Tribute to contrarians: Selling brand benefits

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The super bowl is only a few days away and, if history is any guide, you know what that means: a gridiron blowout and an advertising extravaganza. Heavy on the extrava, light on the ganza.

Many an advertiser--in fact, most of the advertisers--will spend $3 million or so for 30 seconds of very high production values and very low selling value. There will be lots of special effects, lots of attempted comedy, lots of spectacle. But there will be very little explanation of why anyone in the audience of 100 million should actually go out and buy the advertised product.

So as we on the Ad Review staff gird ourselves for yet another ineptly played Super Bowl of advertising, we thought we might pay a little tribute to some contrarian marketers who are reduced to bragging about what their products do. The poor saps. Wallowing in brand benefits. How humiliating.

Purell hand sanitizer; Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago: 3 stars

This is no shoestring commercial for the GoJo Industries product. Director Pierluca De Carlo has turned out some very stylized, very textured film of human hands in contact with germ-ridden surfaces: subway straps, paper money, coin returns, raw chicken, etc. The music is ominous, the images strangely frightening.

"Hands," the voice-over says. "They keep us in touch with the world. Sometimes, too much. That's why there's Purell. It kills even the toughest germs without water. [Now the eerie music has given way to a soothing New Age chime, as she handles a delicate orchid.] And since Purell won't dry your hands, you can use it every time you touch too much."

Of course, soap and water works, too. But when they aren't handy, not only does this spot make you want to consider Purell, it makes you want to freebase it.

Hyundai Motors America; Bates USA, New York: 3 stars

First of all, the car looks quite nice--but it's a Hyundai, so it's unreliable, right?

Maybe not. This spot focuses on a high-tech high jump, on which the crossbar is ratcheted ever upward.

The voice-over: "To raise the bar for the entire industry, it will take even more than standard front and side airbags and a steel safety cage. Now, to really raise the bar, it will take America's best warranty with 10 years powertrain coverage, five years bumper-to-bumper protection and five years roadside assistance. Introducing the whole new Sonata, from Hyundai."

Meantime, the car speeds down the track and soars over the crossbar, to which the voice-over adds: "Consider the bar raised. Driving is believing."

And only about 17 grand. The music is a bit melodramatic and overwrought, as is the surreal setting, but the industry's best warranty is a bold, credible statement of reliability. Others would list it as a feature. Hyundai has made it a positioning.

Sharpie markers; Ungar Group, Chicago: 3 stars

We'd forgotten about Sharpie, the felt-tip permanent marker from Sanford Corp. But here it is, in a series of inexpensively produced but very bright and well-edited spots. It writes on a coffee mug, aluminum foil, fishbowl, plaster cast, floppy disk, foam food container--all the stuff that turns our regular felt tips into instant smudge. And there's the voice-over telling us, "Sharpie. Mark whatever you want." Aluminum foil? Really? Cool.

Look, it's a low-interest category with an even lower-interest claim of indelibility, But, turns out, in this increasingly dry-erase world, we're grateful for the reminder.

Copyright January 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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