Why most advertising doesn’t work

In yesterday’s blog, I sang the praises of the greatest advertising man of his day, David Ogilvy. Unlike his peers, Mr. Ogilvy began his career as a salesman. And, he never lost sight of the fact that advertising exists for one, and only one, reason: to sell a client’s products and services. Were he alive today, I’d like to think Ogilvy would rail at the countless print and broadcast ads that do anything but sell.

Here’s a classic case-in-point. Do me a favor and double click on this TV spot and try to watch all 90 seconds.

In my opinion, the ad fails on all four counts of the Harvard Business Review’s classic criteria for the customer decision journey. They include:

1.)  Consideration. Within a nanosecond or two, the average viewer will either fast forward or channel surf to avoid seeing the remainder of the TV spot. Why? Because it looks like a trailer for yet another slasher/thriller/bloodlust teen flick.

2.)  Evaluation. One doesn’t even see the actual Dirt Devil product until the final seconds. How does one consider the effectiveness of the product? By its ability to suck the Linda Blair-type character up to the ceiling of the floor below? That ploy might be considered clever. But, clever doesn’t sell. Credibility does.

3.)  Evaluate. How can one possibly evaluate the Dirt Devil with its competitors when the ‘product claim’ is so utterly outrageous? Give me an infomercial that shows a vacuum cleaner picking up real-world dust and debris, and I’ll consider it for my next purchase.

4.)  Buy. Enjoy. Advocate. This one’s a non-starter. Will the TV spot inspire you to buy a Dirt Devil when you next visit a home appliance store? Not likely, unless you’re also in need of ridding your home of a poltergeist. Since the ad fails miserably, you’d neither buy, enjoy nor advocate on the appliance’s behalf.

Let me tell you why there are so many terrible print and broadcast advertisements today. It’s because most creative directors have lost sight of David Ogilvy’s original vision. Advertising is supposed to sell. Instead, creative directors see themselves as the next Steven Spielberg and are much more focused on winning a Gold Lion at the Cannes Advertising Festival (which is happening as we speak) than in meeting the customer decision criteria. Spots like this win awards. And, they inflate the egos and elevate the salaries of the award-winning creative directors. But, they DO NOT sell product.

That’s why PR is winning the war for the consumer’s mindshare. We’d never insult the intelligence of a buyer with an ersatz riff on ‘the Exorcist’. Instead, we’d go to where consumers are discussing home appliances (be it online, offline, or both). We’d listen to their pain points as well as their wants and needs. We’d determine how best to engage in those conversations. And, then, and only then, would we posit value-added advice from the makers of Dirt Devil. Our intent would be to achieve all four of the Harvard Business Review’s criteria, but to do so in a thoughtful, respectful and credible way.

As Ogilvy once famously said, ‘The consumer is not a moron. She’s your wife. Don’t insult her.’ The Dirt Devil commercial is an insult to the intelligence of every home appliance buyer, whether they be male, female or somewhere in-between.


7 thoughts on “Why most advertising doesn’t work

  1. Bit late to the party, but am researching an essay for an advertising course I’m doing and I came across this post. Repman, the only correct thing you’ve said above is “I’m not up on advertising measurement”. Might be worth checking up on it before making your ludicrous claims. It’s long established by actual empirical research that advertising which simply shows the product doing what it’s supposed to do is much less effective than advertising that strikes an emotional chord and gets in the head of consumers. Ads which win awards also drive more sales of products than ads which don’t. All you’ve offered above is unqualified opinion with no basis in factual evidence. I guess that’s why you work in PR though!

  2. I’m not up on advertising measurement, but there’s a reason why 30-second commercials are dying, Jc. They may be glitzy and glossy, and suck in unsuspecting movie fanatics such as Gaetano, but they do nothing to sell product.

  3. Awareness is, in fact, a key goal for any advertising campaign. But, because the average American is completely time pressed, the very notion of introducing the Dirt Devil at the end of the 30-second spot defeats the original goal. You stayed with the commercial because you’re a movie buff. But, target segmentation 101 would tell you that movie buffs are not a primary audience for Dirt Devil. Hence, the commercial fails in every regard.

  4. If I had a need for that kind of product I would consider it…My understanding of marketing was to have your product in the mind of the potential buyer…so that when a need presented itself, your product would be considered. They scored on that front with me.

  5. You’re so right, Steve. The commercial entertained me, but it didn’t sell me on buying a Dirt Devil. Like a lot of folks, I love the glut of amusing, rude, far-fetched, envelope-pushing ads that keep us talking, but they don’t sell. Perhaps there are different measurements on what’s considered a successful ad? Used to be just on whether or not you saw a spike in sales, now it seems to be whether or not your ad is featured on The Today Show going into the Super Bowl. People are talking about you, but are they buying???

  6. Perhaps Gaetano. But, I can’t believe you wouldn’t immediately fast forward past the movie build-up. More to the point, would the commercial make you any more likely to consider a dirt Devil? If so, why?

  7. I guess you didn’t like the Exorcist…I loved the commercial. I was interested to see what was going to happen….and it had a nice conclusion. Maybe it will appeal to movie moron’s like me.