The Advertising Apprentice

October 28, 2009

Advertising is…

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 10:30 AM
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Consider the following question:

Is advertising business, communication or entertainment?

Personally I think it’s a combination of all three.

There are many reasons advertising can be considered a business. First of all, advertising isn’t done for free. You don’t decide you want to air an ad during the Super Bowl and only pay for the cost of producing the commercial, which in itself can run in the millions. (I further discuss the cost to air an ad during the Super Bowl below.)

Advertising is a very lucrative business, last year advertising spending in the U.S. alone was close to $142 BILLION! On the topic of money, over half of all marketing expenditures are spent on trade marketing, that is incentives used by manufacturers to get the product through to the retailers. A third is spent on consumer promotions and a fifth is spent on consumer advertising. This was the case in 2004 as reported by Promo Magazine.

Advertising is communication because it fosters communication with your target audience. You have a product/service that you want to promote, how are you going to do that? By communicating with them the advantages of your product, where/how they can buy it, its price, etc. Unless you’re going up to each and every one of your customers you’re going to be doing this on a mass communication level through advertising.

Advertising has the difficult challenge of getting through in the communication process and being heard over the noise; being everything trying to get a person’s attention, including a significant amount of other advertisements. Literally thousands of sources are trying to communicate with you each and every day from the time you open your eyes in the morning until the time your head hits the pillow at night.

Further advertising is communication because that’s how it has been defined by Encarta: a form of commercial mass communication designed to promote the sale of a product or service, or a message on behalf of an institution, organization, or candidate for political office.

Advertising is entertainment because every once and a while you get those gems that captivate people. These are also usually the ads that win Clios, Cannes Lions and other awards. Look at the Super Bowl, sure millions of people tune in to watch an incredible football game but how many millions of non-sports fans tune in to catch the commercials, especially for the water cooler conversation it seems to generate not only the next day, but for weeks to come.

Further look at the general discussion it generates when it’s done well, poorly, or without taste from not only people within the industry, but also the general public. Very few professions have their work scrutinized as much as advertisers. If you are a computer programmer and you do a good job developing code for some software what are the chances of the public even being cognizant of your achievement? Similarly, you’re a banker that just found a way to save a client a ton of money; the recognition you receive will be limited to the client and maybe your boss.

To further illustrate my point that advertising is business, that advertising is communication and that advertising is entertainment, I included the same Gatorade commercial from this year’s Super Bowl for each category. Try telling Pepsi Co., who spent $3 million for the 30-thirty second spot that advertising isn’t business! Just by watching this commercial you know that there is a message they are communicating, and therefore advertising is communication. Finally this ad shows that advertising is entertaining because you probably were entertained in watching what these people define what G means to them. (To save you some time in searching the Internet to find out who they are, I’ve listed them below in order of appearance.)

(This press release provides more in-depth information from Gatorade regarding the vision of the ad.)

This very blog shows how advertising can be business, communication and entertainment. In the business sense I may not be generating money but I often submit this blog as a sample of the writing skills I possess. If I get a job based on the writing in this blog then it would certainly show how advertising is business. Further this blog shows how advertising is communication because I pick an advertising topic and I communicate my ideas about it through the blog. Finally, if advertising wasn’t entertaining do you think I’d be able to sustain writing weekly blog entries for the past couple months? Or keep a constant stream of visitors to this website for that matter?

Those are my thoughts on what is advertising but ultimately it is up to the beholder. Depending on many different factors you may see it differently. If this is the case then share your thoughts below in the comments section.

The idea I wish to end this entry on is that as I’ve shown advertising can be a fusion of business, communication and entertainment. However, this is by no means exhaustive; advertising can be and is so much more. It’s educational when used through a PSA to create and raise awareness for a cause. It’s innovative when a new approach is used to create an ad and when the advertiser really uses that outside of the box approach we all strive for. It is also career for hundreds of thousands of people across the world.


October 21, 2009

Putting Product Placement in the Picture


[While watching a hockey game on TSN I saw this new Windows 7 commercial:

I have to say this seems like a relatively new concept, product placement within a commercial. Going by how obvious the placement of the Sony VAIO laptop is within several shots, you know that this wasn’t coincidental. Some sort of arrangement was definitely struck between the two companies.]

Ok so this week’s topic won’t be nearly as stimulating as my previous entry on sex in advertising; but it will be just as informative, insightful and thought provoking!

In Essentials of Contemporary Advertising, Arens et al. define product placement as paying a fee to have a product prominently displayed in a movie or TV show. I do have issue with the word prominently. If you’re paying to have your product shown you want it to be seen, but not thrown in people’s faces. When product placement is used it’s usually done so in a much more subtle than what Arens and company would lead you to believe. Not all examples of product placement are as blatant as Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle:

As an advertiser and someone with great attention to detail I love watching a TV show or movie and trying to pick up that bag of Doritos or that bottle of Coke that has been intentionally put in the shot as a subtle plug for said product. After enough exposures you should be able to pick-up on the product, i.e. the glasses of Coke on the desk for the American Idol judges.

One of the earliest examples of product placement comes to us from Steven Spielberg’s The Extra Terrestrial.  The scene was written into the movie where Elliott would lure E.T. with some candy. Initially Mars was offered the placement but they passed and producers then went to Hershey to see if they’d be interested. In exchange for Reese’s Pieces candy being used in the movie Hershey didn’t pay any money but rather had to promote the movie. This reportedly cost them $1 million. Their return on investment was significant as sales soon surged 65%.

(I bet Mars Inc.’s then Chief Marketing Officer is still kicking himself for passing on the opportunity for M&Ms to appear in a movie that has grossed close to $800 million! Though you can’t blame them for not shelling out $1 million for a then unproven advertising technique.)

Of course product placement isn’t limited to just television and movies, you can also see it in video games. In an effort to reach a specific audience, Barack Obama teamed up with Electronic Arts to place Obama ads in nine E.A. games.

(In case you’re wondering this was my not-so-subtle attempt at product placement! Other than working on my subtlety I also have to work on the getting paid from the company that owns the product part!)

All jokes aside The Age of Persuasion How Marketing Ate Our Culture written by Canadian advertising greats Terry O’Reilly and Mike Tennant, the same duo responsible for The Age of Persuasion radio show aired on CBC Radio, is being released next Tuesday on October 27th. If you have any interest in the advertising industry, which considering how you’re reading my blog I seriously hope you do, you’ll definitely want to read this book!

A few years ago I wrote an essay on product placement. In doing research for this week’s entry I revisited that essay to see if my opinions have changed now that I have a better understanding of the industry. I was taken aback as I read this essay in which I made a valiant effort at arguing “advertising in society is effective because of the strengths of product placement in the different mediums in which it appears.”

I clearly gave product placement more credence than what it deserves, but back then I was young, naive and a little too wet behind the ears! Today I’m reluctant to give product placement that much credit despite the fact that product placement spending in 2004 was close to $3.5 billion.

I think product placement is an important component to the advertising industry, but it does not make the industry. It forces creatives to get creative and come up with new and innovative ways to incorporate their clients’ products into a TV show or movie. With products like TiVo and PVRs product placement/integration is necessary for reaching the audience. As it becomes more prevalent, the audience will become immune to it and will start ignoring it just like they do with conventional 30-second commercials. And in turn product placement will become less effective.

October 4, 2009

Does Sex Sell?

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 5:02 PM
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Ah the age old debate, what, if any, place does sex have in advertising. Since we are not living in a Puritan society it’s safe to say that sex does have a place in advertising. Everyone has an opinion on this topic (there is even an entry on Wikipedia on the subject), including yours truly. If you’ll indulge me I’ll explain my viewpoint.

In previous posts I’ve discussed such hot-button issues as racism in advertising and shock value in advertising.  The discussion on shock-value alludes to the use of sex in advertising with the reference I made to the Flirt Vodka ads.

To begin the discussion, have a look at this video:

By the way October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

After watching the video what are your thoughts? Did you just open a new browser so that you could Google Booby Ball? Are you now considering donating money to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation? If you said, “yes” to either question the use of the attractive young woman walking around a pool in bikini in slow motion was an effective way of reaching you!

Personally I just see it as another ad using an attractive woman to sell a product/service. They’ve come up with a carnal way of attracting and retaining our attention span for a minute long PSA on breast cancer. Had that been a shorter 30-second PSA spouting out all these stats there’s no way it would have garnered nearly as many views, nor would it have received attention south of the border on news outlets such as CNN, ABC, and The Huffington Post.

I could provide examples ad nauseum of advertising campaigns that have used sex to sell a product or service. But the content of these examples probably would likely fall under the NSFW category. Instead let’s have a look at what advertising experts have to say.

On this subject David Ogilvy in Ogilvy on Advertising said “Some copywriters, assuming that the reader will find the product as boring as they do, try to inveigle him into their ads with pictures of babies, beagles and bosoms.” This observation is particularly true when considering the Save the Boobs commercial.

I again ask would Booby Ball have received as much attention if it was a 63 second clip of a monotone narrator spewing out a bunch of facts about breast cancer meanwhile the images were of a woman getting a mammogram? Obviously the answer is no. I realize I’m repeating myself here but I’m doing it intentionally to drive home the idea that despite the supposed controversy this ad has stirred, it had to be done to get our attention. Did the above ad generate awareness attention for breast cancer? Of course, but the issue lies in how many people actually registered for the event because of seeing that ad? Was this ad effective in generating action? It’s an answer that the organizers of the event will hopefully provide.

Bob Garfield, advertising critic with Advertising Age, chimes in on the topic in his book And Now A Few Words From Me; “The problem is that so much advertising sex is neither charming nor artful nor remotely to the point. Sex is employed so haphazardly, so excessively, and very often so abusively that it frequently does more harm than good.” Garfield here is reinforcing what Ogilvy said in that the use of sex in advertising must be relevant.

It seems that other than advertisements for fashion and alcohol, the only time you see sex used is when the product/service is “boring” or not that exciting. In my opinion advertising for products with sexual inferences like birth control, erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra or Cialis, or lubricant are tame by comparison to other product classes. I’ve never seen an ad for Trojan showing two people rushing to get each other’s clothes off and then stopping when they realize neither has a condom followed by the tagline along the lines of “No glove, no love” and the Trojan logo. I’m sure Ogilvy would find that a relevant use of sex in advertising!

As far as I am concerned using sex in advertising works in attracting attention for your product/service. But in order to retain attention you need to use something to back it up. It goes back to the debate on shock-value. Is there any value in the “shock” or is it just about getting attention and hoping that the sexual tone of the ad is successful in generating action?

There’s a parallel here between the use of sex in advertising and the use of humour in advertising. Just like how you can’t remember the specific product being advertised in that funny commercial you saw last week, I’m confident that a week from now you won’t be able to recall what was being advertised in that commercial with a well-endowed girl parading around a pool in a bikini.

poll conducted by the Institute of Communication Agencies and Leger Marketing found that only 7% of Canadians feel that sexually persuasive advertising is effective. This is compared with the 67% of Canadians that find humour-based advertising to be the best method of connecting with the audience. These results reinforce what Ogilvy said, “Advertising reflects the mores of society, but does notinfluence them.” It’s clear that the Canadian society appreciates a good laugh in an ad more than they appreciate an ad that stimulates their carnal emotions.

The other issue to consider is if sex does sell, where is the line? As advertisers we always try to best our competition and/or ourselves by pushing the envelope. When dealing with sex in advertising we have to watch that we don’t cross that line and reach a point where there is nothing tasteful about it.

To answer the headline question, yes sex does indeed sell. But the truth lies in finding out to what extent it sells. So relying on the above referenced survey and considering Ogilvy’s observations when advertising to Canadians unless your product has to do with sex, you are better off and using humour to sell your product instead of sex. For instance an advertisement for a mattress showing it’s durability could easily use a sexual tone and feature two people about to be intimate or you could use a humourous tone and show a couple children jumping around on the bed.

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