Advertising Serves Many Masters, Creating Unintended Results

Famous Campaigns for Allstate, Burger King Have Done More for Agencies Than Marketers' Bottom Lines

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Advertising is getting to be a pretty complicated transaction these days. It serves many masters, and sometimes selling goods and services is the least important.

Allstate Insurance's 'Mayhem' campaign is an example of ads that help the agency more than the client.
Allstate Insurance's 'Mayhem' campaign is an example of ads that help the agency more than the client.

Often popular ads do more for the agency than the client. Or the messages are created with a higher purpose than just moving the merchandise. Or the ads serve as a jumping off place for a post-agency career.

Take Allstate Insurance's "Mayhem" campaign as an example of ads that help the agency more than the client. It's attracted a great deal of attention, but it hasn't really moved the needle for Allstate. The insurer has lost market share for the past five years. As Crain's Chicago Business pointed out, more ad spending puts more pressure on profits, "a fact not lost on investors wondering how "Mayhem" can garner so much buzz (500,000 Facebook fans and nearly 10 million YouTube views) without boosting Allstate's sales."

The ads were intended to create doubt in people's minds about cheaper competitors. But the endless display of one catastrophe after another drowns out any mention of the claim that the cut-rate boys don't provide equal protection against mayhem or that there's any advantage selecting Allstate over anybody else. That edge always goes to the category leader, which Allstate is not.

The commercials did have some beneficial effects. They entered the realm of popular culture, generating lots of publicity for Allstate. And they heightened the profile of the actor who plays Mayhem, Dean Winters.

But the biggest payoff might be for the agency that created the ads, Leo Burnett. When the commercials hit the airwaves in 2010, clients started asking for the agency that did "Mayhem."

Off the mark
That's the same reaction CP&B got from its Burger King ads. The campaign -- really a series of viral promotions such as "Subservient Chicken" -- did far more for CP&B than it ever did for the fast-food chain.

Ad Age named it the Agency of the Decade.

At the time, I thought CP&B's stuff was off the mark. "The agency prides itself on being media-agnostic, which I'm beginning to think means that it would rather play around with cute little viral promotions than concentrate on one big idea that works powerfully across all media," I wrote then. I wondered if the agency was a one-trick pony.

But now that former CP&B partner Alex Bogusky has made the move from a "brand advocate to a consumer advocate," using those cute (if nothing else he always goes for cute) Coca-Cola bears as his foil, I can't help but wonder if he ever had his heart in creating big-selling ideas for Burger King and other clients.

Burger King pretty much gave the agency carte blanche to do anything it wanted, and Bogusky took advantage of it. Back in 2006, marketers liked to talk about how they were turning over their brands to consumers. Russ Klein, then marketing boss at Burger King, said at an Association of National Advertisers confab that such a move enables "social connectivity" as a means of empowerment.

Can you imagine the mischief agencies can get into with those kinds of squishy directives? And it got squishier still at last month's ANA conference when one speaker proclaimed that , "We have to stop looking at consumers as armpits that need deodorizing."

But what, I ask you, could be a nobler mission, than for a product designed to please one's olfactory nerves, and what could be a more noble cause than a company dedicating itself to anatomical rejuvenation?

What really caught my notice was our online survey indicating that 50% of respondents found Bogusky's three-minute spot featuring the cola bears going to pot after guzzling sugar-laden soda pop "inspiring." The other half called it hypocritical.

But if our readers really support such subversive tactics, look for even more mischief-making and nonproductive advertising to complicate the advertising transaction.

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