Are the bold really the meek?

lemmings-off-a-cliffStuart Elliott’s recent New York Times column on advertising certainly wasn’t a ringing endorsement for the field.

In it, Elliott discusses Madison Avenue’s sudden love affair with the word bold. He says it’s showing up everywhere and from all sorts of different marketers. In the automotive category, for instance, Toyota is launching its new Camry as, “The BOLD new Camry.” And, a Zales TV commercial suggests consumers “Declare their love boldly.” Not to be outdone, True Religion Jeans urge buyers to “Be so bold.” Elliott also lists about 10 other bold examples in his column.

I’m not surprised multiple advertisers are latching onto the same word to drive their strategy. I’ve seen countless original campaigns or strategies copied by other brands, and often in the same category.

Take the airline industry for example. Southwest Airlines pioneered the use of comedy in their various communications. The others followed. Case in point, the video depicting a SW flight attendant rapping out safety instructions was a social media phenomenon. So, naturally, it begat countless other funny safety instruction videos from the likes of Air New Zealand and good old Delta.

In other instances, multiple non-competing marketers will borrow a strategic idea (a la the use of the word bold) and make it their own. So, Flo the friendly Progressive Insurance salesperson inspired Toyota’s Jan, the witty, fun-loving receptionist who, in turn, gave rise to the slightly creepy Lily from AT&T, whose clairvoyant powers absolutely befuddle a male consumer.

A few closing thoughts:

  • Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but, when applied to advertising, it indicates a lack of original thinking.
  • And, getting back to Elliott’s bold marketers, wouldn’t you rather have your target audiences associating you with the word bold and sharing their relevant experiences with your brand on social channels before you start using the word to describe your product? That approach tells me those brands and their advertisers are thinking more about sales and less about making an emotional connection with their audiences. But, hey, what do I know? No one’s ever called me bold.

One thought on “Are the bold really the meek?

  1. That column is right on the money. The NY Times is going to suffer w/out the insight of Stuart Elliott.