TV advertisers, please don’t tell me what you believe

[This post was originally published in 2013:]

Has TV advertising finally lost the plot?

It seems that every ad break contains at least one commercial that opens with a variation of “Here at [insert company/product/brand name here] we understand that you…”

Sometimes it’s “Here at [insert company/product/brand name here], we believe that…”

There are dozens of them out there, right now. Once you look out for them, you’ll be shocked at how many there are.

Patronising you with their fake Manc accents or soppy, simpering girlishness.

Trying to make you buy their floor cleaner or insurance policy by telling you how much they empathise with you and what they believe their company stands for.

There’s one for Sainsbury’s car insurance which is a prime example. It starts off with something like “We understand that you use your car to run the kids around…” or something equally banal.

Then shows lots of mums and dads running their kids around (brilliant!).

But the insurance they’re selling has absolutely nothing to do with running your kids around. Or even how many kids you have. It’s just bog-standard car insurance, like any other.

So why harp on about how much they understand me and my child-focused taxi service? It is utterly irrelevant. And, as a result, utterly annoying. You’re waiting for the pay off or offer to do with children and it never comes.

(It’s what they used to call Borrowed Interest, in the days when people knew how to make proper telly ads.)

They do it because someone in a suit (or in the agency planning department who are simply suits in disguise even though they all think they’re terribly creative) has said “We need to create empathy with our audience. We must make them understand what we stand for. We must show them we understand them, their hopes, their needs, their aspirations.”

You see this guff every day on advertising agency creative briefs (the document that the planners give to the creative team at the start of a new project).

It’s so much easier to write this kind of soggy, soppy, ludicrous goo than rolling your sleeves up and finding out the real reasons why the punter might fork out for your product. You know, like it’s cheaper, better, faster, more reliable, cooler…

Of course it’s also tied up in the crazy world of Branding.

Somewhere there’ll be a document describing the Brand Values that all advertising must support and communicate. So instead of incorporating these into the brief, perhaps as a guidance for the kind of tone of voice or imagery the creatives might work with, the lazy agency just literally writes the brand values into the script.

And the client loves it because it makes him/her go all misty eyed and lumpen-throated when he/she goes to the first screening. Bless him, he doesn’t know any better.

But the punter doesn’t care what the company believes. He doesn’t need the company to understand him. (And he doesn’t want to be their friend on Facebook, either.)

The punter just wants the advertising to tell him some good reasons why he should buy their product rather than someone else’s—in an attention-grabbing and memorable way.

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