Commentary by Rance Crain


And Duracell Battery Ads Need a Jolt of Memorability

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Verizon is struggling to figure out how to make its geeky Test Man, the guy who asks the burning question "Can you hear me now?"
Rance Crain, editor in chief, 'Advertising Age'

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relevant beyond cellphone reliability.

Gillette, on the other hand, is scratching its head about why its commercials for Duracell batteries, showing how hospitals and rock concerts rely on Duracell as a dependable power source, don't seem to be working.

Learning from each other
I submit that each ad campaign has elements that would make the other successful.

One of the problems with Test Man, I commented last fall, is that, instead of reassuring me about Verizon service, he makes me wonder about the overall reliability of the system. Who wants to take a chance on Verizon if Test Man has to check out every few feet whether he can be heard?

Said I: "Should I be concerned its system is still a work in progress? I'm glad to know that Verizon never stops working for me, but I think I'll come back when they finish the job."

As for Duracell, on paper it would seem that Gillette is doing everything right. Instead of going with some goofy knock-off of the Energizer Bunny to show Duracell batteries last a long time, Gillette has opted to show how real live people, all with a lot riding on keeping their equipment up and running, rely on Duracell exclusively. That approach makes a lot of sense. The trouble is it's difficult to remember which battery they are relying on. I remember Energizer because the bunny that keeps going and going is named Energizer.

Memorability is not a problem
Verizon's problem is not memorability. Whether we want to or not, we all can recall Test Man and his incessant questioning. But it hasn't tried to establish that its phones work under severe and unusual conditions instead of just football stadiums and other mundane places.

So let's review. Verizon has succeeded in making us remember Test Man but failed to establish that its system works under trying conditions. Gillette has succeeded in linking Duracell to trying conditions but failed to make us remember what brand the hospitals and rock bands were relying on.

Put this way, the solution for both companies becomes evident, at least to these tired old eyes. Verizon should put Test Man into more demanding encounters with people whose businesses and very survival depend on reliable cellphone service.

While Duracell has lost share in seven of 10 months, Verizon picked up 1.5 million new subscribers in the fourth quarter (largely because consumers were able to keep their own numbers).

The next level
So the Test Man campaign is at least going in the right direction, and Verizon's desire to take it to the next level (beyond just reliability) should be done by showing Test Man in slightly ludicrous places to demonstrate how Verizon Wireless can be used in varied conditions, such as when Test Man is doing loop-de-loops on a roller coaster, or in a cold storage locker beside massive slabs of beef.

Gillette, on the other hand, has to be very careful with humor. The Energizer Bunny has successfully staked its claim to whimsical portrayals of long-lastability, and I'm afraid Duracell will need to find other ways to implant the brand into the consumer's fertile but sometimes unyielding mind.

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