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Advertising’s Dirty Little Secret

Here comes my first advertising-related post, which is from my editorial in DM News.

Yesterday Lexus lost the opportunity to sell me a new car. They also wasted enormous advertising dollars while allowing their agency to take them down the “advertising as art” path that continues to plague the advertising industry.

Last night my wife and I had cuddled up with our TIVO, ready to watch a little “pre-selected” TV, when I noticed an ad on the TIVO main screen for the new Lexus. Since I’m curious about the Lexus, I was excited to click through. I wanted details that would potentially convert me to a buyer. What does the car look like? Tell me about the available interiors and special features. Is there a hybrid model, and what are the mileage stats and technical specifications? Basically, I wanted a video test drive and sales overview without an annoying pushy salesman breathing down my neck, and getting it via TIVO seemed like a great option.

Instead, Lexus delivered two little art films; one hosted by a Belgian chef extolling the wonders of chocolate, and the other featuring a French winemaker singing the glories of Champagne. At the end of each film there was a three or four second shot of a car – a Lexus I am assuming – but I can’t be sure because it came and went so fast. These were lovely films with very high production standards, and I am sure the agency creative team that created them had a ball traveling around Europe shooting them. But the concept had nothing to do with Lexus, and the attempt to elevate the Lexus brand by associating it with chocolate and champagne was a silly waste of money.

This is a classic illustration of Madison Avenue’s dirty little secret. Many advertising professionals don’t want to work in advertising. They want to be film makers or fashion designers or movie directors, and they have hijacked advertising in an attempt to use it as a bridge to their desired careers.

OK – a caveat here. There is certainly a lot of very effective and incredibly creative advertising out there that does make me want to buy a product. For instance, I love the new Chiat Day work for Apple that combines creativity with product salesmanship that makes me want to purchase the products on several levels.

But many agencies are doing their clients an enormous disservice by ignoring the real intent of advertising. Clients hire agencies to help them sell their products. Consumers watch advertising to learn about products and perhaps be inspired to purchase them. The connection should be natural, but when a client is led down incredibly obscure “branding paths” the two sometimes never meet.

TIVO provides an interesting opportunity for a company like Lexus to tackle a variety of advertising issues. TIVO has been heralded as the potential death nail to television advertising, and Lexus could be an incredible innovator by finding a way to use the technology to their advantage. But first they need to accept that TIVO is essentially a direct response delivery method (I know this because our agency and several others currently have direct response initiatives with them), and accordingly they should track their advertising effectiveness – both media and creative – on a cost per inquiry and qualification basis. They could use the added time the format offers over traditional television advertising to really sell their product to consumers in a very non-threatening manner, and solve their “retail problem”. Let’s face it – most consumers dread dealing with car salesmen, and a high percentage of retail salesmen don’t really understand their products or really know how to sell. Via TIVO Lexus could have bypassed that problem with a controlled, finely honed sales pitch and lots of data that made the pre-qualified and motivated viewer really want to buy. Then they could have offered a compelling call-to-action that could be tracked through the final purchase, so they would know exactly how their advertising is working.

Or, they could broadcast little films that have nothing to do with cars but make me hungry. Seems like the choice would be obvious.

Buy Warriors, Workers, Whiners, and Weasels at Amazon.

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8 Responses to Advertising’s Dirty Little Secret

  1. Caveat Empty

    Tim O’Leary, CEO of Respond2 Communications, has a new blog, Warriors and Weasels, and a new book, Warriors, Workers, Whiners, and Weasels. While I have yet to read the book, I did take a look around the blog and related websites and have a few observa…

  2. Fundraising’s dirty little secret

    A recent post on his Warriors, Workers, Whiners and Weasels Blog, Tim O’Leary takes ad folks to task for ads that are something other than ads — and therefore fail to do their jobs. Advertising’s Dirty Little Secret says: Many

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