Why We Hate Your Commercials.
And our dogs do, too.
“Tell them, tell them what you told them, tell them again.” Winston Churchill
I hate this quote. I wonder if Churchill even said it. He probably read it on a washroom wall at Whitehall. People write all sorts of things there. None of it is terribly clever. I think the war had something to do with that.
The reason I hate this quote is because it’s wrong. Repeating yourself suggests you think people are stupid. Churchill definitely thought people were stupid. He repeated things over and over, until people stopped listening and voted him out of office. He once said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote a biography on Churchill. He claimed Churchill was an “egotistical, glory-chasing, goal-hanging opportunist.”
You could say that describes every marketer out there, including seminar merchants who quote Churchill more than anybody. If you ever attend a marketing seminar, be prepared for the first overhead to read: “Tell the, tell them you told them, tell them again.” It’s an ice-breaker.
You want it drilled into our brains. During the early part of the 20th century, they actually did drill into patient’s brains.
Repeating yourself also suggests you think you’re telling us something terribly important. You want it drilled into our brains. During the early part of the 20th century, they actually did drill into patient’s brains. It was called a lobotomy. It made those patients idiots.
So why do marketers still love Churchill’s quote? They think it gives them permission to run their commercials over and over.The thought of boring people never enters their minds. As one marketer told me, “It doesn’t matter what you tell people, as long as you keep saying it.” He died from an embolism travelling up his leg. He kept saying, “My leg, my leg, my leg.” It didn’t help repeating himself. He died anyway.
On nearly every channel, commercials insinuate themselves more and more each day. Where they once took up ten minutes of an hour-long show, now they take up to twenty minutes. In Britain, they set aside commercials to watch after the program. Nobody bothers.
Some people use that time to bathe their dogs.
Here in North America, marketers pay big bucks to have their commercials on featured programs. The higher the rating, the more they’ll pay. It doesn’t encourage them to improve their commercials. They’ve spent all their money on media placement. They figure that’s enough creativity.
If you told them we use commercial breaks to do other things, they’ll tell you research says otherwise. Even if we find a commercial irritating, supposedly—according to their researchers—we’ll still remember the name. We’ll even cross four lanes of traffic to buy the product. That’s if you believe research.
Each one talks about the freedom of the open road. One shows a goat, another an eagle. Goats don’t say freedom to me. Eagles, maybe.
Car companies do, obviously. What choice do they have? They’re selling something with the same standard equipment, the same extras as every other car company. Rather than do something creative, they buy lots of media and do running shots over and over in heavy rotation. At least four car manufacturers talks about the freedom of the open road. One shows a goat, another an eagle. That’s about as original as they get. Goats don’t say freedom to me. Eagles, maybe.
I think eagles consider cars pretty clunky.
Hell, even Churchill changed his message during the height of what seemed like a losing war. When German Messerschmitts were bombing the crap out of London, Churchill defiantly said, “We’ll never surrender.” That was a good line. Maybe a car company could say, “We’ll never surrender to mediocrity.” Who’d believe it, though? They’re too busy being mediocre.
We’d rather bathe the dog.
It’s amazing how wrong research has been over the years. Whatever repetition is supposed to do, it definitely isn’t working now. The mute button is the most used next to the volume button. People aren’t just sitting there anymore (if they ever were). We may be natural born shoppers, but we’re also natural born skeptics. Formula doesn’t work nearly as well as marketers think. If it did, we wouldn’t have so many well-groomed dogs.
So there’s Amy, hanging out in washrooms, telling women they’re using the wrong size. Does that really need to be on prime time television? I’m not using the wrong size.
No doubt you’ve seen the Tampax spots featuring Amy Schumer. P&G claims it’s a brilliant concept. She was picked up because she does a menstruating routine in her act. So there’s Amy, hanging out in washrooms, telling women they’re using the wrong size. Does that really need to be on prime time television? I’m not using the wrong size.
Dove is another one. Every night they’re telling women to be proud of their bodies. Based on their heavy rotation, I could bathe the dog ten times in one night. And how does soap help a woman accept her body? It doesn’t make sense. Why should we watch a commercial that doesn’t make sense?
We’re back bathing the dog again.
What marketers and advertisers fail to understand is that repetition only works if it’s something worth repeating. If anything, we should be waiting for it. Our response should be, “This gets me every time.”
A great example is Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” It features Clara Peller, an elderly woman who isn’t fooled by a big fluffy bun (even though her girlfriends are at first). When she realizes the hamburger itself is tiny, she says to them, “Where’s the beef?”
It never would’ve happened without director, Joe Sedelmaier. Wendy’s already had a couple picked out for the commercials.He didn’t find them funny. Clara and her girlfriends were. So Wendy’s went with Clara, and the following year, the company pulled in a record $76.2 million in sales.
That’s after facing possible bankruptcy earlier that same year.
We’re grateful when something clever or inspiring comes along. It reminds us that the universe isn’t a boring place.
I don’t hear companies talking about their marketing successes anymore. Not in dollar terms, anyway. I doubt they’ve made as much as Apple did with “1984,” or Frank Perdue did with the line “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” Those campaigns stayed in our consciousness, possibly out of gratitude. We’re grateful when something clever or inspiring comes along. It reminds us that the universe isn’t a boring place.
That’s why we need Clara, and Frank Perdue, and someone throwing a sledgehammer at Big Brother. We need it now more than ever. Whether we get it or not depends on marketers. If they continue with this “Tell them, tell them what you told them, tell them again,” then I guess we’ll end up being more wary and more indifferent.
The question is, are marketers willing to change?
Or is the dog getting a bath again tonight?
Robert Cormack is a novelist, satirist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive) is available through Skyhorse Press. You can read Robert’s other articles and stories at robertcormack.net
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