When it comes to advertisements, the term “strong ad” is often used to describe a highly effective ad. But are strong ads more harmful than good if they start generating complaints? Does advertising help or harm us in general if we have a few unhappy people in the audience? That is the topic up for debate in this article.
Emotional Impact of Ads
Some people believe that strong ads can have an adverse emotional impact on viewers. Ads that are designed to be persuasive can sometimes be manipulative. The worst ads can make us feel bad about ourselves if we don’t buy the solution that is being advertised. Popular ads for diet products can make viewers feel insecure of their weight, even when they feel good about themselves. An ad campaign for luxury items can people feel like they need to spend more money than they actually have. These are a couple of advertisement examples of harmful advertisements.
Others argue that emotional ads can be positive because they can make us feel good about ourselves. For example, successful ads for a new car might make us feel successful and confident. Famous ads for a new piece of jewelry might make us feel happy and stylish.
So, what do you think? Is advertising good or bad? Is advertising helpful or harmful? Do unethical ads make us buy things we don’t need? Or do great ads reflect our own hidden feelings and desires?
Strong Ads = Complaints
I’m not here to expose a big secret. We all know that stronger ads mean faster growth. However, as we become more aware, we complain more. Just think about the last time you saw an ad and said, “That’s sexist!”, or, “That’s blasphemy!” In some cases, these complaints are warranted. In other cases, people are just looking for something to be offended by.
The thing is, when we’re offended by an ad, we’re still engaging with it. That’s what the advertiser wants. They want us to talk about their product, even in a negative light.
“The optimal number of complaints for a great ad is not zero.” – Mick Torbay, Wizard of Ads® Partner
We know that when we get a complaint that we are making people feel something. Well crafted ads that instigate emotions are sure to put someone in a tizzy. What we know is that for every one complaint, there are at least another 100 people who loved it. So, are strong ads more harmful than good? It depends on how you look at it.
On the one hand, they can be seen as a necessary evil. On the other hand, they can be viewed as a potential danger to society. It really depends on who wrote your ad, in many cases. If you don’t understand what you’re doing, you risk burning all the boats behind you. It’s up to each of us to decide which side we fall on.
So, should we avoid strong ads? Not if you want to get noticed, you don’t. However, we should be aware of the potential consequences. Be strategic in your approach.
“Most ads aren’t written to persuade. They’re written not to offend.” — Roy H. Williams
Put on the TV and watch your favorite late-night talk show host or comedian. Let’s pretend you can conceive of every other person’s perception. Chances are, you could be offended by most of the funny things coming from these TV personalities’.
Now, imagine that you could rewrite the jokes to avoid offending ANYONE. Would they be as funny? Probably not. Why? Because to make someone laugh, you have to push the boundaries. You have to take risks. The same is true for advertising.
The best ads are often offensive ads (to someone). The ones that take risks and push boundaries are the ones that get noticed. But, of course, not everyone is going to like them. In fact, some people are bound to be offended by them. Do you want your ads to be altogether agreeable? Then you’re welcoming blandness into your life and your customers’ lives.
“Congratulations. Now you’ve got ads that sound exactly like everyone else’s.” — Roy H. Williams
Now, here’s a list of common complaints your customers might have for you:
“I’m sick of hearing your ads.”
This is what your customer means: “It makes me mad that I can’t ignore you.” This level of awareness is what you want. You want to be top of mind when they’re finally ready to buy. You want them to think, “Oh, I should call that company.”
“Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.” — Jeff Bezos
“Your ads don’t sound professional. They’re not polished and smooth.”
What your customer means is: “It makes me mad that your ads don’t sound like ads.” You want your ads to stand out, be noticeable, and be remembered. You want them to be the ads that people talk about.
“Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.” — Will Rogers
“I’m offended by your ads, and I’ll never do business with you.”
This is what your customer means: “Complaining is what I do to make me feel important.” You want your ads to be noticed and to provoke a reaction, even if that reaction is adverse. Getting attention is the first step to getting customers.
“Good advertising does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief.” — Leo Burnett
PepsiCo’s Little Chihuahua
PepsiCo’s “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” little chihuahua is a prime example of a paradoxical ad. Those ads that are entertaining as far as entertaining goes, but harmful to sales and profit. The company spent a couple hundred million dollars to promote the dog. As for taco sales? They didn’t increase a penny. America was entertained, but extra profit didn’t land in PepsiCo’s coffers.
In fact, it was quite the opposite. The company took a beating in the stock market and had to let go of thousands of employees during that campaign. Yes, the little chihuahua was entertaining, but he didn’t sell any tacos. In fact, he cost PepsiCo dearly in terms of sales and profit.
The same can be said for many ads created solely for entertainment value. They may get attention but don’t necessarily translate into sales or profit. So while they may be suitable for a laugh, they’re not necessarily good for business.
The True Measure of Successful Ads
“It doesn’t matter what you consider to be a success. It only matters that you have an objective way of measuring it (and, in the process, the effectiveness of your advertising).”
— Roy H. Williams
What is an effective way of measuring it for you? Would you rather people love your ads? Or do you want them to buy your product to produce profits? You can’t have both. You’re selling a product or service to make money. That’s the sole purpose of advertising– to increase sales and, as a result, profits.
What was the point if your ad is entertaining and loved by everyone but doesn’t sell anything? Some people would argue that if an ad goes viral, it must be effective. (Like the Taco Bell dog commercial.) Is it really effective, though, if it doesn’t sell anything? We can all think of ads that were entertaining but didn’t sell the product.
The key is to have an objective way to measure success. You need to know how many people saw your ad. You also need to know how many people bought your product as a result of seeing your ad. Otherwise, you’re just guessing.
The Problem Most Big Ad Agencies Face
“The problem big agencies face is that they’re never able to sit across the table from someone with unconditional authority to say ‘absolutely yes.’
When creative people know they must gain a group’s approval, they will instinctively play it safe. And [they will] give the group what they want, rather than what they need.”
— Roy H. Williams
If you’re not measuring the results of your advertising, then you’re essentially guessing. Moreover, if you’re relying on a big ad agency to do your advertising for you, then you’re at their mercy. You cannot necessarily trust they have your best interests in mind or they’re even capable of delivering results.
Big ad agencies are often more interested in selling you their services than in helping you grow your business. They’re also more concerned with winning awards than generating leads and sales. As a result, they may produce flashy and attention-grabbing ads but fail to help you achieve your objectives. What’s more, big agencies typically work on a retainer basis. This means they’re paid whether or not their campaigns are successful.
In other words, there’s no incentive for them to produce results. Rather, working with a smaller agency or a freelancer makes you likelier to get more personal attention and better results. The reason is simple: their livelihood depends on it. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Some big agencies produce great work; some small shops don’t. But in general, you’re more likely to get what you need from a smaller operation.
When it comes to choosing an agency, size isn’t everything. However, it’s worth considering when making your decision.
What’s the solution, then?
The solution is to clearly understand what you want to achieve with your advertising and then measure the results. If you’re not getting the desired results, change your approach. There’s no magic bullet when it comes to advertising.
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