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Effective Advertising: A word about hybrids

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Consumer-based companies always have a tough choice to make – “What is the most effective way to advertise our product?”. Ah, and age-old question that is packed with a variety of answers. Let’s review some of the methods that an Ad Agency can take for their client.

Where's The Beef?

The Direct Approach: Tell your audience about your product. What makes it better than the competitors and why they need to buy it.
While undoubtedly the safest approach, some argue that this is the most effective form of advertising. Just stop beating around the bush and get to the point already!
The Upside: Usually easy to remember the product. If you are in need of what they are selling, you may be influenced by how they presented what their product is, and what it does.
The Downside: Most of the times, these commercials are not very memorable. So even if you may personally get something out of their message, you are not likely to talk about it to others.

The Subliminal Approach: Create a unique form of ad that is cleverly done, but leaves the consumer wondering “What they hell are they trying to sell here?” Now, I think there are two reasons for these types of commercials. 1) The Ad Agency is just way too creative for their own good. They have a lot of great “Message” ideas, but not a whole lot of “Brand” ideas. 2) The Ad Agency is more worried about making an artistic masterpiece rather than trying to sell the product. Since advertising is such a crap-shoot anyway, a company may opt for this method of advertising, simply because the Marketing Director finds them fascinating.
The Upside: You may create something so cool that you end up winning a CLIO or other prestigious award for your work. This is great for the Advertising Firm, but most people won’t hear about the award and the company will get little to no recognition at all. So while this seems like an upside for the firm, it’s a downside for the company who is advertising. With High Risk comes High Rewards. Get it right and you can both win!
The Downside: There is a big chance that you really miss the mark with this style. Not only could the ad go right over someone’s head, and your piece be overlooked for an award (which is highly likely), nobody gets to appreciate it because the brand is not recognized and neither is the Ad Agency. You both lose!

The Musical Approach: How many catchy jingles or songs from commercials get stuck in your head. This is a niche form of advertising that is not for everyone. Those that get it right will have a solid career ahead of them. I’m not going to begin to name all of the ones that I feel were successful. I know I’ll forget some big ones, but more importantly, I don’t want them to all get stuck in my head at the same time. Can you imagine that nightmare? Crap – they are starting to come at me one by one. I need to move on so I can try to avoid the proverbial padded room!
You don’t need to go down the jingle road. Look at what companies like Heineken have done with musical videos. You don’t get the song stuck in your head, but you do feel entertained after watching them and you remember the brand. And then there are those commercials that rely on popular music to help sell their products. This is a great method, but the problem I have with this is a moral issue. I highly doubt that The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Styx or ELO had branding in mind when they wrote their epic music pieces that ended up pushing someones product. Don’t get me wrong, I think when you choose the right song, it can really stick with a product and make people identify with it. But when I hear “Like a Rock” on the radio, I feel like I’m listening to a 3 minute ad instead of a Bob Seger song. That is exactly the point of using those songs, but as a musician and fan of music – this is an issue of mine.
The Upside: I think we all know that that is. What company doesn’t want to be immortalized in a song that gets stuck in people’s head? “My bologna has a first name…” Oops, almost went down that road. Sorry. Choosing the right popular song can really help your brand every time the real song is played on the radio. Do it right, and the first thing people will think about is your product, and not the band.
The Downside: Have you ever had one of those songs stuck in your head, but it happens to be one of the most annoying songs in the world? I avoided Giant Eagle for most of the 80’s for fear of hearing “Fi Fi Fo Fum…” playing in the stores. It’s not bad enough that they were coming on during Steeler’s games, I had to be subjected to it when I go shopping? No thank you! So if you want to take this path – make sure that the song is memorable. And if it is annoying (which can sometimes work), make sure it’s just annoying like “The sun will come out tomorrow” annoying and not “I hate Justin Bieber and don’t like any of his songs so why is ‘Baby’ stuck in my head?” annoying. But I digress…

The Comedy Approach: Ah, now we get to the meat and potatoes of advertising. Everyone wants a funny commercial. Well, not everyone (as we have learned), but creating a funny ad that people will talk about at the water cooler, at the bar, around campfires, in the public restrooms when you are standing next to a guy who insists on carrying on a conversation with you, but then you realize that it’s ok because he wants to talk about the commercial that you thought was funny enough to discuss with a total stranger, and at family gatherings, is a goal that a lot of companies shoot for. What about those “World’s Funniest Commercials” shows? You get some more bang for your buck to end up there. How about the Super Bowl Ads? Now, agreed that most people tend to over-think these ads and they end up being totally stupid, or at the very least ridiculous. But look at the price that these companies pay to create a piece of comedy that people will hopefully talk about the next day. It takes a special advertising firm to really get good at doing this consistently. But if you can show that you are worthy, you will not only get a lot of work, but the companies you represent should do very well as a result. Some examples of this: Skittles, Bud Light, Cheetos, Old Spice and GEICO.
The Upside: Infamy!
The Downside: You may not be as funny as you think and now not only will people not remember what it is you are trying to sell (bad for the client), but as a result the Ad Agency will not get anymore work in this field.

The mark of a great Ad Agency is one who can successfully combine the methods above. You want a great branding message that is a piece of art that lives in people’s memory forever? Then you can strive to meet the mark of Ridley Scott’s “1984” ad for Apple. It was only shown 1 time during the Super Bowl and is still getting great praises to this day. The companies with funny commercials that are mentioned above, get two big things accomplished – people talk about the commercials, and the branding is solid so that people remember what the product is. How many Super Bowl ads can you remember where the commercial was very funny, but you have no recollection of what it was that was being sold? What’s the point? The point is that you are at least talking about it. You will either go to YouTube and seek the commercial out so you can tell people what the product is (so that they can all say “Oh yeah, I love that commercial), or someone you know will already have done this work and say “Yeah, you mean the State Farm ad where the alien robot is destroying the town? Classic!”

So which method of advertising is correct? The big answer is – THEY ALL ARE! As I mentioned before, effective advertising is very hard to get right. If it were easy, everyone would be an Ad Agency. Whether you are advertising in print, billboard, interactive, television or the Internet, staying up on your game and staying one step ahead of the industry is what it takes to get to the top and stay there. If you stumble for one moment, it could send you back down to a point where the top looks so far away, that one could easily feel like it’s unobtainable to get there again – after all that it took to get there the first time.

I think the most important thing to think about is what is best for the company. Who is the target audience, what are the demographics? Look at as much data as you can to figure this out and, as long as you are a great creative team, you will hopefully be successful no matter which road you take.

Good luck!!