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Positioning Errors

March 3rd, 2010 by Bruce Wiseman

There is a growing trend in American advertising that must derive its aesthetic and emotional themes from cum laude graduates of the Genghis Kahn School of Communication.
Surely you have seen them; ads that use anger, upset, pain or even death in unpleasant or disturbing efforts to push the advertiser’s wares.
Let me be simplistic. Television advertising is expensive. Television commercials should motivate those who see them to want to buy the product or service being promoted.

Good advertising should create a response – a call, a click of the mouse, a response card mailed in. Something – interest, a reach back. At this point, Marketing has done its job and Sales takes over.

That said, it is appalling to watch the growing number of television commercials that seem to be dedicated to driving the customer away from the advertiser or their product by use of disturbing emotions or themes.
Dairy Queen has been running a commercial that opens with a customer sitting at a table in one of their restaurants taking a bite of a hamburger that is obviously burning his mouth. He quickly exhales uncomfortably. In quick succession, his napkin catches fire. The fire spreads to the table as the customer and then Dairy Queen staff go into full blown panic mode trying to put out the spreading fire.
The footage finally cuts to the man standing on furniture drinking from one of the sprinkler heads on the ceiling, the fire now extinguished.
The commercial ends by showing a Dairy Queen hamburger and telling the viewer that they have a very hot Tabasco sauce.
This commercial is supposed to make viewers want to come into Dairy Queen to eat. Hellooo…?
More basically, the message is that you can get super hot Tabasco sauce on your hamburgers at Dairy Queen. Okay. I don’t know the size of the hot sauce loving demographic, but I’ll acknowledge that there are people who like hot food. My wife is one of them. Raised in New Mexico, she can devour a jar of hot chili peppers in a sitting. You would think she was noshing on chocolate-covered strawberries. Would this commercial make her come in to Dairy Queen? Eh… afraid not. The ad positions Dairy Queen with a freaked out, panic ridden staff trying to put out a fire with a customer who NEVER shows the slightest enjoyment from the meal. Only pain. This attempt at humor, exaggeration or hyperbole is completely lost in the frantic emotion of people putting out a fire.

In another Dairy Queen winner, a young father has his infant son in one of those baby carrier / slings strapped to his chest. Exiting the restaurant, dad is trying to eat one of Dairy Queen’s new desserts when junior, fusing (presumably because he doesn’t get any goodies) accidentally kicks dad in the groin. Dad goes to his knees in pain. The kid then snaps his head back catching dad smartly in the nose. The video cuts to a close up of the dessert and a voice over that promotes how wonderful it tastes. Have these people lost their ever-loving marketing minds? How much money did they spend making and airing a commercial trying to sell ice cream by showing a child kicking his father in the _____.
Miller Lite and ESPN have been running a soap operaish commercial, which has two thirty-somethings watching a baseball game with their uncle who gets up from the couch to answer the doorbell at a tense moment in the game. At the door, he lets in another nephew, who, if you look closely, has some Miller Lite in a bag. The game turns positive and one of the guys runs out to tell uncle Matt only to find him dead on the front porch from a heart attack. The story / commercial, it says, is “to be continued”.
The acting is quite good. So is the directing. Does commercial sell beer? Not on your life. Does it make you “like” Miller Lite, want Miller Lite? Nope. In the first place, the beer is hardly a factor in the commercial. But despite the attempt at subtlety, they associate the product with the death of a sweet old man. Apparently the idea is (and this is just a guess) that the men in the family drink Miller watching ball games. The creators of this ad seemed more interested in getting a writing gig with Stephen Bocho (NYPD Blue, LA Law, Hill Street Blues) than selling beer.
A recent commercial for Mervyn’s, the low end clothing chain, shows women coming out of one of the stores with their hands so full of bags – fingers wrapped around the little rope handles – that they were in pain and their hands were badly crimped. The message is supposed to be that there are so many good deals at Meryvn’s, the shoppers leave loaded with good buys.
But what sticks in the mind as one views the commercial is a woman grimacing at her crimped, arthritic looking hands. You’d think it was an ad for Advil.
Surely there is a way to position Mervyn’s superior values with something other than women with twisted, painful hands.

A Toyota truck commercial has a Gen Y female screaming psychotically at her boy friend as she has his pickup pushed off of a cliff. The truck winds up “on its feet” and looks fine and we are now supposed to want to go buy a Toyota truck because it is sturdy instead of remembering the screaming shrew. Sorry.
There are plenty of fine commercials that deliver a compelling sales message. I have picked on this growing trend because it is just that, growing. It gives the industry a bad name. It is truism of twenty-first century marketing that the competition for consumer attention is beyond fierce.
But that does not change the basic truths of how to communicate a message that will be received and accepted. Positioning rules, and when you try to drive a message into the mind of your prospect with negative and disturbing emotion, the right communication does not take place.
The commercial may win an award, but sales and income suffer. Some forget that is our responsibility – marketing should drive sales.

There is also a self-serving truism here, which is simply this: now more than ever your marketing messages must be based on truly accurate surveys; your positioning laser-precise; your graphics aesthetic, powerful and appealing.
Cut waste, by all means. Get lean and mean for sure. But look at these times as an opportunity to reach out to your prospects with marketing messages that make them sit up, take notice and reach for their phone or browser. Do this and you may just come out of these times with a higher market share than you had when they started.