Voodoo Advertising

Have you ever, especially recently, been to a conference/retreat/seminar on marketing or advertising and thought you just hadn’t learned any new techniques or strategies in a long time?

You ain’t alone. The New Yorker had a story this week about the troubles Madison Avenue (though few ad agencies are located there any more) are having persuading people to show interest in the products they are touting. Successful advertising seems to be more and more a function of having no idea why something works but doing exactly the same thing that worked the last time and being happily surprised if it works again.

Why is no big secret. It used to be that you would go to an agency and they would put together a campaign that would be televised on the three networks and you would reach 80% of the US population in a week. Today not are there hundreds of television channels, but a great portion of the public are ignore them for the internet and other pursuits. (As I pointed out in an earlier entry, today’s top ranked shows draw the same percentage of the total audience watching television as the #40 ranked shows in the 1970s.

People quoted in the New Yorker article talk about the need to differentiate yourself in a sea of sameness. However the article also acknowledges that people are becoming savvy (or gaining the tools) to allow them to avoid being exposed to said flurry of promotional efforts. Says one, “It’s easier for Toyota to figure out a new way of producing cars than it is for McCann-Erickson to figure out a new way of persuasion.”

Of course, ad agencies still are fairly successful at creating a need people don’t know they have.

“It encourages people to buy all sorts of products, from shampoo to automobiles, for reasons that do not always make sense. (Why do city-dwellers drive Hummers?) Keith Reinhard, who … wrote the “You deserve a break today” campaign for McDonald’s in 1971, a classic of manipulation which Advertising Age named the No. 1 jingle of the twentieth century. “The consumer was not looking for a better hamburger,” Reinhard explains. “They were looking for a break.”

This may be where the arts are lagging in marketing themselves. They are being too straightforward. They are saying they are all about entertainment, intellectual stimulation, economic benefits to the community. Bah! I can get my entertainment online (erm, let me rephrase that, I can order DVDs and play games online), I don’t need to be intellectual! Dumb is in!

Perhaps an ad campaign needs to borrow from McDonalds and show people escaping the hectic pressure of city life and finding solace and sanctuary in a museum.

Another point of the article underscores what I have said in numerous entries–you gotta track and assess the data about your consumers.

Jim Stengel, the global-marketing officer for Proctor & Gamble, … said, “I believe today’s marketing model is broken. We’re applying antiquated thinking and work systems to a new world of possibilities.” Agencies, he said, needed to produce advertising that consumers ‘want to stop and watch,’ but also to collect better information about consumer behavior. (My bolds)

While there is much about the article that is interesting, it is also heavily about the owner of a particular ad agency. If you are looking for information on trends, a quick scan past the biographical stuff will help you cut through the length of the article. (Though if you ever wondered how the AFLAC duck commercials came to be, it is an interesting and entertaining read.)

One note to undermine my impression yesterday that the popularity of shows like 24 is a good sign that some people have good attention spans-

Network dramas and situation comedies have more sex, more action, more urban appeal. Susan Lyne, the former president of ABC Entertainment, says, “Anything that is complex narrative storytelling – one-hour dramas, narrative miniseries, character-driven movies for television – advertisers don’t believe there is an audience under fifty for these kinds of shows.”


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


Leave a Comment