Saturday, July 03, 2004

Commercials are Pointless

Let's say you turn on the TV and see a commercial for the new, rugged Toyota 4Runner.

On a scale of 1 to a million, how much is this commercial going to influence the purchase of your next vehicle? Me personally, I think zero. Maybe some of you out there, 2? 1 and a half? So basically, diddly. I don't know what kind of budget a Toyota 4Runner commercial has, but I'm guessing it's in the hundreds of thousands. A lot of people worked for a long time and for a lot of money to make that 4Runner spot. Union guys, actors, someone had to get a permit to shoot on the beach. The legal team had to come in and check the fine print.

And for what? Let's say that God steps in to do the post game analysis of the commercial. He uses his divine perception to determine how many individuals bought a 4Runner due to the influence of the commercial. Let's say, nationwide, it was 20. That's about $800,000 in sales. But the commercial cost half a mil to make and another mil to put on the national airwaves. So the final score for the commercial: -$700,000.

But that's not all. In addition to the whole enterprise losing 700K for Toyota, they annoyed and irritated millions of people relaxing at home.

Here's what Toyota might say in its defense: Commercials are designed to work subconsciously, establishing "brand awareness" and creating good feelings toward the brand. Even if this doesn't result in an immediate sale, it can bring in sales down the road and add strength to the image of the brand.

Okay, here's my response: 1) More is happening subconsciously than you're allowing for. People these days are bombarded with so much marketing and so many ads that most savvy consumers have created subconscious barriers that tune out and reject ads automatically. 2) Every car that Toyota is competing against also has ads. In the long run, the brand awareness and positive image is a wash, because every competitive brand is doing the same thing.

If Pepsi was a substantially better soda than Coke, everybody would buy Pepsi and no one would buy Coke. People do have personal preferences between the two, but neither is objectively a better product than the other. They will always share the cola market. Perpetually. There is no need to raise awareness of Coke. Everyone is familiar with it. There is no need to try to make the case that coke is better than pepsi. People already know what they think. When Pepsi spends millions in Superbowl ads, they are just wasting their money.

Remember Starbucks, home of the sippy lid? Starbucks is one of the biggest consumer success stories of the last decade.

When was the last time you saw a Starbucks ad?

Honestly, advertising just doesn't work. I can't remember the last time a commercial convinced me to try a product. Sometimes, a commercial will make me aware of something, like an upcoming movie, that I didn't know about, and that may spark some interest. But that exception aside, commercials are all costly failures.

What they do very effectively though is create waste and irritation in our lives. They clutter our existence. They interrupt more important things. And I'm not just talking about TV spots. I'm talking billboards, bus station ads, logos behind home plate, radio ads, internet ads, the whole caboodle. Everywhere they appear they cheapen our lives, and they appear everywhere.

I'm going to spend a few more days talking about commercials. How they mess with your head, how they're adapting to the modern consumer and what the future might hold...

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