Monday, July 05, 2004

Commercials are Doomed

Yeah, their day is over. TV commercials have been with us since the 50s, and admittedly, back then there wasn't any better way to showcase your product. What else were you going to do? Buy a two page spread in Life?

The first commercials were straightforward. They lacked pretense. It was a guy standing next to a Chrysler saying: Buy a Chrysler. I can even remember, from earliest childhood, some of these simple, straightforward, bullshit free commercials. There'd be a dad sitting in his kitchen next to a tub of Land o' Lakes butter, saying "Mmm mmm, Land o' Lakes butter. Frankly it's delicious, and it's priced quite competitively." Back then you couldn't have a commercial with rollerbladers dancing around an animated can of pringles, using its top to pop out a Latin rhythm.

But the point is, commercials have lost their power to sway us, and thus must eventually die. I was reading an article in the Economist the other day where some ad indutry analyst was saying how most companies knew half of their marketing budget was being wasted, they just didn't know which half.

People are watching less TV than ever before. That's the latest factoid that's been buzzing around the media. Young people are choosing to spend evenings on the computer, chatting with friends. And the lure of the computer is only going to get stronger. Man, the best entertainment I could get during my junior high evenings was an episode of Night Court or Quantum Leap. If I had had today's internet back then...

In my opinion, advertising will have to go back to the old fashioned style. Bullshit free. Either that, or it will have to find ever more clever ways to fool us. The 2wenty feels like the end of an era, not the beginning. People have TiVo now. Web browsers have popup blockers. We're getting better at avoiding the ads. People openly boo the ads before movies. We're getting wise to the tricks.

I just saw a commercial for a viagra clone called "Levitra". I have to stop and admire the handiwork. Look at this word, Levita. The central syllable is Vit, very close to the Latin word for life. You think "vital", or "vitamins". But also, the first four letters "Levi" - sounds a bit like levitate? Leve means "stand up" in French. Then the word as a whole: Levitra. Sounds vaguely European? "Le Vitra" - The Life? Maybe Italian or French? Those sure are romantic countries. Those romantic French sure do know about stimulating blood flow to the penis!

The whole word is contructed like a beautiful house of cards, using multiple avenues of subliminal suggestion to make you impressed. And that's just the word. The commercial itself is employing ten other suggestive strategies.

So gone are the days of the Land o' Lakes dad. We live in an age of Cheddar Bay Biscuits. Ads can either get cleverer and cleverer, like Levitra, and consumers will get more and more adept at blocking them. Or, ads can reform. They can get smaller and less obtrusive. Then can stick to simplicity and straightforwardness. Again, consider Starbucks. They don't advertise. Maybe you've seen a fleeting Starbucks ad here and there in a magazine. Maybe you've seen some prominent product placement? Maybe they were a high profile Olympic sponsor? But you've never seen an annoying Starbucks TV ad.

Starbucks is so low key with their marketing that you don't even realize it. I applaud them. They've created great brand awareness for their product, and I can't think of a single time I've seen a Starbucks ad.

Starbucks demonstates conclusively that you don't need commercials. Hopefully, other companies will follow suit and then we'll all be free of this pestilence.

But then what will fund our TV shows? Simple. They'll have to end up being subscription based. Every channel will have to be HBO. Worried about the cost? Don't be. The only people who need to be worried are Kelsey Grammar and Ray Romano who wouldn't be able to get $1 million an episode anymore. Make channels compete against each other for your subscription dollar and the quality will stay high.

I can dream, can't I?

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