Assumptions about Communication/Cool Hand Luke

Steve Long Salinas17 at AOL.COM
Sun Feb 25 23:59:32 UTC 2001

In a message dated 2/25/2001 8:32:01 AM, ocls at MADISONCOUNTY.NET writes:
<< It seems to me that if commercials are to be part of this discussion we
would need to consider the evidence -- which tells us that when commercials
establish positive feelings people often remember the commercial but not the
name of the product it was selling or the company/brand responsible. By
contrast, when commercials establish negative feelings -- including disgust
or repulsion -- they almost always remember the product's name/brand/company,
and it's well established that this leads to higher sales.>>

Well, I think the ad managers of Budweiser and McDonald's will tell you that
simply isn't true.  Political campaigns are another thing.

I think all you have to do to get a clear picture of what drives the actual
creators of (at least American and British) tv commercials is get a hold of
an issue of "Creativity", a magazine published by AdAge for that group.
You'll see the value system among the upper echelons of that group that
permeates through most of the "creative types"  at advertising agencies is
pretty transparent.

You don't get star status by "establishing positive or negative feelings" or
even necessarily "higher sales."  TV especially is all about the shock of
"awareness", where your commercial is remembered, talked about, featured in
USA Today and TV Guide.  Those who add to the mammoth ratings of the
SuperBowl regularly vote the commercials more interesting than the game in
the press, where the "favorite" commercial is always a prestige matter.  Big
corporate marketing machines, whether they like it or not, must compete.  But
a "blockbuster" ad campaign is often associated with good sales and positive
corporate image on Wall Street.

The key of course is to create a 30 second story where the product or service
or corporate image has a role in that story.  (Just like the Reeses Pieces
(candy) that Spielberg had E.T., the lovable alien, find so delicious.)
Telling a good cinematic story with the product interwoven is obviously the
motif of the commercials that win the "best ever" polls - Coke's "Mean Joe
Green" (hurt but scary football player thanks kid for giving him a Coke by
tossing him a game jersey), Apple's "1984" (woman with war hammer smashes Big
Brother's screen symbolizing introduction of Macintosh and that Orwell's1984
will not happen in 1984) - and earn the writers and directors - Ridley Scott
(Gladitor), Joe Pitka (Spaceballs) - a walkin to the Hollywood feature film
business.  Both Mean Joe and 1984 were felt to have an enormous positive, but
hard to measure, impact on sales.

That said, the other element in the ad business is called 'Research',
considered antithetical to the 'Creatives' and you can guess what profession
they come from.  Research would prefer tv commercials to be aimed at
"persuasion" but often lose in the battle with the "Creatives" because people
will often say they will buy a product NOT based on what the commercial says
but because they just plain like a commercial  and the way it treats them.

Research-designed commercials tend to overemphasize the product and so the
commercials lose their sense of entertainment.  These are the kinds of ads
that use special effects to demonstrate the product (which modern audiences
are not as amazed by anymore) or mundane problem-solution situations (that
modern audiences are bored by.)  For a fair number of conservative product
categories or advertisers, these research-driven commercials are the norm
(e.g., headache remedies, toilet bowl cleaners).  These situations are
considered the equivalent of Siberia to the Creative crowd.

Given the above, there are researchers who have strong track record in the
business.  The "success" of a commercial depends on its objective.  New
products must first achieve "awareness" or "top-of-mind awareness" which may
have as much to do with how often they run as with what they say,  except
that product ID is critical.  "Motivation-to-buy" is measured by some
researchers, while with commonly used products, "attitude' measurements can
signal the kind of nudge that gets people "switching" between two comparable
brands.  There are thousands of commercials run every day on American tv, so
that "memorability" and "attention" are also separate values.

The bad feelings you mention generally occur in "problem-solution"
commercials, where as with pain relievers the interest is considered high
among potential users.

Image advertising (or brand image advertising) is used to fill in or sustain
a general good feeling about a product.  Some of us feel that so-called
"negative political advertising" against opposing political candidates is a
solid case of manipulation.  Rich (often republican) candidates particularly
can assert things over and over again on air which even the press cannot
bring balance to, if they had the heart, because the air waves are truly

Well, on its basic level, advertising doesn't make me want toilet paper or
instant mash potatoes.  Toilet paper and instant mashed potatoes make me want
them when I understand what they do.  My life is a lot better because of both.

The basic intended effect of advertising is to let me know those items exist
and I cannot argue with that, as I never knew them, my life would be the
worse for it.
There is however advertising that alludes to benefits that may be imaginary
and that I as a user cannot confirm.  Some herbal health products are like
this.  They prey on fear and may do nothing and I think they deserve strong
government interdiction.

Then there is the whole issue of congruent self-image and product image, as
in beer or a kind of a car, where the label is a badge for the user.  A Bud
or Chevy man versus "imported beer drinkers" or BMW drivers and such.  The
whole notion of fashion, social acceptance, "conspicuous consumption"
(Thorstein Veblen, for those who don't read anything ten years old or more)
is beyond the topic of advertising and well into the arena of social
phenomena that existed long before tv commercials and outdoor billboards.
All that includes perhaps communication on its most subtle plain.

<<In terms of "success" or "failure" of the communication, this sets
advertising communication significantly apart from most other human language
interactions. Mingling the two forms is likely to lead to substantial
confusion. >>

I think a close look will show only that advertising, like motion pictures
and popular music, is different only in the amplification of its effects by
the power of mass electronic media.

Hope this helps,
Steve Long

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