Sunday, June 22, 2008

Advertising by telling offensive lies is no joke

Advertisers are getting increasingly desperate to attract our attention, and with good reason. I guess there must have been a brief, halcyon time in the history of modern advertising when people were keen to hear what they had to say, because ads were new and so was the stuff they were pushing.

Most people my age can still sing a few catchy jingles that embedded themselves in our subconscious decades ago - like Ches and Dale, "the boys from down on the farm, who really love our cheese!"; or for ex-Aucklanders only, a more sinister little number about false teeth:
"Broke my dentures, broke my dentures
Woe is meee - what shall I do?"
"Take them into Mr Geddes
And he'll fix them, just like new!"

But we got sick of the ads long ago, as they assailed us at every turn. my supermarket advertises itself on air when you're there - which seems pretty dumb, as well as infuriating. A hospital waiting room I was in recently played commercial radio non-stop on its loudspeakers (when I complained, I was told no one else ever had). And I could fill a recycling bag every week with the junk mail inserts in the paper.

National Radio is still blessedly ad-free, but not TV - even on the few supposedly ad-free days left, TV's own promos take up what would have been the ad-breaks, to make sure we never get a taste of uninterrupted viewing.

Worse, there seems to be a dastardly plan to make the free-to-air programmes so awful that the ads seem better by comparison. Most nights the choice is between wife-swapping, weight-loss, a car chase of some kind, and overseas house renovations, followed by four different kinds of murder series, relieved only by yet another wildly inaccurate recreation of the Tudors. I don't think we're getting programmes actually made by the advertisers yet (not counting Meal in a Minute and all its siblings), but plans are afoot overseas, so it won't be long.

Meanwhile, how do the "creatives" grab our attention? Simple - they tell even more blatant lies than usual. In the case of a Mr Mitchell and a Mr Dyer, they decide to promote an upcoming TV programme (I'm deliberately not naming it) with "guerilla" tactics. This involved upsetting their own colleagues with a fake walk-out, inventing a fake ad agency (launched in a strip club, natch), and promoting it with fake ads featuring cutely retro sexism and homophobia.

Did the punters notice? Not really. Only when the clever creatives branched out into anti-Semitism (with posters reading "Advertising Agency seeks clients. All business considered, even from Jews") did they get the level of attention they were looking for - if not exactly the right kind.

Their client, Prime, didn't seem too distressed - its marketing head is reported as saying the furore "hadn't put him off guerilla advertising", and Prime "is now consistently using this tactic" because it gives "big impact on a small budget".

This matters, of course, because the more people who watch, the more Prime can charge for the ads that are the real point of screening anything.

So why should we care? Because simply selling something is not a good enough reason to behave like this. No reason is good enough to behave like this. But in a world where even negative attention is better than none, those who don't think anything goes can't win.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I was mildly interested in that show, and now, thanks to the wonders of guerrilla marketing, I don't think I could care less.