Thursday, November 18, 2004

:: adgruntie :: Persuaders, Part II

+ I had hoped to post part II sooner than today (part I is here, but life and work has gotten in the way. So here's a more indepth bit on topics raised from The Persuaders.

Let's start with a quick overview of the players in this advertising montouge. We're lead through this discussion by Douglas Rushkoff, media analyst and Frontline correspondent. Experts and commentators include Douglas Atkin - a partner and chief strategy officer at advertising agency Merkley + Partners, who talks about "cult brands", Bob Garfield- author of "Ad Review" column for Ad Age magazine, an essayist, critic, and broadcaster, feels that we can't be persuaded to buy or do anything we normally wouldn't, Naomi Klein- author of the book No Logo and journalist, Frank Luntz- a corporate consultant, pollster and political consultant to Republicans, Luntz's specialty is testing language and finding words, Mark Crispin Miller- cultural and media critic and a professor of communication and culture at New York University, Clotaire Rapaille - market researcher who believes there is a "code" for what products really mean to consumers, Kevin Roberts - CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi Worldwide, who talks about Lovemarks, and Peter Swire - professor of law at Ohio State University and an expert on Internet policy.

Branding and emotion
The show begins with a claim that "advertising wants to become our atmosphere", which I will agree is true. Why would you want to be considered a distraction, annoyance or other non-positive thing? You wouldn't. So the desire to become a part of our culture is no so shocking. Although another quote from the show states "Once culture becomes entirely advertising friendly, ceases to be a culture." Is that true? Can a culture ever become entirely advertising friendly? There are always going to be advertisements that people find intrusive, so I don't know that this is something anyone has to worry about.

During the show, they followed along with some of the advertising that Song was creating. From the beginning, they wanted to become culture- "we're not an airline, we are a culture." They even had people claiming "I'm so Song." It seems to be to force "Song" as a adjective on to people in an introduction campaign is a bit much. Although people did react to the advertising campaign which made no references to flying. They liked the ads but had no idea what Song was. How is that effective advertising? How can you get people to fly with your airline if they don't know that you are in fact an airline? The ambiguity of the campaign was shown by the man who they brought in to create the commercial with this little bit that escaped his lips during a meeting they filmed for the program, "This thing is about these things." I'm sorry, what? Song even opened up a concept store at the Prudential Center in Boston. Why a concept store? What do you get from going into a store that really isn't selling anything? I actually forgot that I had seen the store in the mall the last time I was there. They were having some opening party or some kind of shin-dig going on. But, beyond all the hype, what do people really care about when it comes to flying? Service, reliability, and price. They didn't touch on any of these things in their advertising. And I can see why leaving price alone would be an OK thing. Everyone is screaming price. But instead of making me feel fuzzy about your airline (which is also what United and American are doing), tell me that your customer service is heads above the other guys. That you will do what you can to make my travel as hassle-free as possible. Not just showing some people dancing around in a field. Companies and ad agencies need to stop talking to themselves and start talking to the consumers.

This change of pitches aimed at the heart vs aimed at the head has really gathered speed in the recent 10 years or so. Roberts talked about old ads using "-er" words like bigger, better, and stronger that tied into tangable concepts. But since you can say that about any brand of soap or paper towels, there's been a leap to what the products or brands stand for. They attempt to create emotional and spiritual bonds to consumers. As mentioned in the program, companies want to see their "brands as ready-made identities." Tide isn't about cleaning clothes anymore it's about being an enabler. The emotional pull people try to create in ads, doesn't always work. Garfield said that the "majority who try to use emotion fail". And he's right. Especially the majority who try to use humor. But can you make what Roberts calls "loyalty beyond reason" or do people have to create that for themselves? You can't force the public to become loyal to your brand, they have to find the thing in it that speaks to them, makes them love it- be it effectiveness or the company's ethics (like being against animal testing). People aren't going to be devoted to a product that is ineffective- it's that simple.

The next thing that the program talks about is ads in programming and integrating it so that the brand becomes the hero. Integrated Entertainment Partners looks to make matches with products and shows- like Absolut and Sex in the City. But this blur beteween advertising and content- has it gone to far? What's the threshold consumers will accept before rebelling against it? The whole motive of TV is now about selling. It's about selling advertising space - not about the programming. FUX is obvious about that with the way they air their programming. During the World Series they didn't return to the game when they should have because they wanted to run another commercial- and this wasn't a one time thing- it happened quite frequently. And fitting products into shows quite often is not seamless integration as they would like, but a more discordant product placement that is usually quite obvious. But then again, maybe they want it to be obvious. If you don't realize that The Donald is buying his apprentices lunch with his MasterCard, what's the point of putting it in the show?

And all of this brings about trying to get the inside scoop on consumers. During the program they showed a man who was conducting marketing research and interviewing a guy about bread. He asked one of the most stupid questions. "When eatting white bread do you feel lonely?" What kind of marketing insight was that question going to give them? The reaction of the interviewee was fantastic as was his question if there were a lot of people who felt lonely while eatting white bread. If this marketing research is supposed to be helping you find out more about your product and how consumers feel about it, you shouldn't ask stupid questions that are random and mean nothing. Because the result is random, meaningless answers that don't help you to find out more about anything, except maybe to prove that you're a moron.

The show discussed how everyone now wants to get inside and find out what you feel not what or how you think. It's all about discovering the emotional context in which you view the world, because there are "disconnects between real reasons why people do what the do and the reasons they think they do what they do." Rapaille discussed unconscious assocations when learning words and unlocking the code behind all this. But can there really be a single code behind why people do things? Apparently some people think so becuase they give him a lot of money to research this sort of thing- and not surprisingly the code for SUV is domination.

In continuing on their consumer research part of the show, they interviewed Luntz who finds out what words resonate with conumsers in either a positive or negative sense and attempts to find the same words that people on opposing sides both like. His new phrases obscure the issues wtih politics- Death Tax vs. Estate Tax, War with Iraq vs. War on Terror, Tax Relief vs. Tax Cuts, Climate Change vs. Global Warming and most likely now Sears/KMart- head count changes instead of layoffs, job cuts, or terminations (although I have no idea if he is behind this, it definitely has a ring of his "magic" to it). He claims that these phrases don't "obstificate" the issues but clarify them and passes the buck by stating that "it's up to the practioners to use it for good".

The last segment talked about viseral appeal vs. facts and segmenting everyone into groups. But by segmenting everyone into groups, what is the result? You never have to hear about a different view than your own. You are kept in ignorance about other facts and the other side of the arguement. The demonstation was a political campaign to reach out on a one to one basis by finding out what information the person cared about and showing them a short ad on a PalmPilot.

Overall, the program showed some of the very negative aspects of advertising. It didn't touch much on the positive side of things- like introducing new, useful products to consumers or that it is a key point in the economy. Although I did learn that there is absolutely no regulation on political advertising (which I mentioned in Part I). There are some things that the advertising business does need to improve upon, and there are some things that I think are going in the right direction. But, I feel that this program was definitely more aimed at the general public, which means that some things were simplified, and some things omitted. Klein talked about advertising trying get us to fill emotional voids in our lives with products. That kind of thinking is so trite and outdated. There's always going to be a need for toothpaste, detergent, clothing, and food. To say that consumers are so stupid that they think Tide will make their lives better because it proves they care about their family is a dangerous path to head down. And there are marketers who do still use this to try to get people to buy things. But we're heading into a new era where people are becoming more intelligent about the messages transmitted to them. Sure, there are still some people who think like sheep, but there is a movement towards independent thought when it comes to these kinds of messages. And to continue to send them out will be at their own risk.

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