Jul 1, 2010

Have A Little Faith


I admit I rarely watch commercial television. Most of what I watch on TV is either on demand or DVR’d. The rest is mostly live sporting events, primarily basketball.
The NBA mostly attracts beer advertisers (plus T-Mobile’s “Fave 5” campaign featuring an array of NBA stars.) And beer advertisers can’t say all that much so they can’t really lie to you. It’s all about how refreshing the beer is, or, if it’s an import, how cool you’ll be if you drink it.

Relatively harmless stuff and beer is, for all intents and purposes, a refreshing beverage and many people drink imported beer for the cool factor.

But the other day I wound up watching a couple of hours of actual commercial TV. And the one thing that struck me was how much of what I saw left me with the impression that someone was trying to trick me. Or at least had a very dim view of my intelligence.

There was an ad for one of the telcos that was all about their revolutionary new voice-activated search feature. Which, if you’ve picked up a smart phone lately, you know is (a) fairly ubiquitous and far from revolutionary and (b) still in its infancy and overwhelmingly inaccurate to the point where using it is more of a hassle than it’s worth. But the commercial was portraying it as a feature the entire family easily used and all I could think of was what would happen if someone googled the feature. (That’s the whole theory behind The Real Digital Revolution – consumers can fact-check ads.)

In addition to the voice recognition ad (which really jumped out at me as pretty much not true) there were a slew of ads for household products which also seemed chock full of overpromise. Stains don’t come out instantly. Mopping isn’t fun. Kids just don’t get that excited over cereal.

I mean I realize packaged goods advertising is challenging and that it’s not easy creating excitement over a small improvement, but I wish so many of the ads didn’t sound like someone was trying to snow me over.

Having been distanced from that sort of advertising for a while, it’s striking how little faith so many advertisers have in both their own products and in their consumers. It makes it very clear why brands that do have faith are so successful: consumers tend to draw a straight line from the way a brand treats them in its advertising to the quality of the product.

That’s as true online as it is on TV: brands that use the social web as yet another place to push “here’s what we want to say” messaging at consumers (versus giving consumers the information they want to hear and/or starting a conversation) create a negative image for their product. Because what they’re really saying is “it’s all about us, not you.”

And that doesn’t work in any medium.

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