When commercials get abhorrent

September25

Once upon a time, most TV commercials were merely annoying and some of them were even pleasant. Then something happened.

For some reason I still don’t understand, we allowed lawyers to advertise. Back when sanity reigned, lawyers could insert professional cards in print and that was about it. Now we have tort toads running spots to recruit members of class action law suits. The most egregious are the bottom feeders hunting the last few mesothelioma patients.

Drug companies never used to advertise, not prescription drugs, anyway. Now we have scenes of happy people with accompanying soundtracks of disjointed voices droning on and on with warnings that you might, oh, become impotent, poop your pants, grow breasts if you’re a guy, get cancer, hear voices. The point of the commercials escapes me completely. You need a prescription for these things. You’re going to tell your doctor to give you scrip for this cool drug you heard about on TV? Not likely.

Government commercials used to be rare and harmless: McGruff the Crime Dog, military recruiting, Smokey the Bear, the food groups, what to do when a nuclear strike is imminent. Now they slide monstrously gross-out spots showing sad, sad people with extremely rare side effects of smoking into family shows. Political commercials are beyond disgusting; they’re the pathetic lies and distortions of vermin.

Beyond the more blatant categories of slimeball commercials, lie the subtle ones which may be even worse.

The war against men, especially straight white men, continues to accelerate. Ace Hardware’s most recent man-as-dweeb spot shows a near-totally infantilized grownup on a child’s scooter wearing a helmet (a helmet!). Scooting along at a snail’s pace, he yells at his neighbors that the weekend is coming. In any other context, people in white coats would show up.

Car commercials do at least two astonishingly stupid things: 1) they show people, who clearly should know better, racing through city streets as if they were on the last lap of the Daytona 500, and/or 2) they show people suddenly able to do things they apparently couldn’t

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do before just because they bought a specific brand of automobile. All of these things could be accomplished in any vehicle or they have nothing to do with automobiles at all.

State Farm’s latest string of car insurance commercials show various aftermaths of accidents with hapless, whiny fools actually singing something like “I have blah blah insurance so person come help”. The spots are so lame, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Progressive and GEICO chip in on the media buy.

There’s more, lots more. Beer commercials used to be funny, at least entertaining. In the last couple of years they’ve descended to a level of lameness once reserved for local car dealers. Business commercials (e.g. BDO, whatever that is) are so pompous, they could appeal only to people with delusions of royalty. Banks spout such astonishing claptrap that I’ve begun to think Barney Frank writes their spots.

Worst of all is the 3- to 5-minute string of commercials. What possible good could it do

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a company – even with a great commercial – to pay for, say, the 4th spot in a string of abhorrent commercials? Much easier to just convert the advertising budget to Benjamins and set fire to a pile of them a few times a day.

Luckily, nearly all of us have clickers.

One way to tell when an expert’s prevaricating

September21

The 1/27 Sunday Morning show on CBS gave a platform to Louis Michael Seidman, a law professor at Georgetown U.

Seidman burbled briefly that the Constitution had some good things in it and then ranted about how silly it is to allow a 200+ year old document (actually 225+ year old) to determine public policy. (If only!)

He’d said more or less the same thing in a New York Times op-ed piece a few days earlier.

The professor wants us to ignore the Constitution whenever it’s convenient. He neglected to mention that we already have a way to change (amend) the Constitution. Perhaps he didn’t know.

He should know that the fact that the Constitution is 200+ years old (actually 225 years old) is a good thing. A very good thing, sort of like the 2400+ year old Hippocratic Oath is a good thing.

Then Seidman got down to his real issues: guns and the Electoral College.

Seidman’s main beef on the guns issue is that the discussion revolves around the Constitution. It “raises the temperature”, apparently, and it’s just wrong because the Constitution was written by people 200+ years ago.

It would have been nice if he’d mentioned another way to talk about guns.

Perhaps, we could talk about lives saved and rapes, kidnappings, etc., prevented by legal guns. That might be a good start.

And Seidman doesn’t like the Electoral College.

Like most lefties, he seems to think that the National Popular Vote should determine the winner of a presidential race – our only national election.

Oddly, for a law professor, he seems unaware that there is no such thing in this country as a National Popular Vote. Since it doesn’t exist, it can’t be won.

Of course, we could change that with a Constitutional Amendment, assuming 38 states agreed. Since that would render less populated states irrelevant to electing a President, it is highly unlikely that more than 7 or 8 states, the most populous, would approve the Amendment.

Nine states, with more coming, have already approved something called the National Popular Vote Initiative (NPVI). That’s not the same as approving a Constitutional Amendment, not even close.

The NPVI is a plot to nullify the Constitution in order to disenfranchise voters. The plotters want to ignore the results of popular votes in NVPI states in order to throw their Electoral College votes to the winner of the National Popular Vote.

Which does not exist.

Seidman and the NVPI conspirators pretend not to know that a national popular vote election would radically alter the way candidates campaign.

Whole new ballgame!

A simple analogy might be the 1960 World Series between the Yankees and the Pirates. The Yankees scored twice as many runs as the Pirates over seven games but the Pirates won 4 of those games, so, of course, they won the World Series.

Danny Murtaugh and Casey Stengel (the teams’ managers) would have had their teams playing quite differently if the objective of the World Series had been to score the most runs in seven games rather than to win four games.

Change the objective and the strategy has to change.

The professor was prevaricating, dissembling and weaseling, and doing it on CBS, a network with a “political director” who recently demonstrated that he is in the Democrats’ pocket. Click here for FoxNews video.

Seidman was actually speaking in favor of the intolerable rule of whim (Hitler, Stalin, Mao all loved it) rather than the rule of law.

How do we know Seidman was prevaricating?

Our first clues are that his op-ed essay appeared in the egregious NY Times and his screed on the disgraceful CBS – both of which, incidentally, would

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throw corporate fits if anyone suggested ignoring the Constitution’s First Amendment.

In Memory

August18

Michael James John Thomas McCormick passed away on June 28, 2016

You can visit

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Mike’s memorial site here.

The problem with direct mail letters these days

November28

I don’t know about your mail box but mine has been getting a surprising amount of direct mail – besides the totally expected catalogs.

Not surprising is that, except for charity and (some) political mailings, almost none of the direct mail I see is any good.

And a lot of it is shockingly bad.

About half the really bad examples are postcards. Postcards can work for real estate and for some kinds of tests, but most are just a waste of money – advertising people using mail as a medium for little billboards.

What does work, almost always thanks to testing, is some form of the classic direct mail “package” with its five key elements and, if it make sense, a fillip or two. Three of the key elements, OE, Order Form and Letter, really matter, so, naturally, they’re the elements that get screwed up the most.

The OE has one job: to get opened by someone in the mood for what’s inside. That’s not as easy as it sounds.

The order form (or response device – same thing) should be a mini ad that restates the proposition, stresses a key benefit, outlines all the different ways the prospect can respond (mail, email, website, QR code, phone, visit, etc.). It should also offer an upsell (e.g. three widgets for the price of two) that is placed above the basic offer, guarantee, address change, room to enter a referral name. There’s more but most of today’s direct mail efforts don’t even get this far.

Then comes the letter. Or not. Some otherwise complete direct mail packages don’t have letters, not even bad letters. To put this in context: direct mail packages can work extremely well when the envelope contains only a personal letter and nothing else.

But a lot of people writing and approving direct mail letters
seem to have no idea what a direct mail letter should be

For starters, and this is hard for some people, direct mail letters should never be mere advertising. It’s okay, I suppose, for advertising to be about a company and its products. Direct mail works best when it is about the prospect and the best way to get that across is with a letter.

There are no hard rules about letters, just guidelines and suggestions based on decades of experience. Some are little tweaks, some are a lot more important. They include:

• Write to appeal to the target audience, not to the management of the company sending it out.
• At least test a one-to-one approach, one person at the company writing to one prospect.
• Ideally, a great direct mail letter is friendly, chatty and always on topic.
• And it’s personal, of course. This is not the same as personalized which is just a computer trick.
• A direct mail letter is as long as it should be and no longer. A good rule of thumb is to make your letter as long as a piece of string.
• Most first drafts are either too long or too short and, occasionally, both at the same time. (Too long on irrelevancies, too short on important stuff.)

We could go on and on but it’s probably easier to refer to a Guts piece from back in January:
15 Things Most Great Direct Mail Letters Have In Common

In the meantime, let’s look at a fairly typical example
of what’s wrong with direct mail letters these days.

I hate to pick on poor old Citibank but one of their recent mailers happened to be on top of my pile and it’s got some problems. Here’s the letter and I’d love to know what you think about it.

Perhaps the most underappreciated element of a good direct mail letter is that it looks easy to read and interesting at first glance. This one doesn’t.

• It’s entirely in black and white. The card at the top and the signatures at the bottom should probably be in color. The additional cost is insignificant.
• The type is small and sans serif. It’s hard to read, annoyingly so. It would be harder to read in reverse or lighter gray type and I’m surprised they didn’t do that, too. I suspect the tiny size was chosen to get the letter on one page. This is a waste of time, effort and, mostly, space on the back of the letter.
• The subhead, “EXPERIENCE MORE LUXURY AND PRIVILEGE” is, besides being overkill, somewhat repulsive, don’t you think? (Besides, how could I experience more luxury and privilege when I experience none at all at the moment?)
• The first sentence of the letter, the most important sentence in the whole thing, is just boiler plate. I very much doubt that I’m anywhere close to being one of Citi’s most valued customers.
• The 2nd sentence rambles pointlessly, leading us to five choppy segments. This isn’t letter copy. It’s brochure copy, charmless brochure copy.
• Two people signed the letter. Two! That’s 100% too many. Pick one.

Wonder if they tested it? I’d guess not, and that was the biggest mistake.
This letter was addressed to me and, undoubtedly, to thousands of people like me but it wasn’t written for us. It was written by a committee that, clearly, wanted to please the honchos of Citibank. And that’s a big problem.

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Customer Service: First, do no harm

September5

A supermarket just down the road lets its employees park in the closest-to-the-store spots. Customers who notice this get annoyed. Costco, just down the road, has a back lot clearly marked “Employee Parking”.

Nearby, two blocks from each other, are a couple of gas stations. At one of them, when you put the nozzle back after filling your tank, the machine asks “Would you like a receipt?” and when you press Yes, out comes the receipt. The other gas station asks the same question. The problem is that the receipt comes out sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t go to that station anymore.

Whole Foods doesn’t number the aisles in its stores, so, when you ask an employee where something is, the employee will walk you right to the something instead of just telling you it’s in aisle 6.

Companies that are serious about customer service think about these things, little things. Companies that aren’t don’t.

A couple of years ago, I ordered something from Omaha Steaks. The meat was pretty good and I would have ordered again – on my schedule. The company seemed to think it would be better if I ordered on its schedule. They started quickly with follow up mailers, one after the other, so many that it became annoying. After I’d ignored them for a while, they began calling, often. Their meat’s good but not good enough to compensate for that kind of hectoring.

I had a lot of miles in my American Airlines frequent flier account. I tried to redeem them for a couple of airline tickets this spring. The process was so complicated, contradictory and generally perverse, that we wound up paying about $1,000, plus way more miles than we were initially told, after spending hours, literally, on the phone talking to reps with wildly varying degrees of knowledge and competence. The loyalty program succeeded only in irritating two previously loyal customers. That’s not why it was set up.

It can be the same online.

Consider Kindle for a moment. It’s an electronic book reader. When you want to buy a book, you visit Amazon.com, click on the Kindle store, enter the name of an author or the title of a book and with one click it zooms to your Kindle. When you finish a Kindle book, Amazon stores it on their computers so your Kindle doesn’t get cluttered – like my bookshelves do. (You can get any stored Kindle book back in a minute or so.) Great customer service.

Other online companies seem to focus on being pains in the butt and they do it everywhere and constantly. Order something and you’re swamped with email offers forever. Want to watch a YouTube video? First you have to sit through a commercial. Want to order something from a company you last dealt with six months ago? You have to remember a password and maybe a user name. Want to help them run their businesses, just fill in this “short” and pointless survey.

I suspect all this nonsense is all the result of very short term thinking. Badgering customers is a bad idea. It’s the kind of thing street corner hustlers do. If retail companies did the same thing, they’d have employees hanging on to customers’ legs as they leave the store. I have no idea how to stop it except to advise clients to rethink how they react to and follow up with their customers before they wander away.

Retail companies can fix things by following a few simple principles (e.g. close-to-store parking for customers, not employees.). Big companies (like American Airlines) can get back to basics. If I had to advise the Internet version of street corner hustlers, I’d suggest running some tests for a while and tracking the results.

Starting with the Golden Rule couldn’t hurt: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Common sense and customer service

August21

With one exception, the easiest part of any selling program is customer service. The exception is bad customers. There’s no logical way to deal with them, so you just try your best and then dump them. End of problem and you can devote more resources to handling your merely difficult customers.

The difference between a bad and a difficult customer is that bad customers cost you more money, time and business than they’re worth. Difficult customers pay for themselves.

Luckily, most customers are neither bad nor difficult. Customer service’s function is to at least keep them from being unhappy. Keeping them actually happy is the ideal, of course. Happy customers keep buying from you – and buying more from you if you handle the relationship right. They also tend to spread the good word which helps you acquire more customers.

This is true whether the customer relationship is face-to-face as in a traditional retail environment or remote as in a direct marketing or online program. It’s actually easier in a remote program.

Lesson from a face-to-face arena

I was lucky to learn about face-to-face customer service from some of the world’s leading experts: bartenders.

Bartenders need tips ($) to survive so they’re pretty good at sizing up customers and brilliant at handling customers they already know. When I was a bartender (great job, BTW), I could handle 30-40 customers at a time. These were people either sitting at or standing near the bar which makes them, by far, the best drinkers.

The bartender quickly learns that about 80% of the business comes from 20% of the customers. On most nights, that meant, to me, that 6 to 8 of the people on the other side of the bar were extremely important. I just had to figure out who they were. This is not difficult in a bar. Once we got that sorted out, 6 to 8 people got extraordinary service and everyone else got good service.

A few years later, I was delighted to learn that direct marketing customer service works roughly the same way. Lesson: Treat everyone well but learn who your best customers are and treat them extraordinarily well.

Remote customer service

You learn who your best remote customers are by keeping track of a database and analyzing it once in a while. (Good face-to-face sales people do this, too. Insurance agents, for example.)

Everyone who buys anything from you gets good service: prompt, no errors, quick resolution of returns, complaints and queries. It’s really just the old Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Your best customers get outstanding service: immediate resolution of issues, automatic upgrades when available, personal shoppers, direct line to senior management – whatever’s best and that’s what you have to figure out. Don’t forget the magic of the lagniappe, a terrific New Orleans concept, that’s really just a surprise and delight feature like a small gift every now and then.

When I was a bartender, the simplest, and second most effective, lagniappe was an occasional drink on the house. The most effective was spotting the customer as she came into the bar and having her drink ready by the time she bellied up.

This stuff isn’t rocket surgery. It works and keeps and builds business. The most amazing thing in all of marketing is that so few companies do this well and that so many companies don’t do it all.

It takes training, a rule book (what you can and can’t do) and commitment.

Maybe You Get Bad Customer Service Because You’re a Bad Customer – Click here for Huffington Post Article

Slogans: Do they do anything?

August12

A slogan (tagline, too) is a short line, usually 7 words or fewer, that summarizes a company’s/product’s/service’s key attribute in a pithy way.

Slogans are everywhere: TV, radio, online, print ads, packaging, billboards, retail displays and posters, menus, truck panels, flyers, direct mail, T-shirts.

They’re important in a couple of negative ways: A stupid slogan will turn people off (the ultimate stupid line is probably “Make 7Up Yours” broken into two segments: Make 7 … Up Yours); and slogans can be scandalously expensive in terms of money, time and talent and do no good whatsoever.

A slogan is usually a standalone thing, like McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” popping up after the commercial is over, but it can be anything at all:

• A headline like “Does she or doesn’t she?
• Integrated into the logo like Allstate’s good hands slogan
• All the copy like Nike’sJUST DO IT

My favorite headline slogan was the entire campaign for Levy’s bagels.

The slogan has to do something positive for the company (otherwise, why bother?) and some slogans actually do. “Good to the last drop” worked wonderfully well for Maxwell House for years. Not sure if it’s any help today against the juggernauts of Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks. Doubt it.

Confusion and competition get in the way of a slogan’s effectiveness these days. Media options are no longer straightforward and relatively simple and competition is intense, constant and confusing.

Consider the ubiquitous but vague JUST DO IT. Those three words could be applied to, oh, Porsche, Gatorade, Allied Van Lines, NutriSystem – anything, really. Nike undoubtedly spent a scandalous amount of money creating and then establishing the slogan. It’s cool, aggressive, yada yada, but is it worth all the time, talent and money? Maybe not.

Did everyone in the target audience understand that “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”? came from Fed Ex and not UPS or the USPS? Unlike “Just do it”, this line couldn’t be applied to just about any company, but it would work well for any company in the business of moving things around quickly.

How about the De Beer’s slogan, “A Diamond is Forever”? That’d work for Jared, Kay, or any company that sells diamonds, wouldn’t it?

Maybe the slogan’s best days are over.

Google has a slogan (who knew?): “Don’t be evil” and it’s probably a joke. Apple, the world’s most valuable company according to Forbes, has a slogan – “think different” – that doesn’t seem to appear very often.

And yet slogans keep coming.

In a simple Internet search, you’ll find lists of “successful” lines, advice on creating your own slogans, and even a Slogan Hall of Fame, courtesy of the UK’s AdSlogans.com. In a way, The Hall of Fame is a trip down memory lane.

There’s the NW Ayer agency’s 1921 line “I’d Walk a Mile for a Camel”, BBDO’s 1935 “M’m! M’m! Good” for Campbell’s Soup, B&B’s 1964 “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin.” If you were born before, say 1960, those lines are burned into your memory. So are:

A Diamond is Forever (De Beers, 1948, NW Ayer)
Guinness is Good for You (1929, SH Benson)
When you care enough to send the very best (Hallmark, 1929, FCB)
Finger lickin good (KFC, 1952, O&M)
The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand. (M&Ms, 1954, Ted Bates)

Be great to have a line like one of those attached to your company, wouldn’t it? Maybe, maybe not.

Would a new slogan do your company any good?

Possibly, but with a few conditions; it’d have to get extremely well-established in the right people’s brains. That takes a long time and a significant budget. It’d have to be near perfect creatively and, in the absence of a budget, it’d have to generate buzz, tons of buzz, like the Levy’s posters in New York back before the Internet.

A better question might beWould a new slogan be worth the money and time it’d take to develop and establish?

The answer’s 99.9% no. How could it be anything else when gigantic companies with massive budgets and access to mountains of research and creative talent have a hell of a time developing great slogans.

Most smaller companies are better off with a simple statement that tells people “who, what, where, and why”: KronskyCateringPeoria.com, “Gourmet Food at Deli Prices.

No point tinkering. There are better ways to spend your time, money and talent.

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The death spiral of commercial television

June26

We all know that regular TV, cable and broadcast channels, keep losing audiences, mostly to mobile. It’s understandable given the technology.

Not understandable is what TV’s stakeholders are doing about it. The shows are bad enough; with dwindling revenues all around, apparently only CBS can produce watchable dramas and comedies.

But programming’s only part of the problem. All regular TV channels without exception are plagued with hideous commercials presented in the worst possible ways.

You’ve undoubtedly seen Marie Osmond for Nutri System and an apparently over-caffeinated Samuel Jackson for Capital One and wondered how many times any sentient being watch can (and, worse, listen) to that crap. And those are probably semi-successful spots, creatively. The repetition is depressing, though.

Agency people try hard to tailor media buys and creative to narrow audiences but it’s a waste of time for the simplest of all reasons: sooner or later, narrow focus creative becomes a parody of the demo it’s trying to reach.

Viagra, for instance, shouldn’t be a tricky sell but somehow the oh so serious creative comes out hilarious. Self-reliant older but still manly dudes take care of super-macho challenges all by themselves. These guys can handle anything life throws at them and they take Viagra. There’s a double wannabe proposition: be like this guy who has a life and can get laid.

There’s not a lot of narrow targeting of men. Occasionally a car company will show a grown up male driving but the situation and the script always infantilize him.

Jaguar’s super-silly “It’s good to be bad concept has one spot with a scene that at first glance makes it look like our hero is actually shifting gears the old school way, you know with a clutch and a moveable gear lever. Unfortunately, the close up of the shift lever shows the P R N D of an automatic and the studly driver wiggling the lever sideways a bit and, for all we know, making shifting sounds with his lips. Not quite as lame as action man paddle shifters but close.

Chevrolet has a spot with a Dad who won’t let his little daughter wear her winged fairy outfit to school but relents when he learns it’s photo day. What this has to do with the car is not made clear BECAUSE IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE GODDAMNED CAR. Not that it matters. The spot is 99% fairy and daddy issues and 1% Chevrolet.

Narrow creative for black guys is worse, much worse. So bad it’s borderline racist. The products are usually high end cars or liquor. The spots are stuck in the old Barry White mode. They sound like Saturday Night Live skits would sound, if SNL was still funny.

Older folks get deluged with commercials for drugs, health insurance companies, household help, The Villages and reverse mortgages with the same tedious spots over and over and over. Help!

But these are all gloriously wonderful compared to commercials aimed at youngish women. Most spots for this high-spending demo show us the ugly face of acceptable sexism. Let’s pick on just five of the advertisers: Healthgrades.com, Valspar paint and Lowe’s, AT&T, and V8.

I swear this is true. Healthgrades.com helps people find doctors. One of their spots shows a Mommy and infant at the computer. Mommy says “Whoa, there’s lots of doctors that can fix Mommy’s knee … but we want a girl doctor!” and she clicks on the female option. (So far no LGBTG option but stay tuned.) To get a knee fixed, we need a girl (girl?) doctor – first qualification, too. Amazing. Note to Healthgrades.com: Women hate this crap much more than men do.

Valspar and Lowe’s bring us this monstrosity. Mom on a biz trip calls home. She uses her laptop to make the call so she (and we) can see her lovely family: Dad, three kids. Is everything okay at home? Oh yes, says the family and she can see that everything looks just hunky dory. When she signs off, though, we see that, sadly, everything is not hunky dory. Except for a perfectly clean rectangle on the wall behind the family (which fooled Mom), everything else in the kitchen is a total mess as if there’d been a food fight and, perhaps, a food explosion or two. Dad, the inept buffoon, and his kids start to clean up and it’s oh so easy because the mess is on Valspar paint, available at Lowe’s. Yay!

AT&T apparently lost its collective mind with the sexist crapola of four professional women (cliché alert: they seem to be real estate agents) speaking to a charming and, of course, female AT&T rep. The four women are sharp, aggressive, businesslike. Their colleague, Dork Boy, is silent, watching the discussion from slightly in the background. At the end of the spot, when the women adopt a collective arms-folded sisterhood stance to close the deal, Dork Boy doesn’t notice at first, then he does and joins the sisterhood, too late. Women: cool, smart, decisive. Legacy male: dorky, stupid and submissive.

V8 has been running versions of the same spot for a few years now. Smart young female asks dopey male if he’s eating his veggies. When he says no, she smacks him upside the forehead because he’s a dope. He coulda had a V8.

This is actually a brilliant spot because it helps demonstrate that we don’t yet understand the concept of equal. The short version is this: what’s the one thing we know for sure if we know that X = Y?

It’s that Y = X.

Let V8 apply that concept to their spots and have a big black jock smack the little white chick upside the head because she’s a dope. Ooooh, guess what? X and Y aren’t equal after all and X is going to jail.

In nearly all really bad commercials, the problems are identical: the client or the agency or someone in power wants the people, the product, the emotion, all of it, to be phony, to be something it’s not.

All these examples are the collective tip of the TV-failing iceberg.

The closer you look, the worse it gets. Reality shows, singing and dancing competitions, bleh. How about the news? Hmm, it seems that ABC/CBS/CNN/MSNBC/NBC should all lose their freedom of the press protection because they’re no longer journalists. They’re note takers, serfs.

Not long ago, the horrible Houston Astros baseball team drew a 0.0 Nielsen rating for a local game. That’s the future for TV until someone, somewhere smartens up.

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Do people watch TV commercials anymore? Why would we? We don’t want to and we don’t have to.

May6

Except on Super Bowl Sunday, what happens to commercials is that we the people pay almost no attention to them at all. We have more important things to do like going to the bathroom, getting a beer, checking email, changing the channel …

Television makes it easy to do any number of things during breaks because of the insanely long strings of mostly awful commercials.

The very few advertisers that allow their agencies to create charming watchable spots (Audi’s “My Dad is an alien” comes to mind) get stuck in strings of odious commercials:
• bottom feeding tort lawyers
• drugs with ghastly side effects
• utterly irrelevant claims (Love, it’s what makes a Subaru)
• men are idiots, women are smart (AT&T’s “let’s close”)
• laborious but not-even-tenuous connection (Comcast’s “Help me move”)
• the nag, usually from a government (way too many of these)
• political commercials (yuck, gag, acchhh)
• but wait, call now, get 2 elephants
• never ending blather in one spot (Marie Osmond for Nutrisystem)
• same spot endlessly repeated (Marie Osmond for Nutrisystem)
• screaming … lame humor … car dealers’ kids and wives … and on and on and on.

We do not have to watch this stuff, so we don’t. Besides, fewer and fewer of us watch much regular television anyway thanks to streaming.

One reason we avoid regular TV is that most shows are almost as bad as (and sometimes worse than) the commercials. With the exception of a comedy or two and a few CBS dramas, nothing is actually worth watching on network or normal cable channels.

Sports hang onto audiences partly because strings of commercials are limited by the action of the game.

Still, commercials sometimes make it through even the best defenses. But so what? The commercials suck or they’re stuck in a string with commercials that really suck.

Why do so many companies spend so much money making commercials?

I don’t know. I really don’t.

Maybe because commercials can be reused in even more annoying ways, like in movie theaters, or chopped into 12-15 second segments and stuck in front of videos on YouTube. But why pay to put them on TV?

Advertisers might be much better off spending every penny of that TV money (about $75B in media alone) elsewhere, spread around judiciously in a lot of elsewheres and, if you’ll forgive the prejudice of an old school direct marketer, tracked, tested and fine-tuned constantly.

Newton Minow was right.

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