Before I get to the point of my article, if you want to argue the point that TV advertising is dead and TV in general is dead and we'll all be walking around on moving sidewalks like the Jetsons in the next 5-10 years, fine. Just leave your thoughts in the comment section and I will respond in kind with a reply which essentially says "you're out of your mind."
Ok, now that we have that out of the way. A few years ago I posed the following query: What makes a TV commercial memorable? And follow up question, is it the product you remember or just the commercial itself? I was very curious to see what people thought when they saw a given TV commercial. Did they remember the spot itself?
Did they remember the brand? Both? Kind of goes without saying that if you're a brand manager or brand marketer or advertiser, etc. if given the choice you would rather people remember your brand or product, right?
I received quite a number of replies to my query and I want to share some of them with you and I also want to see, based on your comments, if you think anything has changed in the years since I first asked the question. Some findings:
- Humor was definitely the most-oft used word to describe what makes a commercial memorable.
- Other words that came up a lot were "tagline" and "jingle"
- Many mentioned the use of an iconic-type character as being an integral part of making a commercial stand out from the pack.
- Another person took it a step further and delved deeper into the heart of the advertising matter (BTW, this is a great, GREAT point): "Advertising, especially TV commercials can get customers in the door only one time. After that, it's up the seller to build trust and loyalty."
The last comment ties in perfectly by the way with someone I wrote last year entitled "Social Media's Dirty Little Secret" which essentially said the same thing only in the context of social media. Doesn't matter how good you are at social media and/or advertising and marketing.
What gets people coming back and becoming loyal customers is a) a quality product, service or ware and b) sold at a good price. Here's some of the answers I received in their entirety:
- "Heart and or Humor. One that tickles the funny bone, makes you laugh out loud and call a person in the other room ... "Hey, you've gotta come see this commercial ..." On the flip side, one that pulls at the heart strings, or even at times rips the heart right out of your chest with power, energy or fear, causing you to pause and think. Makes you say "wow!" They only come along so often. Product is not always the most memorable part - think of how many times you've said, "I saw this great commercial, don't remember exactly what it was for, but ..." I seem to remember product on the powerful serious spots - less so on the funny commercials where sometimes the punchline over powers product."
- "It is best done with an icon, a grabbing tag line, a memorable jingle, and humor, with the icon and the brand tied together...Examples: "Energizer Bunny" or "Tony the Tiger" for Kellogg cereal. To stand out and become memorable, it must be unconventional. The conventional is boring, and immediately forgotten, because it never engages the consumer."
- "If you don't remember the product or service, the ad is a failure. The ad should address a need, demonstrate how the product or service meets the need, and do it in a compelling, memorable way, with a device known as a hook. 25 years after it ran, people still remember Wendy's "Where's the beef?" ad. It is a great example of saying, "Wendy's burgers are so big, they stick out from the bun. The other guys' burgers are so small, you have to look for the patty!" Beautiful. Dang. Now I'm hungry for a Wendy's burger."
- "Generally for me, a TV spot has to score high in 2 areas to be memorable: sheer entertainment value and disruption/thought-provoking ability. That second category covers those few ingenious spots every year that go completely against the settled order of things to really achieve something different. As for whether I remember the product or just the commercial itself, that varies. But I bet you a dollar to a donut that those of us in the biz latch on to the sponsor probably five times more often than the average viewing Joe or Jane -- so if we're inconsistent in our recall, imagine how they do on that score."
- "Commercials that portray people getting hurt are most memorable, i.e. falling off the ladder, walking into the glass door, the football player hitting office workers. Interestingly, I can't say for certain which products they were pitching."
Getting hurt, falling you say? You mean like this one that's currently running for Sears?
By the way I love this spot for Sears. I love how it starts off one way then very quickly and quite humorously takes you in another direction. And no, it did not cause me to go buy an appliance from Sears but I did remember that it was for Sears in the first place. More replies:
- "It's just the commercial people remember. Many people (myself included) sometimes refer to the bunny as the Eveready Bunny. Don' think that's what the Energizer people want."
- "Stupid commercials are the most memorable, followed by funny ones. I tend to remember a commercial first then the product."
- "I produced commercials for ESPN for a few years. My experience as a producer and as a consumer tells me it's the commercial."
- "A human truth engagingly presented. Most TV commercials are not effective because either a.The writer would rather be in Hollywood or b.The client thinks the world is fascinated by his brand.
Effective TV advertising is all about the consumer and filling her needs: emotional, rational or both." I think this last comment has a lot of merit. I absolutely think that a lot of copywriters - and creative directors and other various agency personnel as well as those on the client side have visions of Hollywood dancing in their heads when they conceive and create and produce many TV spots. In other words they are trying to inflate their own ego rather than focusing on what's really important - selling! I also believe this last comment has merit from the perspective many clients/brands/advertisers have a distorted view of what the real world thinks of their product.
Depends On The Brand
Back in August my friend David Brier wrote a piece for Fast Company "What Every CEO Can Learn From Best Buy's (Continued) Branding Mistakes." What David was referring to was Best Buy's new tagline "Making Technology Work for You" which he thought was horrible on many levels as did I. The reason I bring this up is I thought the new Best Buy tagline was horrible for the simple reason they didn't need to be so literal.
The have an established level of brand equity which earns them the right to be creative, fun, offbeat, wacky even in their tagline. And I think the same holds true for advertising and in this case, TV advertising. If a brand is well established - and those brands know who they are, that should afford them to be creative, fun, offbeat, wacky even in their TV spots. I'm not saying that if a brand has established equity they can do whatever they want.
No, far from it.
Brand equity is sacred and is earned for sure. There is a level of trust that is inherent in brand equity. But a brand can still let it's collective hair down now and then, right?
The Sears commercial is a great example. Do you really think someone who was considering buying an appliance made their purchase decision to buy from Sears or not based on that commercial? Do you really think if someone who watched it then thought 'Well that commercial was terrible. I was going to buy a refrigerator at Sears, but not now."
Conversely if your brand does not have the equity of a Sears that does not necessarily mean they need to play it close to the vest. Heck no. Have fun. Be funny. Use humor. If applicable. Just remember to convey your message so that someone watching it remembers you and your brand first. If they remember the spot too, that's a bonus.
One Final Thing
This is arguably my favorite commercial of all time. If not, it's in the top 10. You should instantly recognize it and even after all these years I still remember it AND the product.
Named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred, Steve Olenski is a senior content strategist at Responsys, a leading global provider of on-demand email and cross-channel marketing solutions.