Confounding Borrowed Interest

borrowed interest, the intentional association of an unrelated theme or image with the product, service or subject being presented, to attract attention otherwise not anticipated. Also, sometimes a subtle way of gaining an implied endorsement.

Borrowed interest? Whatz!? I’m not sure this term is even invoked anymore as a criticism of an ad. I’ve always been a little unclear on this reason for criticizing an ad because most ads used borrowed interest to some degree. I’ve always wondered how much borrowed interest is okay, especially in this era where simply catching a consumer’s attention is paramount and communicating a benefit is often secondary. And how do we differentiate between “inherent interest” and borrowed interest? I would grant that featuring a picture of a bikini-clad babe in an ad for fertilizer or transmissions qualifies as unabashed borrowed interest, and might not be as persuasive as it is attention-getting. But what about, for example, all the ads that use a metaphor to express the benefit of their product? While the benefit itself, would be considered to be of “inherent interest,” doesn’t any metaphor, by its nature, borrow interest? And if so, are we to reject this approach on that basis? Anytime we see a baby or a puppy featured in an ad for something other than a baby or pet product, that’s borrowed interest, yet no one seems to mind that. Celebrities, even if they really use the product or service they endorse, still provide borrowed interest. That’s why they get paid so much. Music provides borrowed interest for anything other than any audio-based product, yes? Anybody out there prepared to defend borrowed interest as a basis for criticizing ads. And if so, please bring some clarity to the concept. Because I don’t get it.

16 comments:

Littlejohn said...

Jim - I have to admit, I think you have a great point. I was curious how many times I had criticized an ad for using borrowed interest in my three years of commentary. So I searched the blog for the phrase and here's what came up - http://tinyurl.com/27b4ob

You'll notice, half the time I criticized an ad for using borrowed interest I also admitted to liking it.

I agree talking about borrowed interest is a slippery slope. But surly we can criticize an ad for having little or nothing to do with the product or its benefits. Perhaps we just call it lazy or sloppy.

But I think the biggest problem with even talking about borrowed interest is that it's a rule. And we all know what we're supposed to do in advertising with rules.

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