Despite Marshall McLuhan's assertion that television advertising was the "greatest art form of the Twentieth Century," reports of the demise of television and inefficacy of television advertising have been around since . . . well just about the dawn of television advertising. The greater number of entertainment and information options we have, however, the more time we spend watching TV -- a mind-numbing 8 hours and 21 minutes a day per household for the 2008-2009 season. And if a recent experience here at BrandCultureTalk is any indication, folks aren't just still watching TV, they're still watching the ads as well.
See if you recognize this Ford spot:
Although this minor masterpiece created by JWT Team Detroit may not find a home on the Superbowl, it has run almost every where else. CNN. Desperate Housewives. NFL and NBA games. The Food Network. House. HG TV. The World Series. Stanford stunning USC out on the gridiron. Ubiquitous saturation of the airwaves across eclectic genres, fourteen seconds at a time.
Our interest in the impact of this ad is more than passing. Somewhat inexplicably, this fine performance features talent not heretofore known for acting, but that of a co-worker who happens to be one of BrandCulture's greatest brand-builders of all time. As part of a continuing advertising trend to feature "real people" instead of professional actors (see what Volkswagen did in the UK with the Tiguan), Ford concealed its intent while creating its "Drive One" campaign: "In fact, these people didn’t know that it was Ford filming them, or that they would be used in commercials."
What are the results of all of this verisimilitude? Setting aside for a moment the issue of whether these spots moved any metal, they inarguably skyrocketed our co-worker's own awareness. While not yet as well known as Jared or Verizon's "can you hear me now guy," our young hero has achieved no small amount of fame as "the guy from the Ford commercial." The modern-day Los Angeles equivalent of the butcher, baker and candlestick maker stop him on the streets. Peet's baristas hail him from afar and craft custom beverages for him. The fellow who brings sandwiches around our office building admitted he caught a glimpse of the ad while watching a basketball game he'd TiVoed and then went back to watch the spot. Schoolchildren query him at playgrounds on how they too can appear on television by talking about a car gas cap, or, more accurately, lack thereof.
The Ad Contrarian recently opined that the problem with television advertising isn't that it doesn't work, but there are too many channels fracturing the audience. This latest BrandCulture foray into a focus group of one reveals that if you maintain enough frequency and breadth with television advertising, you can still reach your intended audience (in this case the American motoring public) . . . and then some. We also believe that television advertising still is a powerful tool to drive brand familiarity and awareness. That said, we also believe brands can't pretend to be something they're not, no matter how high the advertising spend. Hollow assertions can make beautiful ads -- and beautiful castles in air -- that ultimately undermine and destroy brand value. When building a brand, begin with an idea, develop the creative and only then communicate and broadcast it. And what's the idea here? Finding out what drivers actually value in their cars instead of stylized shots on winding country roads in crepuscular light? This might just be simple enough to work.
We're with 19th century retailer John Wanamaker and his insight, "I know that half of my advertising doesn't work. The problem is, I don't know which half." Heaven forfend that we fall prey to the logical fallacy common among advertising professionals and market researchers alike of conflating correlation with causation. Still, we'd like to think that the exceptional talent resident at BrandCulture helped fuel at least part of that billion dollars in profit Ford earned last quarter, albeit adding an entirely new dimension to our more traditional consulting services.