So you’re in a bar, and you see an attractive member of the opposite sex. Do you:
A: Drink enough to have the courage to walk over there and say hello?
B: Hope they drink enough so that they walk over to you?
C: Spend the night trying to catch their eye but look away too quickly when they do?
D: Send an SMS message to your entire contact book for suitable chat up lines and they walk over and screw it up?
I’m willing to bet my special pair of underpants that D is the least popular option, yet it’s the premise for a TV advert for a major Internet services initiative from a leading mobile operator.
Then there’s an advert for televisions that prompted Charlie Brooker to Tweet thus:
“The ** ad about life being a meaningless trap until you realise you’re free to enjoy the ‘seamless entertainment’ of their TVs is terrifying”
Terrifying indeed. Terrifying in terms of just how poor some advertising agencies are at interpreting the trend of giving products an emotional narrative.
And PRs isn’t immune to it either. Last year I advised on a pitch for a product-based technology company. While the prospect had a specific challenge around its brand perception, its primary remit was to sell more stuff, so you’d think drawing out the link between PR and sales would have been paramount?
Ignoring my advice (and that of my boss) 80-odd slides later we saw plenty of unicorns and rainbows but not one slide that explicitly said “we will help you sell more kit.” Needless to say, we didn’t win the account.
In all of these examples the line has been crossed between creating a compelling narrative and getting carried away with the “soft stuff”. It’s easily done, especially when the tangent you shoot off at is infinitely more interesting than the initial problem you’re trying to crack, but it’s also guaranteed to backfire, either with public ridicule (Windows 7 party adverts?), poor sales and/or lost clients or failed pitches.
That’s not to say that advertising and PR agencies shouldn’t be bold in trying to elevate product messages into something more inspiring and engaging, rather that need to keep in mind that the overall goal is generally to sell stuff.
After all, how many of us have really had an emotional connection with a piece of technology? How many lives have been enriched to the point of enlightenment by the arrival of a new TV or PC?
If we’re honest, modern technology in general makes small, but marked improvements to our daily lives such as being able to check work email on the train not the frankly nonsensical idea that some bloke in his mid-thirties is sad enough to have to SMS or IM his mates for a chat up line.
While the concept of “incremental mildly significant enhancements” may not be the brief that most agencies want to receive, it what consumers in the main will respond to and it’s the job of the creative sector to weave some magic around that…