Making water

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You may have read in one of my earlier entries that we had to move our offices. Our previous location was in the 300 year-old historic area of Albuquerque known as Old Town. Today we are closer to downtown. The trappings of urban life are not always pleasant. One of my employees just related one of his first experiences in our new office. While peering through his office window he witnessed a homeless man urinating on the side of a building across the street. I guess the call of nature was too loud for him to make it to the alley that was but a few steps away. My co-worker then shared that a female pedestrian walking by was greeted not only by the man’s uninterrupted stream, but an ear-to-ear grin. My co-worker said the woman didn’t return the man’s cheerful demeanor. Now don’t get the wrong impression about Albuquerque. We are rather proud of our manners and we are neither overrun with the homeless nor the socially inept. I relate this episode because it reminded me of how advertising works.

Imagine you’re sitting at home watching television when suddenly you see something a bit surprising, maybe even shocking. You are going to react one of two ways. Either you are going to be delighted or irritated. Shock cannot cause ambivalence.

We just finished a series of spots that shows people picking their noses. These spots will get some negative feedback. Our client is prepared for it because they believe that the act of nose picking drives home their message in an effective way. They know that irritating someone is a better fate than being ignored by everyone.

I guarantee someone has hated every great campaign ever created. Remember the “Got Milk?” ad with the guy who gets hit by a bus and goes to hell? I’m sure that got someone’s ire up. I’m also sure they complained, loudly. Did that deter the California Milk Board? Did they fire Goodby for ruffling feathers? Hardly.

If you’re an advertiser and your ads never have received complaints it’s certain you have failed to get anyone’s attention. Quite frankly there are people out there who are depending on you to give them a soapbox on which to stand. Don’t disappoint them. It doesn’t take much to do so. I did a radio spot once that included the song “Happy Birthday.” The client received a scathing letter from someone who found that ad so irritating that he said that it was the worst commercial the client had ever done and that it would destroy their brand’s appeal. What was so irritating? The offended person didn’t care for the way we sang Happy Birthday. He thought instead of using real people we should have used professional singers.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that we have to purposely go out and offend. Our agency’s position is that we shouldn’t do creative that our children shouldn’t see. So, I’m not talking about vulgarity or lewdness. I’m talking about ideas that are stimulating. My kids love commercials that I find extremely irritating, even stupid. Does that mean I should write the advertiser and gripe about it? Sure, if I want to, but that doesn’t mean they should listen to me. I’m not the market.

I occasionally like to remind clients that we all sit and watch TV with the remote firmly clinched in my fist ready to defend ourselves from the bland. Who wouldn’t? The military uses hair bands of the 80’s to break their enemy’s will to fight. Maybe they should try the majority of the advertising being done today.
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