Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Why Ads Are So Stupid.

Before I start my weekly rant, I owe you all a huge apology for handing out a rotten link. You may recall that last week, while talking about the Internet Consultant's Defense Kit (How NOT To Get Stiffed), I referred you to additional tips on how to keep your ass out of trouble with clients and customers, by suggesting you download Our Top Ten Ways of Saving Your Butt, conveniently located one click away at the Frankel & Anderson web site.

Many of you did just that, and followed up by notifying me of a nasty 404 when you clicked. Fear not, this week's link really does work. I think. Hey, I'm human -- if you click me, do I not bleed?

Okay, so much for the humility thing.

One of the most often asked questions I get is, "Why are ads so stupid?" It's happens to be one of my favorite questions, too, because it allows me to expose one of the great mysteries that affects each and every one of us out here trying to make a buck. And the answer is so simple that you won't believe it:

Ads are stupid because the people who create them are, for the most part, really stupid. And the reason I wanted to apprise you of this is so you won't repeat their goofs at your expense.

A big mistake that lots of people make in business is looking to the big guys to see what they do, and then trying to emulate them on a smaller scale. The reason that's a recipe for disaster is that advertising is not about spending money -- it's about spending what you have as efficiently as you can. But just because you have lots of money doesn't mean you're spending it efficiently. On the contrary: when you have mega-bucks, the chances for waste go sky high, mainly because the pressure is off to spend wisely.

After all, spending at a rate of more than a million bucks a day, will anyone at General Motors really notice if those promotional mylar cheese straighteners actually moved an extra Buick? I think not. But just think what would happen to your business if somebody dropped an extra ten thousand on an ad that simply sat there like a lox.

Boy, would there be yelling.

The fact is that the dynamics of advertising are different for everyone, at every level, in every business. Even looking across the street at your local competitor can be dangerous. I can't tell you the number of clients who tell me they run radio spots here or banner ads there because that's what their competition does. Oh yeah? Well what made the competition such media mavens? How do you know that they didn't follow someone else's misguided notions? Do they have more or less to spend than you do?

When it comes to Stupid Advertising, remember what your mother said and ask yourself, "If your competition jumped off the Empire State Building, would YOU?" That's called Stupid Media. Don't fall for it.

Don't fall for Stupid Creative, either. You know the stuff I mean. Wacko images nobody understands but are too afraid to admit to. These are usually created by Big Agency people with pierced body parts and greasy pony tails. People who wear sunglasses in dimly lit rooms. In short, morons who are far more concerned with selling their screenplays than they are your products.

Good, effective creative advertising is clear, not obtuse. Your prospects shouldn't have to wear a decoder rings to decipher your advertising message. But if you were to follow the big ad agencies' lead, you'd think the more mentally-challenged the campaign, the more successful you'd be.

Wrong. It's just another advertising illusion. And here's why:

Originally, the ad business was all about media: it took a real skill to know where to place an ad, and more importantly, where NOT to. That way, a client could spend his money more efficiently reaching only the most likely prospects. Gradually, the industry began to add value to their media buys by tailoring specific creative executions to specific audiences.

In the late 1950's, the creative aspect of advertising vaulted past media as the darling of marketing. Entire brands were launched on sheer personality. Until the 1970's or so, marketing, research, media and creative departments pretty much worked as a team, which is why advertising rose to become such a powerful sector in our economy. Account and research handed off marketing strategies to the creative team, who figured out the most powerful way to execute that strategy.

But that was a generation ago. Almost all of those people -- and their skills -- are gone. Today, you can walk into any major ad agency and ask the creative team the marketing strategy behind their clients' products; the most you'll get is a blank stare. Yet these are the very dopes who are given license to direct the creative executions of multi-million dollar advertising budgets.

NOW you can appreciate why big clients HAVE to spend multi-million dollar ad budgets: when their agency's creative product doesn't effectively deliver their marketing message, they have to spend many millions more to drive their points home.

You want an example? Look at Chiat/Day's campaign for Nissan. Won lots of awards -- from other advertising creative types. Won death threats from Nissan dealers because it sank Nissan sales in the toilet. And you know what Nissan spends on advertising every year? More than ten times your net worth, day in and day out, every day of the year.

And that's just one example. The advertising industry is rife with illusions. But just because the big boys do it doesn't mean you should. The fact is that they're NOT as smart as you are; it's just that when it comes to paying for mistakes, they can do it with a company credit card.

Rob Frankel

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