The eternal dispute over whether advertising should be effective or entertaining -- once again approaching a boiling point -- is the communications industry version of the scientific world's split on the forces affecting human development. Is it heredity or environment? Nature or nurture? Salesmanship or art?
That the ad industry is so polarized by this argument is beyond comprehension. The best ads aren't either
entertaining or effective, but the perfect blend of both. They move people and product at the same time (to borrow a phrase from this issue's cover story on this subject).
Turn on a TV, open a magazine or engage any other media vehicle at any time, and you'll see plenty of ads that, while they may be backed by a solid strategy, amount to little more than background clutter. You'll see just as many that essentially are the products of self-indulgent creatives more interested in winning awards and peer applause than in helping clients achieve their marketing objectives. In between, you'll find a narrow strip of work that stands head and shoulders above everything else precisely because it represents highly creative executions of a sound strategy. Think of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' flawless "Got Milk?" campaign.
That the best ads are a blend of both makes perfect sense in an arena where consumers are ceaselessly bombarded by commercial messages. To break through such clutter and connect with the consumer requires more than the same old thing. Moreover, in an age of commodity products, advertising can't always communicate points of differentiation; some ads today are the points of differentiation, the only thing allowing a product to stand out from its competition. (Does anyone really choose Coke or Pepsi based on taste preferences?)
Just as Miller Lite ads once told beer drinkers they no longer had to decide between taste and calories (a classic example of entertaining and effective advertising), it's high time the two warring sides in this debate stop looking at the entertainment vs. effectiveness argument as a black and white issue that divides the industry.
New line cinema's marketing program for the rollout of its critically acclaimed feature film "Boogie Nights" is so timid we wonder what the studio is thinking.
"Boogie Nights" examines the porno-film industry of the late '70s; it's an Altman-esque look at characters who flare and then fade. The opening received rave reviews in major cities. It's not sexploitation and it's not rated NC-17. Yet here's New
Line's top marketing executive citing "some resistance" to the film by theaters outside major markets that he attributes to "a vacuum of information about the plot of the movie."
Look at the TV ads plugging the film and it's no wonder there's a "vacuum of information" about "Boogie Nights." The spots make the movie look like a '70s party, with bell-bottom pants and disco dancing, obviously hoping nostalgia about the era will pull in customers.
But that's not what "Boogie Nights" is, and the film -- and the moviegoing public -- would be better served by franker advertising and promotion that portrays the movie, not the era or the parties or the clothes. "Everyone is blessed with one special thing," as the Mark Wahlberg character notes early on. What's special about this movie -- the story and multiple fine, gutsy performances by Mr. Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore and William C. Macy