Some people overthink TV advertising.
It seems to me that if you want to sell a product on TV, you hold up whatever it is you’re selling, and tell people it’s good and explain why it’s good. If people believe you, then your commercial worked. If they don’t, it didn’t.
The thing is, the best way to sell something — again it seems to me — is to be confident that what you’re selling is worth selling. If you’re not confident, you have to resort to what a former TV boss of mine used to call “weasel words.” When you resort to those, it’s easier to overthink your advertising strategy.
One of the most famous cases of overthinking advertising strategy occurred in the 1960s, when some ad agency folks thought it would make a cool commercial if they put a car they were trying to sell on a tall rock tower in some desert out west. It did make for a cool commercial, but there was one problem: Everyone was so taken by the fact that someone was able to get a car on the rock tower that no one could remember anything about the car except that it was on the tower.
That’s overthinking your advertising strategy.
I mention this because lately I’ve been seeing another car commercial in which, I think, advertising strategy has been overthought.
Although I’ve seen the commercial many times in the past few weeks, I have no idea who makes the car, which is sort of a problem.
In the commercial, the car is carrying four people. A guy in the passenger seat looks at the woman driving and says, “We’re going to be late!” The woman smiles, says that they won’t be late, puts the car in gear, drives a few feet and then somehow makes the car fly through the air and land on a train. Because the car is riding on top of a train, the driver beats all the traffic and gets to her company parking lot in time for work.
The first time I saw the commercial, I remember thinking: “Wow, that car can fly and land on a train. I need to get two of those.”
But, the second time I saw the commercial, I noticed a message on the bottom of the screen. The message said something like this: “Cars can’t land on trains. Don’t try this.”
At first I was disappointed, because I had always wanted to land a car on a train and ride it across town. But then I was sort of irritated. I thought to myself: Why would someone make a commercial that basically says, “You should buy this car because it can ride on the top of a train,” and then, in the same commercial, say, “Cars can’t ride on trains”?
Have you ever seen a commercial where a guy in a bar orders a beer, takes a few sips and then suddenly starts flying around fighting crime like Superman while an announcer says, “Drink Super Suds. It will make you fly like Superman,” while at the same time a message appears on the screen that says, “People can’t fly like Superman. Don’t try this”?
Of course not. And do you know why you haven’t seen a commercial like that? Because it would be stupid, that’s why. And there would also be a liability issue because sometimes people who drink too much beer do really stupid things.
But I think you get my point.
Now, if there are any advertising executives out there who disagree with this column and feel an urge to dash off a nasty email, you probably should stop for a second.
You’re overthinking this column.
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