What are the standards for judging advertising? I say that advertising has one overriding standard: how much it increases the likelihood that someone will buy the product. In other words, advertising is first and foremost a selling medium, not an entertainment medium. Obviously, entertaining advertising tends to be watched and talked about. That’s why entertainment tends to creep in as a standard of advertising. Most of the time, professionals and amateurs judge advertising for its entertainment value. No. As an old ad said many years ago for an advertising agency, “it ain’t creative unless it sells.”
How does advertising sell? Advertising primarily sells by dramatizing the product’s most important, differentiating benefit. That’s what advertising does best, and better than any other medium. Think about it. All the great ads bring to life in a memorable, exciting, strikingly impressive, often larger-than-life way, the central benefit of the product — the thing the product will do for you that no other product will do as well. So, the advertisement or commercial leaves you with the impression of the product as being better in a way that will make you better in some way. Often, this dramatization is extremely creative and entertaining, but that is not the primary purpose. It is a fatal mistake to confuse creative dramatization of benefit with entertainment. Proper dramatization is almost always entertaining. But presenting the product in an entertaining way is not always beneficial to the sales of the product.
Almost all advertising awards and polls of popular commercials fall victim to this confusion, particularly around Super Bowl time.
I attended the U.S. Open tennis championship recently in Flushing Meadows, and have been also following it on television. There are some instructive marketing and advertising lessons and reminders.
First, let’s talk about the “product” itself, then turn to the advertising.
First, it’s not about the “product.” It’s all about the customer experience. It was a delight from beginning to end. I have been reading that there was a conscious effort to turn this into “Disneyland with nets.” Meaning, I suppose, turning it into an amazingly surprising customer experience. They succeeded. Clearly marked signs, ultra friendly policemen, friendly parking attendants. And that’s before we even got in. Then, hosts/hostesses in straw hats, comfortable seating, fun stuff on the Jumbotron, blue courts for visibility, allowing spectators to keep balls accidentally hit into stands, each winner hitting three autographed balls into the stands, specialty foods, etc. It seems that every single area, from the broadest picture of the stadium design and setting itself to the smallest detail has been looked at and rethought with customer delight and word of mouth in mind. So, it’s an excellent example of one of the secrets of word of mouth marketing: design your product for the “Wow!” that will get talked about.
Word of mouth marketing has even reached the sports stadium in the form of consciously creating a customer experience that will get people to talk. I keep meeting people who have just been to Flushing Meadow and can’t stop raving.
Let me ask you, What are you doing at the micro and macro level to create customer delight. Are you making them say “Cool,” “awesome,” “ holy s—t!”
Television coverage has also been wonderful. The camera people and announcers are just amazing. McEnroe in particular. He has a noticeable absence of many of his past unendearing attitudes. He and Tracy Austin seemed to be bending over backwards to emphasize the positive aspects of everything they are reporting upon.
The advertising, particularly the TV commercials, on the other hand, are terrible. They are so repetitive I could scream. I had to switch over to TiVo to take advantage of the lag time. The Andy’s Mojo press conference commercial for American Express is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, although it has been widely hailed by the advertising community as a big winner. Why is it so terrible? Read on.
They have nothing to do with the product, much less the benefits of the product, much less the dramatization of the most important benefit of the product. They are clearly designed to create buzz without creating word of mouth. Word of mouth is the recommendation of the product from customer to potential customer. Buzz is just getting people to talk. Why would anybody apply for an American Express card or use their existing card more as a result of this commercial? The commercial contributes nothing to the perceived benefits of the American Express card or American Express is a company, except perhaps to show the American Express is hip and with it.
The American Express Gold card “first date” commercial, on the other hand is excellent. It’s a telephone call from a man buying tickets for a first date from, apparently, an American Express ticket agent. The person makes several suggestions for events that the person could take his date to. It not only demonstrates an unusual degree of customer orientation and friendliness, but emphasizes the primary benefits of the Gold card, even listing them in text: great seats for great events, early on sale tickets, seats exclusively for you. In other words, if you get to Gold card, you have access to tickets that you would not otherwise have access to. In other words, if you get the American Express Gold card you will have advice and access to tickets you would not be able to get otherwise. The commercial could be improved by making it clear who the person is talking to and by making the benefits less jargonny and clearer. But the benefits are there. The contrast between the two American Express commercials could not be greater. The Roddick Mojo commercials are a pathetic attempt at alternative advertising without any understanding of how customers make decisions. The Gold card commercials are old-fashioned slice of life benefits commercials that do the job.
There will be a big run on US Open tickets next year. I suggest that you get an American Express Gold card so that you can get better tickets early! Now, why didn’t they have a commercial about that in the middle of the Open?
The lessons here are that the creation of buzz for its own sake is fruitless. Word-of-mouth without product benefits, as is the case with most viral and buzz marketing today, is fruitless. Advertising that does not emphasize product benefits and give people a reason to buy is fruitless. Getting clients to spend their money on fruitless “cool” stuff borders on the criminal.
Word-of-Mouth Marketing Consultant
Author, The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing