Commentary

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try Anything

I remember talking to a TV producer who shot a comedy pilot he thought went really well, until he had the results of network testing explained to him. The charts showed lots of peaks, where the punch lines were, but there were dips in between, where the straight lines went. Those valleys doomed the project.

I thought about that reading another (in what has become a series) of stories in which some ad or publishing executive insists that consumers don’t mind sitting through commercials if they are the right kinds of commercials.

All you have to do is make good ones.

According to the Wall Street Journal, at the Cannes Lions adfest, Brad Jakeman, head of PepsiCo’s global beverage group, observed,   “We are here celebrating 0.5% of the work that actually gets made. The other 99.5% of the work is generally crap. And when that happens, consumers don’t want to see it.”

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There can’t be many more businesses that are so sure of the fact their product is annoying than advertising, and you wouldn’t get a sustained defense from me either.

On this Cannes panel, Vice Media CEO Shane Smith said the best way to reach consumers is to make commercials that are, in the Journal’s word, “compelling” and those are branded content videos.

Smith said if Vice had a good mountain-climbing movie to make, he’d approach North Face to partner up.

And they’d say yes, in this theoretical world, because North Face is always looking for a good mountain-climbing project.

Basing content on advertising is, in the broadest context, what publishers do.  I don’t see all of the magic of branded content. If I’m a mountain-climbing consumer, I’d guess you’d get me with that piece of branded content. But then, what if there’s another competing mountain-climbing video, featuring a mountain climber I like better?  

All those rules. Make advertising relevant! Compelling! Interesting! Funny! Unique! Make it fit the device!

It seems that first you do have to recognize: You’re not wanted. Consumer surveys about advertising often create the same attitude advertisers do: They just tell you what you want to hear. So like the advice to that TV producer to eliminate comedy’s valleys, it seems that the advice to make better, different  advertising for the digital age is as obvious as it is unclear and impossible.

The solution seems to be, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In fact, the answer seems to be, put your eggs in every basket that comes around.

Publishers aren’t really sure if pushing their content out to Facebook is really good for their business. Publishers and advertisers don’t seem to be really sure of anything, including whether ads are actually seen. Despite all the analytics and measurement devices, it’s probably true that right now we’ve never been more unclear about the impact of any specific thing about how media are impacting opinion, action or sales.

The day before in the Journal, Marisa Thalberg, chief marketing officer at Taco Bell, explained how she was grateful to her younger-aged team for pushing her to buy a “sponsored lens” on Snapchat that garnered 224 million views, and which kept users making funny faces for an average of 24 seconds.

That sounds great but Thalberg told the Journal she’s really unclear what that campaign did for Taco Bell. “Can I tell you what kind of sales lift I got off that lens? No,” Ms. Thalberg told the paper. “But  I wasn’t looking at it that way. That was about creating a special moment for us on Cinco de Mayo.”

It probably kept millions of young Snapchat users happily occupied. It was compelling, in its own way. Did it sell tacos? Hard to know.

pj@mediapost.com

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