Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Post No. 41: Do I Have Something to Sell You!

© 2008, The Institute of Applied Common Sense

It is clear that modern day politicians and campaigns use advertising and public relations consultants in crafting their message to potential voters. We asked the Laughingman, an advertising professional with more than 30 years of experience, for his thoughts about the practice. More specifically, we inquired as to whether the utilization of such consultants served some long-term, positive, societal interests. He responded as follows.

Do I Have Something to Sell You!

I fear the learning may be going the other way...to everyone's detriment.


When the vaunted Tuesday Team, authors of Ronald Reagan's famous "Morning in America" spot, was invited to meet with Ross Perot, they brought beautifully drawn storyboards of a series of spots revisiting the Morning in America theme.

Mr. Perot asked the not unreasonable question, "How much will this cost?"

After hearing the figure, Mr. Perot's response was, "Five Million Dollars? Whose Money Do You Think That You are Spending?"

Hence Mr. Perot's pencil pointer and cardboard chart campaign, which was so effective in communicating his position on economic issues, that the Clinton administration was forced to accumulate a government surplus for the next eight years, out of fear of Mr. Perot running again.

If Mr. Perot's campaign cost more than $50 large per spot to produce, I will eat my stop watch.

If he spent even 10% of what the Republicans and Democrats spent that year on media, I will eat my rabbit ears.

Unfortunately, when you take the message out of the hands of the creative group and hand it over to the pollsters and accountants, you are guaranteed to see negative advertising. They spend millions and millions of dollars dissecting the country by voter district. Since we all seem to want the same things, namely security, stability, honesty, and the wherewithal to pay our bills, most of this research is focused on perceived weaknesses in the competition's perceptions.

Is it any wonder what they find winds up in their ads?

The funny thing is that trying to define yourself by what you aren't seldom has any effect. At best you can throw so much money at the market that the consumer becomes confused, responds with "a pox on all your houses," and goes on doing what he was doing before you spent all that money.

This strategy is supposed to work to the advantage of the dominant brand in the category...or the front runner in a political race. If you look at those who were most strident in objecting to a ban on television advertising for cigarettes, it wasn't the tobacco companies...it was the networks and big ad agencies. Similarly, Miller and Budweiser would not mind at all seeing a ban on television beer promotion...assuming such a ban would roughly freeze market share at its current levels, and allow them to trouser the better than $1 billion annually they currently piss away on Super Bowl entertainment.

More importantly, it is very hard to find any relationship between all this public mud slinging and measurable results. In fact, I have yet to see a macro statistical analysis that demonstrates that advertising causes sales. Rather, the numbers indicate that sales cause advertising.The ad industry's promises, that they could turn this situation around, produced campaigns like the pet food sock puppet, with an advertising budget two and a half times current sales...and a well and justifiably burst dot.com investment bubble.

"Boys and Girls, you need to be very careful these days about how you write your marketing plan. Being cooler or more popular than your neighbors is not a marketing objective, or a company credit, which you can sell to a bank."

Interestingly, neither Obama nor McCain had front runner status, or any money to speak of, last year. They both stayed pretty much above the mud slinging pit...and look what happened. It may seem an odd time to change strategies, but the guys advising both campaigns now come from the old, politics of division and reward, school...and risk the loss of their very lucrative careers if a Ross Perot like, issues oriented, campaign carries the election.

In the mean time, brands like Mini and Red Bull should have proved to everyone's satisfaction that it is, in fact, the product, stupid. Carpet bombing media campaigns are still trumped by clever marketing executions while the same old ad strategies position the product (animal, mineral, or political) as more of the same...and therefore not really worthy of the time necessary to learn about it...let alone try it.

For what it is worth, the single most powerful word in the advertising man's quiver remains, "New," not "Free," but new.

The consumer is not an idiot, she is your accountant.

Mud slinging suggests that we have no idea how to grow the once great American pie, so we are promising to get you more than your fair share. This kind of thinking may work in the Lake Woebegone School District, where everybody ranks above average, but it is has no place in this economic environment. Furthermore, it is an unconscionable justification to send our boys and girls in uniform into harm’s way.


So it goes...

© 2008, The Institute of Applied Common Sense

1 comment:

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