Show me a stand up comic whose shtick relies on foul language and I'll show you a comic who isn't all that funny. Show me an ad that relies on shock value to "disrupt the consumer" and I'll show you and ad that won't sell much product.
That's what I thought after reading "Ads Get Down and Dirty to Grab Attention" in today's Money section of USA Today. The article suggests that "creatively implied cursing" is an effective advertising technique. It reviews ads from VW, Dodge, and Comcast where agencies have made "obvious from the context that a character said a banned word--particularly the "s" word popular in slang--but trail off or "bleep" so the actual word is not heard.
More shocking than the ads was the straight-faced defense offered by the agency people who duped their clients into running them. "We ad people try to find ways to call attention to what we're doing," says ad expert Suzanne Powers, chief strategy officer for agency TBWA/Chiat/Day. The "bleep is unexpected. It's an interesting way to disrupt the viewer and do something out of the ordinary." What?! And from the chief "strategy" officer?
Her statement is very telling. Let's break it down.
"We ad people try to find ways to call attention to what we're doing,"
Should ad people be looking for ways to call attention to what they are doing or should they be finding ways to attract the attention of the most likely buyer to their client's product or service? I bet Dodge, VW, and Comcast didn't spend all that money to create PR opportunities for their agency.
"The bleep is unexpected."
Yes, but then again so are most auto accidents and we try to avoid those. I don't deny that advertising needs to stand out from the background noise of our lives and that the unexpected can accomplish that, but to what end? You can get my attention at a dinner party either by shouting cuss words over the crowd OR by whispering my name. Relevance is more powerful than the unexpected. If you get my attention with the unexpected I will return to whatever I was doing when I see it lacks relevance. However once relevance secures my attention it also attracts me. Have agencies learned nothing from Google? It rose to search engine dominance--and now pay-per-click advertising--by ranking search results by their relevance.
"It's an interesting way to disrupt the viewer and do something out of the ordinary."
Several problems here. "Interesting?" To whom? I'm sure the agency finds its stuff riveting, but how does the consumer feel about being "disrupted?" Ordinarily we ask forgiveness when we disrupt someone. Interrupt a conversation and we say, "Excuse me." Stop a stranger on the street for directions and we say, "I beg your pardon." Why then do advertisers think interruption is a good?
There are those who think advertising consists of finding unexpected ways of disrupting people in order to call attention to what you are doing, but that definition also describes something else--terrorism. Whether it's a car bomb or the f-bomb is just a matter of degree. Spread the fire. GS