I just don’t buy it, now more than ever.
(super-duper creative ads + big audience) = buzz = changed customer behavior = great advertising ROI
… is virtually always false.
This week’s Super Bowl proved it even more. A few hundred million dollars were spent on media, plus another, let’s say, $100 million on ad production, and most of it was lost in a cacophony of guacamole, Pinot Grigio, competitive noise and a great, buzz-worthy football game. Yes, conversations about your business can spur sales, but those conversations can rarely be manufactured and drilled into consumers’ minds with the self-indulgent “creative-based” pseudo-science that the advertising world tries to foist on corporate America.
If I hear one more person defend Super Bowl advertising because “it’s the only time you can reach such a big audience at one time,” I’m going to vomit. The only time reaching a large audience all at one time matters is when you want to generate timely, collective behavior, like voting in an election. But, last time I looked, we all go to the grocery store one at a time, so why is there any advantage to reaching all of us at once? In fact, it’s a huge disadvantage to reach a large audience at one time, because the number of people who don’t want to buy your product increases at an increasing rate as audience size increases, and the audience begins to resemble the entire population.
“Oh, but what if you’re Coke or Budweiser? It works for them, doesn’t it?” It might, but if it does, it’s not because the ads themselves worked, but because the ads are just one small part of the brand harmony these products create. Coke and Budweiser can afford to spend this kind of money to complement the rest of their customers’ experience with the brand.
“Hey, but Monster.com hit a home run in 1999, and came out of nowhere with only one Super Bowl ad, so why can’t we do that?” Yes, crazy, speculative, risky investments like Super Bowl ads once in a while work, and you might also win if you put all of your money on Red 14 at the roulette table. But, it’s much more likely that you will lose your money. Exceptions don’t prove the rule. They only prove that exceptions are possible once in a while.
“But the ads are so entertaining, that people pay attention to them.” I’ve got a great idea. Let’s have a new category in the Academy Awards for Super Bowl advertising. DDB Chicago and Weiden & Kennedy can accept their awards there for amazing creative, and we won’t confuse ourselves trying to prove that the advertising experts have any special insights into what makes consumers buy and what drives business results.
Now I’m going to really surprise you: In one sense, the Super Bowl isn’t a bad idea because it is so expensive, but because it is so cheap. Huh? Here’s the story: $3 million spread across 100 million people is 3 cents per audience member. If you only spend 3 cents on a customer encounter, how can you expect it to be meaningful? All you are doing is bouncing light off of 200 million retinas, and the effect can only be superficial. The Super Bowl is the epitome of “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
We are living in a never-before-seen economic meltdown, where customers are scared and strapped for cash. If you want to earn the love, loyalty and business of today’s customers, you can’t do it just by interrupting their days, millions of people at a time, with :30 second or :60 second ads. You need to focus on connecting with fewer people, but in a much more meaningful way.
Differentiating yourself with advertising is usually futile and, at its best, very short-lived. Differentiating yourself with relationships is lasting.
The new equation:
(Brand Harmony across many interactions) x % of those interactions that are relationship-building encounters = clear, compelling customer beliefs = profitable customer action = profitable business.