Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why Advertising Sucks

Two ads, currently running, demonstrate why Advertising today is just miserable, and a symptom of a creative class in terminal decline. One pushes agendas and messages the audience knows is just not true, and the other is determined to push hipness and edginess to an audience supremely uninterested, and indeed hostile, to those particular attributes.

First, the Circuit City Back to School Ad, seen here:

Next, the Reebok and NFL Commercial, seen here:

The Circuit City Ad, in case you don't want to watch it (I don't blame you either), opens with a nerdy High School age Circuit City salesman dreaming and drooling over Rihanna. He's interrupted in his reverie by a cute High School girl shopping for a computer, with her parents, who semi-flirts with him. It ends, jarringly, with the low price and features of the computer on sale.

This ad is a disaster. It pushes the agenda of ad agencies that seem to think that whites and blacks closely associate with each other, like the tedious ads where the dorky, nerdy white guy desperately seeks the tough masculine black guy's approval. This ad pushes two things the audience knows are not true.

First, nerdy white High School guys don't care for or even know about the existence or R&B singer Rihanna. Female singers who interest those guys are obscure, invariably waifish, girlish, "sensitive" singers in foreign or College Radio bands. They are invariably white and present a shy, "innocent" image.

Second, the Ad is likely to provoke negative reactions by men. The patronizing attitude towards the nerdy guy is palpable, and it shows the lack of understanding by a largely female-oriented advertising group, used to lazy advertising oriented to women by showing men as clueless idiots. It's true, advertisers lost the ability to sell to men. For too long, advertisers focused almost exclusively on women, and lost any ability to sell things without gratuitous insults towards men to appeal to women. You've seen the Home Depot, or other ads depicting the clueless "Dad" with the Mom and kids rolling their eyes.

It's Marketing 101 that women make most household purchasing decisions. Oddly, for hipster-oriented marketing and advertising people, one would think that current demographic realities would intrude on that myth, since they'd observe the truth enough in their own lives. Single mothers imply men outside that household, on their own. Presumably, buying goods and services. Later marriages and more divorces mean men live alone longer, as presumably, consumers and buying decision makers and not in suspended animation. While it is probably still true that men in two-parent households don't do much of the shopping, that hardly describes the vast majority of the population. Advertisers simply lost the ability to sell to men. That might have been sustainable in a good economy, not in a recession. Next time you're watching TV, look at the ads. You'll probably only see the loathesome Viagra ads and the Football-related ads directed towards men. Nearly everything else will be directed mainly towards women consumers. Because it's "cool." Or simply lazy force of habit.

This ad by Apple Computer featuring Feist, is what nerdy white guys like:

Now, the disappearance of the shared Black-White culture of popular music may be mourned. Perhaps there should be attempts to revive it. But depicting a nerdy white guy enthralled by Rihanna, when everyone knows that nerdy white guys don't even know she exists, is just dumb. Particularly if your goal is to sell the idea of shopping at Circuit City for a computer. You've just told one lie. A lie everyone knows is a lie. To what end, what advantage?

Certainly, ads far over-represent demographic reality of the racial makeup of the United States. Blacks make up 13% of the population, yet appear about half the time humans in ads are shown. Blacks and whites are shown as friends/acquaintances, often with a nerdy white guy desperately seeking a "cool" black guy's approval. Yet survey after survey confirms, that blacks and whites rarely socialize and are self-segregated. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that white and black Obama College-age volunteers did not socialize after rallies, and organized in segregated groups, all black or all white. This reflects social reality: blacks and whites don't (outside of Rap and some sports) share many interests and interact socially. Why then insist in Ads in saying the opposite?

That's the mark of an insular, removed, and ultimately declining creative class.

But there's more lies to come. A cute girl flirts with a nerdy guy? In what universe, exactly? That again is another lie. One everyone, young and old, knows is a lie. Why tell that lie? Again, it's because the ad creators are simply removed from direct, social experience, that would tell them cute girls only flirt with "hot" guys, none of whom work at Circuit City. Or shop there, for that matter.

Ask yourself these questions: Is the ad effective in reaching a particular demographic about the relative advantage in shopping at Circuit City for a new computer? Is the Ad even trustworthy? Or does it tell the viewers things they know are false, and thus undermine the entire message (of shopping at Circuit City for a new computer)? Are nerdy guys (there's a lot of them) likely to resent this commercial?

As far as I can tell, the ad means to invoke a mild contempt for the young men (he's foolish, daydreaming, geeky, the girl leads him around) to mildly appeal to women and nothing more. I don't seem much else as the ad's objective. How did this ad get approved? Credentials I suppose. The ad's creator and agency no doubt have impressive credentials, client lists, etc. Advertisers reflexively make men and boys into fools thinking it's an easy appeal to women. Women with sons or husbands or brothers or fathers oddly enough resent them being made into fools. Yet that trend continues.

Too many in our creative class are just resting on their credentials and past laurels. It's why nearly everything they create has declined in quality over the last fifteen years. There is little new blood, very few new and hungry creative people, and a lot of message pushing.

Sometimes it's just dang stupid! Consider the Reebok "Migrate" commercial. Now, quick, what is the commercial selling? Achy, emotional female folk singers? NFL players? Nope. Believe it or not, the ad is supposed to sell Reebok's new performance wicking T-shirt. Designed to wick the sweat away during hard work outs. It's like the mutant spawn of a Calvin Klein perfume ad mixed with Direct-TV ads featuring Peyton Manning touting the NFL package.

Would you have any idea that was the purpose of the Ad? No of course not. Because the ad is not about selling things. It's about how cool and hip the ad's creators really are. Compared to just dumb proletariat you, of course. And everyone else in the intended audience.

There's the various NFL players, the overly-breathy voice of Vashti Bunyan, an obscure 1960's folk singer reputed to be a descendant of "Pilgrim's Progress" author John Bunyan. The "hip" idea of NFL players "migrating" like geese, in V-formation, to football stadiums. That's the ad. It ends with the Giants in V-formation in the parking lot of the Meadowlands stadium, with a quick flash of the wording for the T shirt.

Now, how many NFL fans sit around thinking, dang, I need to be really cool and hip. Let's put on some achingly hip folk tunes! While NFL fans like watching their favorite players, the ad is confusing and silly, and doesn't feature any ... football. It's made, obviously, by people who don't know or like the NFL. Or understand their fans. The contempt and ignorance is obvious and is likely to be returned with interest by the NFL audience watching the commercial. Again, advertisers don't understand the largely male NFL audience. Who are not, to put it mildly, Madison Avenue hipsters. The reflexive dismissal of the male consumer by advertiser is likely to hurt them as the economy hits bad times and sponsors need to reach male consumers.

You can tell a lot about how healthy an industry or trade group is, by the attention to detail and craftsmanship. These two commercials, in miniature, present an advertising industry that can't even get the basics right, and have no commitment to quality. One commercial tells outright social lies, in service of mild contempt for the geeky young man. The other attempts to target NFL fans by not showing any ... football. Which is the reason for the NFL in the first place.

Advertising may not be the pinnacle for modern creative achievement, but it's not difficult either. That ad creators cannot even get the basics right, bodes ill for creative people in more demanding endeavors: film, music, television, and literature.


PA said...

A couple of unconnected thoughts:

- I recall how 8-10 years ago virtually any car commercial showed the mom driving, with the dad sitting obediently in the passenger seat. Less so today.

- An Allstate commercial showed a "diverse" group on a double-date, hit by another car. Just prior to the accident, which was another driver's fault, the black guy in the driver's seat was cracking jokes and being looked at adoringly by his very light-skinned black date, the white guy's Asian date, and the wan white guy himself.

- Taco Bell had a nasty streak of showing commericals in which a white guy does somethign retarded, to the condescending headshake of a sensible black guy, sometimes accompanied by a hot white female.

- I haven't seen any BM-WF interracial couples on American TV commercials. I hear, however, that this is common in the UK. WM-AF commericals are not uncommon, and I recall once seeing an AM-WF commerical. But the dominant pattern is intra-racial couples.

Whiskey said...

This one is probably the worst:

The infamous "Dell Ink" Staples Commercial.

It's fairly common to see a white guy with a "hot" Asian wife/girlfriend, the Home Depot Laser Level commercial being the best example. The original version had the laser "zapping" the wife into cinders, that part got cut.

The politics in the US won't allow inter-racial couples Black-White, because Black women object, vociferously. Their complaint is about Black men preferring women of other races. It's too "dangerous" for advertisers to depict.

What's odd is the disappearance of the beer commercials. Once a staple of US TV advertising, they just disappeared about five-ten years ago.

A lot of the agenda of advertising seems driven by the hipster class, to have a "diverse" group of friends to prove one's social worthiness/status. Instead of oh I dunno, selling stuff.

Anonymous said...

keep talking about the race realist angle in your posts. there are a lot of people who were referred to this blog by sigma and roissy's sites. discussing race realism in the context of marketing and of the latest TV shows/movies is very germane to a lot of these types of people.

have you seen the latest v8 commercial where the white guy keeps getting bonked on the forehead by his presumed wife- just for not knowing that v8 comes in flavors other than 'crap tomato' now? keep analyzing the mass media for examples of PC and non- race realist traits.

otherwise, great, original post!

PA said...

That Staples commercial.... wow!

The politics in the US won't allow inter-racial couples Black-White, because Black women object, vociferously.

The advertising agencies don't give a fuck about what black women think. As seen in cmmericals, black women are basically leggy and tan white women with perms.

Anonymous said...

The question is, though, what will be the consequence? Is there any evidence that the effectiveness of advertising has declined through this disconnect? If not, then companies will continue to spend, and the advertisers will continue, out-of-touch or no.

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