Don’t give thanks.

How often have we seen commercials, usually from local or regional businesses, which consist, at least in part, in showing real customers, or pretend real customers, coming right out and thanking the advertiser?

The most visible campaign of this sort, at least in my neck of the woods, is the endless campaign by Buy Owner. Every spot is riddled with happy folks chirping “Thanks, Buy Owner” for their good fortune in saving that real estate broker’s commission.

So what, exactly, is wrong with an advertiser doing ads consisting of customers thanking them? After all, there is an entire, rich tradition of using customer testimonials in which people praise the advertiser, presumably in their own words. This sort of advertising, while looked down on by those ad denizens who patrol advertising’s outer reaches, can be very effective, and can be artfully executed, telling engaging human stories and revealing glimpses of genuine human emotion.

I don’t find testimonials, per se, repugnant. I do find “Thank you, me” ads repugnant. What’s the difference?

I think it has to do, at least partially, with how easy and empty the latter is. A good testimonial requires some effort in finding a real person who has a real story, a story of some interest, and getting that person to relate that story, wrapped in some credible genuineness. And we LEARN something from the story, hopefully something positive about the advertiser, and perhaps about the customer as well.

“Thanks, Buy Owner” and the like involve no effort, give us no glimpse into who the person is who is parroting this empty sentiment. “Thank you”, after all, is something that any satisfied customer could presumably say to any company whose product or service he purchased. It doesn’t tell us anything more than that the company has some happy customers. This fact applies to every business that remains in business. So it isn’t interesting. It tells us nothing.

Even if the “thank you” is preceded by a story that does reveal something good or interesting about the advertiser, punctuating the story with the most obvious, heavy-handed, self-congratulatory words possible tells us that this company and/or its ad agency are devoid of any shred of understanding about their customers, about how to speak to them respectfully, about how to catch people’s interest, engage them or motivate them.

It is as transparently shameless as advertising gets.

Other than that, it’s a fine approach.

Thanks, Advertising For Peanuts reader.

ads ARE NOT the new online tip jar

Recently I read this post from Seth Godin and, unlike usual, I disagreed. Here's the crux of his argument,

If every time you read a blog post or bit of online content you enjoyed you clicked on an ad to say thanks, the economics of the web would change immediately. You don't have to buy anything (though it's fine if you do). You just have to honor the writer by giving them a click.
It's not often that I disagree with Seth and I'm hesitant to do so because his insight has inspired me and helped me develop my own thoughts on marketing and advertising, but alas I must.

To me the suggestion that banner ads are the new online tip jar only reinforces the fact that online advertising (and perhaps all of advertising) is very broken and in need of innovation. And, by treating ads as online tip jars, we are complying with the broken model, costing advertisers money, which in turn will theoretically drive up the cost of their product. Not good.

Instead, we should do two things:
  1. Create more innovative advertising solutions, perhaps like the one Avenue A and Pluck recently unveiled, called Adlife. Adlife allows people to comment within the ad on the ad itself or the product as well as rate the ad and product and upload pictures or videos.
  2. Create an actual online tip jar that is as easy as clicking on an ad, and allows people to show their support for the content they read for free.

Olympic Advertising: Who Won?

The 2008 summer Olympics Games are almost over. It was among the most watched - if not the most watched - in the history of the games.

So who won?

I liked some of the United spots. But what were your favorites?

Please nominate the gold, silver, and bronze ad winners in the comments below and tell us why you liked the spots too.

After all, the champions of advertising should be recognized too! Right?

AmeriCrap

I hereby proclaim a permanent ban on names that start with Ameri-.

AmeriTrade, AmeriPrise., AmeriShred, Amerigroup, AmeriFab, AmeriLine, AmeriSource, AmeriSeal, Ameritech, AmeriTec, AmeriCure, AmeriKing, AmeriCart, AmeriCrew, AmeriLog, AmeriCrew, AmeriTel, AmeriKiwi (?), AmeriLoo, AmeriClay, AmeriGas, and on and on.

First of all, since there are what, hundreds, or thousands of names sharing this same empty prefix, they’re all guilty of no imagination. Since the prefix is ubiquitous, it is also meaningless and powerless.

And considering that Ameri- can attach itself to any word starting with a consonanant, how clever is it.

There is simply no reason to resort to this cheap pander. Do the people responsible for choosing the name at these companies really believe that they are conveying anything useful by having the name start with Ameri-? Would anyone choose your brand over a competitors because it has part of the word “American” in it?

Does “Ameri-“ signal that your company is exceptionally patriotic? Or that it’s not a local, regional, or, for that matter, global company, but operates strictly within the boundaries of the United States. What about the rest of North America? Or South America, for that matter?

If you’re hoping to be listed first in any alphabetically determined contexts, I recommend AAAATrade, AAAAPrise, etc., rather than Ameri-.

The only justification I will accept for using this prefix in a brand name is if there’s something clever about it. For example, a company that sold sexual devices might call itselfAmeri-Tal Aids, or a company that made amusement park rides could choose Ameri-Go Rounds. Or for that matter, a company that made cans could . . . well, you get the idea.

But really, there’s just no good reason to slap Ameri- in front of the name of the category of product or service you provide and declare it a name. And many, many reasons not to.

So stop it.

Is wordsmithing passé in this experiential age?

I have accepted that proofreading has been devalued almost out of existence. I mourn its passing, but clearly spelling, grammar and punctuation are not the details that our culture, and this industry, choose to fret over any more. As long as its close enough that you get the idea, that’s sufficient.

But what about that careful crafting of language that we used to call “wordsmithing”?

As everything continues to accelerate, one of the tradeoffs we seem to be making in the pursuit of immediacy, freshness and so forth, is the thoughtful, well-considered construction of our communications. The idea itself, however germinally or sloppily expressed, has become more important than the most powerful or evocative articulation of the idea. When we have an idea, the task is now to express the idea as quickly as we can, in the first passably acceptable way that we can find. We settle for coherence, seldom holding out for finesse, nuance, dare I say, perfection.

Example: Those of you who call yourselves copywriters out there, when you write a headline, a banner ad, or some other one line articulation of your client’s message, once you come up with the idea, how much time do you spend on getting the exact articulation of your thought just right? Days? Hours? Minutes? Do you force yourself to write down two hundred, or even two dozen, variations in the quest to find the most compelling set of words? Or do you go with the first one that seems pretty good?

I know I’m guilty of caving into the pressures of time that have contributed to the erosion of wordsmithing. Where I once would have spent a full day sweating over a short paragraph of copy, I now spend, at most, half that amount of time. I’d like to think it’s because I’ve gotten better at my craft and work more efficiently these days. But, while that may be true, it’s just as true that I simply don’t work as hard, or as long, at the wordsmithing thing as I once did. No value is placed on my doing so, except by me, and I’m easily talked out of bothering, because I am a slug.

The ubiquity of email, text messaging and blogs has contributed mightily to this decline. It’s all about getting it down and getting it off to the recipient, rather than getting it just right.

Here’s another factor I’ve identified that I think is contributing to the waning of wordsmithing. As clients and agencies demand ideas of an interactive/engaging/experiential nature, the pressure is to come up with “experiential hooks”, which don’t demand such carefully crafted articulation. The heat is off, wordsmithing-wise. It is less the job of the words themselves to engage, involve, grab attention, and more the job of the experiential device.

This is an inevitable consequence of advertising’s shift to the interactive world of the web, and away from the more passive media—TV, radio, print.

For those of us who are better at words than experientials, it is a worrisome shift.

the most inneffective ads that work

It is interesting that the most ineffective ads (search links) are coveted for being so effective. But imagine if someone just asked for a car ad and then a car ad appeared; that car ad would be very effective. So really search ads probably aren't all that effective outside of the intent people infuse into the process while searching on google, yahoo, etc.

So what's the lesson we can learn from search?

  • align with people's intentions
  • don't interrupt what people want
  • give people the ability to explore
  • surrender control
  • don't horde people's time; instead push them toward their interests
  • simplicity often works (a simple text link)
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that search ads are effective. I'm saying that we misinterpret their effectiveness. The intent people bring to the search process is what makes search ads effective.

Keeping commitments in the ad business

It’s now 10:15. After more than a month away from Advertising for Peanuts due to a variety of reasons, I had made a commitment to myself to write a post for tonight.

But I am still at my computer working on another project. Something that has to get done. It’s on a deadline. And it helps pay my bills.

My day started wide open. More than enough time to do both.

But then I had to put out a few fires.

And then a few more.

I also had a few meetings.

And, of course, a few calls to return.

Not to mention a few emails.

And now in the evening, I can finally get to the first scheduled task of the day, the project I mentioned earlier.

But now I also have a conflict because, as I said, I made a personal commitment to come up with a column for tonight.

I am not writing this to complain.

I am writing this as a set up to two questions: How often does this happen to you—i.e., how often do portions of your day job get pushed to the night—and what do you do about it, especially when you have another commitment?

Please let me know. Advertising is an industry that puts huge time demands on us, demands that can often interfere with outside commitments. So how do you keep those outside commitments and keep your clients? Thoughts? Please, let’s get the discussion going. Just click on comments below to start.

Another disingenuous dancing alert

In the spirit of summer reruns, I’d like to reprise one of my pet peeves for a moment. Among all the contrived, non-credible behaviors we see portrayed in advertising, I find the “breaking out into dance because I’m so pleased with such and such a product” thing to be among the most reprehensible.

Because dancing can be so wonderfully expressive and joyful when it’s genuine, it’s that much more repugnant when the dancing is false.

There is a lot of behavior in advertising that would never take place in real life. This if fine, as long as the ad makes it clear that the advertiser is taking license—that there is a clear, mutual understanding that they aren’t pretending to replicate real life.

It is the advertising that attempts to represent some semblence of real life behavior that usually fails miserably. Generally, what we experience is simply the advertiser’s wishful thinking about how reality goes. “If only people, upon discovering my wonderful product, would really beam, or eagerly tell others, or be inspired to break out into a celebratory dance. Maybe if I portray this scenario in my advertising, it will somehow make it so in reality . . .”

What compels me to return to this topic again and again is that it keeps happening. We, the creative community, seem incapable of learning this lesson.

I am hearby issuing citations to three advertisers and their ad agencies for recent crimes against dancing credibility:

Aleve

Jello

(Though this, I concede, is a grey area, because sometimes the wiggly dancing represents the fun nature of the product, but in recent executions, the dancing seems to cross the line into characterizing the reactions of presumably real people)

Yo Plus

During the decade or so of diatribes against disingenuous dancing that I’ve produced, I must have cited at least a score of examples, starting, if I recall, with the notorious Senekot commercials in which old people who’ve returned to regularity dance with joy to a wincingly diluted arrangement of the James Brown tune “I Feel Good.”

There has been no letup recently. In fact, if anything, the frequency with which creatively bankrupt advertisers and their agencies have been resorting to this desperate, empty device, has been increasing.

Please, I implore you, whoever you are, desist with the disingenuous dancing.