How can two such astute and articulate evaluators of the TV scene find themselves in fundamental disagreement? If, after all, these two keen observers and commentators don't see eye-to-eye on matters that strike at the very heart of what constitutes advertising effectiveness, what possible chance is there for industry practitioners to get it right?
Here's the essence of the divergent opinions: Bob believes any kind of advertising, no matter how dumb, tasteless and inane, is acceptable as long as it's on strategy. Since the Outpost.com strategy was simply to register its name with the viewing public, the stupider and more tasteless the better -- presumably on the theory that the worse the commercials are, the more memorable they are.
Bob's boss doesn't agree with this point of view. He points out that the late, unlamented Miller Lite commercials were probably right on strategy and quite memorable, but they didn't work either.
In case you blessedly missed seeing the Outpost.com spots, we voted them winner and runner-up in the technology/communications category. (I realize Bob was not the only one to vote but he is the acknowledged ringleader.)
Here is a brief summary: A conservative-looking spokes-man sitting in a book-lined study explains Outpost has asked the local high school marching band to help publicize its name. The TV screen cuts to an overhead shot with the band forming Outpost.com on a football field. "And to help make this memorable, we've released a pack of ravenous wolves," the guy intones. And then the ravenous wolves show their hunger by rushing into the field and jumping on the band members and tearing at their pant legs and maybe their actual limbs. And then the guy says approvingly, "That's good stuff."
In last week's issue announcing all the winners, we said of the first place Outpost work: "Oddly, the commercials hardly make an effort to describe what Outpost.com does (according to the closing graphic they sell computer gear over the Web), but that's okay. This spot is guaranteed to get the kinds of Web-savvy mediaphiles most inclined to buy a PC on the Net instead of at Comp USA talking, if not chat rooming, e-mailing and usegrouping. Hey, that's all they said they wanted."
Hey, that's not going to be enough. The company, whose corporate name is a cool Cyberian Outpost Inc., and whose ticker symbol is COOL, is posting some decidedly uncool numbers: a loss of $25 million in the last fiscal year, up from $7 million the year before. Sales hit $85 million, a big increase from $26.6 million.
So Outpost is singing that familiar cyberspace refrain. The higher its sales, the higher its losses due to big ad expenses and cutthroat competition from other computer cyberchains.
Therein lies Outpost's dilemma. Its award-winning advertising is fishing in a very shallow pool: the mediaphiles, as we called them, attracted to such irreverent messages. In the meantime, the ads have alienated every other buying segment, much as Miller Lite did with its whacko advertising.
Cyberian no doubt understands the problem. Last month it started a new campaign that at least owns up to what it does. "Hardware. Software. Answers." is the new tagline, but the radio and TV ads still take an ultra-hip approach guaranteed to mystify and repulse most older computer buyers. Fashioned after "War of the Worlds," the radio spots feature "a crooning lobster, a brainwashed president and a musclebound robot who happens to be a wrestling fanatic," according to the company's press release.
Boy, are these guys on a roll or what? We might as well award them next year's