I have always been attracted to intelligence. This means that I am happiest when surrounded by intelligent people (preferably in witty or snarky clothing), engaging in intelligent conversation about a myriad of topics. The shows I watch contain intelligent humor, and puns are the jokes I like best.
Sadly, the Internet does not generally have a reputation for being intelligent. It’s like the weird neighbor you don’t want to invite to the party, but who has the best ideas for party games and drink recipes.
And if the Internet is the weird neighbor, television is the creepy uncle who only wants to talk about the latest episode of his favorite stupid “reality” television show.
The Real Problem
Okay, so television isn’t that bad. It’s really advertising with whom I have a love/hate relationship — but mostly it’s hate.
There are scores of studies and articles and books and blogs about how advertising affects people (particularly women), how it’s changed over the years, and predictions of which directions it will be taking in the future. I’m not a psychologist, sociologist, or marketing specialist, so I’ll skip that particular thorny topic — plus, no one needs to hear yet another rant on how advertising is screwing with people. For now I’ll just stick to the basics.
Gouge My Eyes Out
Stupid advertising is everywhere. It can range from just stupid, to degrading, to weird, all the way up to completely revolting. I present below a fine sampling of what I like to call “What the F*ck?!” advertising.
First up is a commercial that panders to the crowd that thinks of women as creatures who have short attention spans and are distracted and entertained by new/pretty objects.
Next up is an old Herbal Essences ad, where the phrase “organic experience” operated as a thin veneer of respectability for a commercial series that seemed to be trying to convince people that a shampoo could be used as a form of sexual satisfaction. I wasn’t completely in on “the secret” when these commercials were on television, but even then I knew something was awkward about them.
And last is one in a series of commercials advertising Windows 7. I’ve never seen these on television–you’ll see why in a moment–but I can’t believe that these are shown anywhere. And yes, Microsoft is responsible for filming and airing these commercials. Warning: This is a disgusting commercial. If vomiting bothers you, I highly suggest you skip this ad.
Okay, enough of this crap. Can we talk about something else now?
Just when it seemed that all was lost, that advertising was sliding into a death spiral from whence there was no return, there came Old Spice.
It’s an unlikely story: Early American Old Spice was actually first released as a women’s perfume in 1937. A year later the men’s fragrance, in the well-known white bottle, was introduced.
Old Spice has spent the last seventy-some years being relegated to the bottom shelf on the cologne aisle. Every man I’ve ever known who wore/wears old spice was well past his 40s — for whatever reason, Old Spice has always been considered cologne for “old men.”
Then, several years ago, Old Spice set about rebranding themselves in the most explosive ways possible. There were several commercials series, but by far the most popular ones are the ones staring Isaiah Mustafa as “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.”
These commercials are some of the best I have ever seen, because they combine humor and wit. They play with the ideas that all ads do, but they manage to do so in a way that is funny rather than demeaning to women or emasculating to men.
The Old Spice campaign is especially clever, I think, because it personalizes the experience. Every person automatically feels closer to things that affect/pertain to him or her, and Old Spice hit the marketing jackpot when they used Twitter to send individual video responses to their followers’ comments.
Not only is it extremely interactive and entertaining, it gets people watching — and that is the point of advertising.
It’s About the Viewer
This isn’t the first case of advertising personalization I’ve run into. More recently I heard about the Discovery Channel’s new series, “The Colony.” It’s hard to find concrete details on what the series will be about, but Discovery is really making it easy to get into it.
Upon visiting the link given on Discovery’s homepage, the visitor is greeted with this message:
A short video introduces the visitor to “The Colony,” and then he or she is invited to join the social experiment by linking up their Facebook account.
Here’s the genius thing: the website auto-populates the comments, messages, and videos with the user’s Facebook page information. Suddenly the user’s friends and family are the ones making comments, posting videos, and contracting the mystery virus.
If personalization gets people interested, I can imagine that a lot of people are now waiting for the July 27 premiere of “The Colony.” It’s a brilliant example of self-marketing.
So What Happened?
There are many, many more examples of intelligent advertising, on television, the Internet, and in print. It seems — thank the dear and fluffy Lord — that the rash of reality television may be ending (except on E! Television), and intelligence may be creeping back into the light of day.
A lot of this has to do with personalization. By bringing viewers/users into the loop, either by letting them control what happens or by using their provided information to tailor it to him/her, smart companies are tapping into a powerful marketing tool. I’m more willing to give my money or time to a company whom I feel I know and can trust.
I think companies are starting to see that they need to be catering to their best customers, not to the lowest common denominator. Their efforts to be cleverer could be a direct result of customers demanding it.
The companies who get with the program are likely seeing more sales. And I get to see more clever and better advertising. Intelligence wins again.