Entry 286: What You Always Wanted to Know About Advertising

As many of you know, my day job is as a freelance advertising copywriter, although, for years, if you had asked my daughter what her father did for a living, she would have said, “He types.”

As an advertising pro, I sometimes get asked questions by consumers who wonder about the inner workings of ad agencies and what kind of drugs are used by the people who work there. Allow me to answer some of them.

Q. Isn’t it risky to hire a celebrity endorser?EliManningDunkin[1]

A, Often, prospective endorsers go through a background check similar to what is done before giving someone high-level security clearance. You do all you can to avoid hiring a celebrity who might appear on a sex tape or be part of a murder investigation. Even then, however, there are some things you just can’t foresee. How thrilled do you think Dunkin’ Donuts was with their commercials featuring Eli Manning and the tagline “Eli and the Giants run on Dunkin’” earlier this season when the Giants were 0-6?

Q. Is there a new trend of having commercials inside other commercials?

gortons_credit[1]A. There is indeed. You may have seen the Pillsbury Doughboy being molested by an airport security person in a GEICO commercial, for example.  Mr. Peanut, Mr. Clean and a host of other icons have appeared in a credit card spot, although I still think it was creepy to see Charlie the Tuna having dinner with the Gorton Fisherman (and if you look carefully, you’ll see Poppin’ Fresh prostituting himself for MasterCard, too). But you most often see this sort of thing with movie tie-ins. Some of these are natural, as when a car company does a commercial with James Bond and Bond is seen actually driving that car in the latest film. But other tie-ins really should have been given more consideration. For instance, who thinks it’s a good idea for Subway to have a subway-cf-cup[1]tie-in with the Hunger Games sequel? The people in the movie are starving, you idiots! It’s not called The Hunger Games because they’re playing chess while waiting for the sub shop to open! What’s next, Roomba vacuums doing a tie-in with a Terminator movie?

Q. Are all those negative political ads really effective?

A. Well, how else would you know who not to vote for?  But politicians who are way ahead in the polls should never use them. In the just-ended reelection campaign, I’ll bet most New Jersey residents wouldn’t even have known who was running against Governor Chris Christie if he hadn’t run ads saying how awful she was.

Q. Why do advertisers add “y” to everything?

A. In the dictionary of advertising, “y” means “like, but not really.” For example, if something is “chocolatey,” it sort of tastes like chocolate, although it is not actually chocolate, and may not even contain any substance that exists in the natural world. If your wallet is “leathery,” it may look and feel vaguely like leather, but has never formerly been the skin of any animal.

FOLLOW-UP Q. Okay, then, so what the hell does “melty” mean? I’ve seen fasto-CRUNCHY-CHICKEN-ENCHILADA-MELT-facebook[1] food chains say that a sandwich has melty cheese? Why isn’t it “melted cheese?”

A. I have no idea. Is it not really cheese, or not really melted?

Q. What does cold taste like?

A. When there’s not much difference between your product and your competitors’, you sometimes look for an attribute you can “own.” In advertising, you can own any quality you want if you say it first and most often. Coors decided to stake out “cold-tasting.” While most beers taste more or less like beer, I guess only Coors tastes like your tongue is frozen to a flagpole. I imagine there’s a brew in England that claims to be “warm-tasting.”

Q. Why do 60-second commercials for medications to treat conditions like restless leg syndrome and overactive bladder have 50 seconds of side effects?

A. Because they have the voice-over guy read the side effects really fast.

Q. Can I believe a commercial that says “no cough medicine works faster” or “no battery lasts longer?”

A. Absolutely. Advertisers are required to substantiate all comparative claims like that. But note that when you hear “nothing is better than, faster than, cheaper than…” or any other similar type of comparative statement, it does not mean that the product advertised is better, faster, cheaper, etc. It just means all the products in the category are about the same. Nothing may be better, but there’s not much out there that’s worse, either. If they were really better, they would say “We are better than…” You don’t hear that too often.

Q. How come foreign car companies talk about performance and safety while American car companies talk about cup holders and Bluetooth infotainment systems?

A. That’s because American car companies know what Americans really look for in a car. They don’t care how well a car drives as long as they can sit in their driveway with a cup of coffee listening to their iPod.

Q. Doesn’t it seem like everything is sponsored by something these days?

A. While it’s true that today’s starting line-up, and this call to the bullpen, and this behind-the-scenes sneak peak, and this walk to the couch* are all brought to you by advertisers, I would hasten to add that this answer is not sponsored by anybody.

If you have any other questions about advertising, I’ll be happy to answer them for you. If you would like to sponsor my answers, I will be happy to take your money.

See you soon.

*Really…on CNN.

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2 Responses to Entry 286: What You Always Wanted to Know About Advertising

  1. davidd says:

    Your “question” about the automobile advertising made me laugh. This past summer while I was watching the Tour de France on television (brought to you by Cadillac, who I think still makes cars, not bikes) I was asking — out loud (I don’t know if I was talking to myself, my spouse, or the TV) — why the advertisements for the car once promoted as “The Standard of the World” emphasized an iPod dock. Whatever happened to 375 horsepower, 472 cubic inch displacement… and tail fins? If I’m looking for a set of iPod speakers I’ll visit the Apple store, not a Cadillac dealership.

  2. John Galt says:

    Regarding: Advertisers are required to substantiate all comparative claims … How does Verizon claim to have won 153 states? Last I checked there were 50 states so ???
    While we are at it … many commercials use polls and in the fine print the polls clarify the sample size of 100 or some other really low number. Gove me enough time and I’ll find a sample size that will “prove” literally anything.

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