CREATIVE GURUS JUST DON'T GET IT

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The Super Bowl extravaganza has shown once and for all that the advertising industry's creative gurus don't know what they're talking about.

I've long suspected it, but they don't have a clue as to what constitutes good advertising or bad advertising. They are writing for their own approbation, and they are completely out of touch with the realities of the marketplace.

Is it any wonder clients increasingly bypass these mad geniuses to put their money into such areas as special events, sales promotion and PR? If you think I'm being a trifle harsh, read last Tuesday's editions of USA Today and The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. USA Today quoted Donny Deutsch, lord high creative guru, as saying of the Super Bowl spots: "There was not one big idea. Not one fresh voice. The agencies should all be shot."

Creative people are an insular group. If an idea has been tried anywhere, it can never ever be used again, according to the creative pledge of allegiance they all mouth in unison.

But that stilted and totally unrealistic view doesn't take into consideration what consumers like and want. The Bud Light "Yes I am" line works because consumers are familiar with it and even know it's coming, yet those spots have gotten little respect on Madison Ave.

What's interesting is that the Times and Journal had opposite views of the Super Bowl ads, and they cited the same research to support their contentions. The Journal's Kevin Goldman wrote that many of the ads in the lopsided game "seemed to have little luster and relied on uninspired variations of past campaigns." Kevin quoted overnight product recall data from Creative Marketing Consultants to bolster his view: "With two exceptions, the vast majority of the respondents couldn't tell which products were being advertised."

Stuart Elliott of the Times said that the ads were "amazingly effective." Stuart also relied on the same firm's research to show that advertisers like Pepsi-Cola and Budweiser achieved "high scores for being recalled without prompting-and the spots even outranked the game itself for being `good"' (admittedly not a very tough challenge).

Messrs. Goldman and Elliott are both right, proving you can use research to support whatever you want (although I think Stuart is more right than Kevin). But the bottom line is that the 350 viewers in the poll thought that overall the commercials were better than they thought they'd be even if the game was below their expectations.

Leave it to our own Bob Garfield to put the whole thing in perspective: "This year's Super Bowl advertisers seemed finally to grasp that marketing impact is not a function of production expense and digital gimmickry. It is a function of storytelling and filmmaking smarts."

If you don't have the smarts and ability to tell a good story, you're sort of forced to rely on those expensive things. That's the crutch of too many of today's creative hotshots, and the absence of those gimmicks is why they didn't like this year's batch of Super Bowl ads even if consumers did.

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