Monday, February 2, 2015

Fear and Advertising

I saw this commercial recently for Schick where the premise of the commercial is that of a man that shows up for an interview and while sitting in the lobby of the office awaiting the interview he notices that the pictures of the executives are all bald. To gain an advantage in the interview he runs out and shaves his head using a Schick razor and the commercial ends with the other men with obvious concern.

Perhaps this speaks to some men, but honestly it makes me never want to buy a Schick razor - EVER. The message is that it is OK to present yourself as someone you are not in order to get the job. But what happens when after a few days on the job he and his manager realizes that culturally he isn't a good fit or that he has to compromise more than just his hair in order to be successful at this company?

It is yet another sad attempt by marketers to tell us we need to act a certain way to get ahead in business and it is patently false. And unfortunately it is another in a long line of examples recently that show how advertisers continue to chase some idea about who we are as consumers that just doesn't line up with our real values.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article in January about this tweet from Denny's in September of 2014. According to the article,
"The message, which to teens translates to "these hash browns are on point," garnered almost 30,000 retweets and was seen in the advertising industry as something of a social media marketing masterstroke. Taco Bell & IHOP later sent out their own tweets using the phrase "on fleek" looking to get in on the action."
The article goes on to discuss that while these examples may generate some buzz it also has the opportunity to 'provoke eye rolling' for the obvious attempt at trying to act cool. The problem is that consumers see straight through weak attempts to be something that you aren't. This example is punctuated by the sad copy cat nature of Taco Bell and IHOP's attempt to use the same phrase later the same day. It is all akin to your dad using some slang term that is an obvious break from character and only serves to prove how out of touch he really is with your culture.

The problem is fear keeps advertisers from being themselves. Fear of becoming irrelevant. Fear of watching a competitor get free media recognition and getting left behind. Fear of missing out on the next big trend.

But all this fear causes these companies to end up in a different place than their customers or their market over time and they lose focus on who they actually are at their core... or maybe they never knew who they were to begin with.

The impact of fear was just reinforced last night during the Super Bowl of commercials. While there were some good engaging commercials there were many that just completely missed the audience. The Chevy truck commercial and the Lindsay Lohan esurance commercial were examples but the one that was particularly impacted by fear was this one that tried to shove fear down our throats.

It shows a small child not fulfilling any of his dreams because he died and if his family only had insurance... wait insurance can't bring your child back. It was offensive to many families that have lost a young child and it did not resonate with their audience as evidenced by the many negative tweets and as of the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl had over 600 thumbs down to 200 thumbs up on Youtube.

I'm continually amazed when marketers get lazy and fall back on the use of fear as a sales approach - focus on product benefits and stop sowing the seeds of fear. It is never more apparent that a company's culture is impacted by fear than when a company tries to sell on fear.

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