audience in any given year, with Americans throwing parties
tied to television viewing of the game. So advertisers repeatedly
pay record high prices for the time for the commercial spots
run during the game. Each year they pay more than advertisers
did the year before. And, many times, the advertisers do not
make good use of their money.
Understanding why marketing views get misplaced
while spending millions of dollars first requires a brief
background on how TV advertising time is bought or sold.
For any consumer-goods advertiser, the bulk
of the budget goes to the purchase of media time and space.
As the audiences for any given vehicle are increasingly fragmented,
the number of options available and the process for deciding
what to buy has become more complicated. Media buyers and
planners have access to a huge array of data on media audiences;
computer programs provide increasingly detailed ways to mix,
match, and compare options. Yet the final decisions are still
regarded by many as "more art than science."
The reasons for this are easy to understand.
The data are not provided free of charge, so the data any
one firm may use are limited in their potential detail, since
more precise data cost more money that few are willing to
pay. In addition, the information is not pruned and collated
through a central source, so making comparisons, even with
the best information, can be very confusing. Most important,
computer programs can weigh quantitative concerns, but not
all variables relevant for media decision making lend themselves
to numerical assessments, such as how closely an audience
reads a magazine or how much a media vehicle lends itself
to communicating a particular type of message. It can all
get very confusing; hence, the "art" aspect of the work.
In addition, media space or time rates are not
offered at a set price; the final sale is more like an agreement
for purchase of a farm commodity. The major broadcast networks
do not even have printed rate cards with prices, letting "marketplace"
discussions with buyers determine price, so the price paid
depends on the negotiating skills of the advertiser's representative.
In the end, the final decisions about how much
to pay and what to buy basically comes down to the media planner
or buyer's specialized expertise. Unfortunately, while the
specialized expertise involves a marketing perspective, this
is sometimes misplaced or flat-out ignored to meet all sorts
of irrelevant concerns of managers.
A former student told me that his computer-manufacturer
client had a fixed rule against advertising in Playboy magazine.
Even though the magazine's readership was very heavy in the
types of people who were interested in the advertised product,
management felt that the publication denigrated women. This
same firm also required that advertising space be bought in
the political, gay-oriented publications Out and Advocate,
primarily because a large number of gay men and lesbian woman
worked for the organization. At the time, this meant that
a struggling company's computer products appeared next to
ads for padded underwear, which claimed to help readers "Get
Shapelier Buns Instantly."(11)
There exists a degree of prestige from airing
a commercial during the Super Bowl, and almost every Super
Bowl advertiser has their brand name repeated in a few news
stories. But they also need something to say and something
that would be targeted toward that audience. Everyone is still
talking about the Apple Computer ad, titled "1984." The commercial
ran just once, but has been repeated many times in a wide
range of news stories. A well-placed and interesting advertising
effort can generate a huge amount of positive publicity, well
beyond the initial exposure.(12) However, publicity and value
do not come from placement alone. Most of the Super Bowl commercials
are forgotten by the next morning, which is a quick way to
blow more than $2 million without gaining anything except
bragging rights for having a commercial on the program.(13)
For the January 2000 event, the so called "dot-com"
firms went crazy. For some strange reason, a large number
of them felt they had to be on the program to make a mark.
These are firms that are repeatedly noted as having overvalued
stocks for firms that have yet to show a profit. Just to be
on a high-profile sports program, they were paying grossly
overpriced rates for the privilege. They bought out the time
and, with heightened demand for the limited time, increased
Many long-time advertisers opted out of the
program in 2001, deciding that the audience might be large
and attentive, but not that large. In fact, the ratings have
been stagnant to declining for many U.S. sporting events in
recent years. For the limited and inane value of being apart
of the show, the advertisers are overspending and probably
accomplishing little of pragmatic value.
I find myself repeatedly telling my students
that just because the slickly produced commercials they see
are part of an expensive campaign by a large firm, it does
not mean that the campaign is based on a good marketing strategy,
or, for that matter, that it had any strategy behind it. The
commercials can be successful or not. Reviewing the advertising
from out in the audience, we have no data on results, and
"accidents" do happen. So, for our discussion, I ask them
under what conditions could this be a good advertising idea.
It is amazing how often we can't even conceive of a situation
in which the advertising would do a worthwhile communications
job, even when the eighteen to twenty-five-year-old consumers
in my class are the apparent primary audience for the advertising
effort. Instead, they conclude that it is misplaced marketing
and, therefore, bad advertising.
My students' conclusions fit with an experience
that is repeated many times when I sit in on advertising agency
presentations to clients. After giving detailed data on the
present and potential consumers, followed by a specific goal
statement of what the campaign is to accomplish, the advertising
planners then describe their recommended advertising strategies
and tactics that have, at best, a tenuous relationship to
the first part of the presentation. Tactics are done without
strategy and the "strategy" (if it exists at all) is presented
without reference to consumer views.
I sometimes ask why they even bothered to collect
data and set goals if they were going to ignore their own
preliminary work. Producing a "breakout" advertisement or
an "attention getting" campaign does not do any good if they
get the attention of the wrong people for the wrong reasons.
An instructor who has a loud case of gas in the front of the
class will certainly get attention, but I doubt if the students
would hear or recall anything that instructor said for the
fifteen minutes after the event.
It misplaces marketing when decision makers
set out to be creative only for the sake of winning creative
awards. Instead, they should be designing original and entertaining
messages that appeal to the purchase interests and values
of their customers. If consumers strongly think the shoes
are ugly, a good-looking celebrity will not change their minds.
If sex is irrelevant to the purchase decisions, then a sex
appeal will only have the audience remembering the sexy pictures.
A funny joke unrelated to the product's benefits could have
many people talking about the commercials but not making a
Some very bad advertising will succeed due to
either outstanding products (for which any advertising is
superfluous) or simple inertia from prior profits. But with
a lost marketing focus, there is a disservice to many potential
customers and many firms are spending money on messages that
appeal to no one.
1. Sandra E. Moriarty, "Effectiveness, Objectives,
and the EFFIE Awards," Journal of Advertising Research,
vol. 36 (July-August 1996), pp. 54-63.
2. Arthur J. Kover, William L. James, and Brenda
S. Sonner, "To Whom Do Advertising Creatives Write? An Inferential
Answer," Journal of Advertising Research, vol. 37 (January-February
1997), pp. 41-53.
3. If anyone intended the creative team's intuition
to carry so much weight, the advertising would not have been
subjected to testing in the first place. Admittedly, many
copytests are done to support decisions that have already
been made, or to plan a defense if things go wrong-"I don't
understand what happened! It tested well"-but such problems
are just examples of how office politics and paranoia can
generate bad business decisions and wasted money.
4. This was 48 Hours title for that day's
program, even though show personnel did not spend very much
time in offices actually located on that street.
5. George Lois with Bill Pitts, George, Be
Careful (New York: Saturday Re-viewPress, 1972).
6. Howard Luck Gossage, Is There Any Hope
for Advertising? K. Rotzoll, J. Graham, and B. Mussey,
eds. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987). David Ogilvy,
Confessions of an Advertising Man (New York: Ballantine Books,
7. Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising
8. Bob Garfield, "TD Waterhouse Makes Trade
With Celebs," Advertising Age, vol. 70 (November 29,
1999), p. 79. While the first four paragraphs of this column
repeated his prior observations about misuse of celebrities
in advertising, he then pointed out how and why he (reluctantly)
felt that the new TD Waterhouse online brokerage campaign
was using them effectively.
9. Jennifer Gilbert, "Top 10 Ads Score Raves,
Not Hits Post-Super Bowl," Advertising Age, vol. 71
(February 7, 2000), p. 63; Phillips Graham, "Not-So-Super
Ad Bowl Says Y&R's Phillips," letter to editor, Advertising
Age, vol. 71 (February 14, 2000), p. 30. At that time,
many business analysts on television news programs reviewed
these commercials and not one was able to state what the spots
were supposed to accomplish for the companies.
10. The owner of the restaurant could easily
have won a "stupidity in community relations" award. He angrily
called the university's Woman's Resource Center, which he
felt was the source of most complaints, telling the students
that it's "too bad you broads ain't got a sense of humor."
He was out of business within a year.
11. In order to attract more "quality" advertisers,
the Advocate has since eliminated most of its sex-product
advertising. The magazine's improved image, as both an advertising
vehicle and a source for political commentary, can be attributed
(at least in part) to that change of policy.
12. The classic discussion of this is found
in Miller Harris and Howard Gossage's Dear Miss Afflerbach,
or The Postman Hardly Ever Rings 11,342 Times (New York:
13. Bonnie Tsui, "Bowl Poll: Ads Don't Mean
Sales," Advertising Age, vol. 72 (February 5, 2001),
Herbert Jack Rotfeld, Quorum Books
Copyright © 2001 by Herbert Jack Rotfeld. All rights reserved.