Dotcom Advertising Fails to Inspire a New Creative Revolution

"I'm always hoping that one day some young man will come into my office and say, 'Your 96 rules for creating good ads are for the birds. They're all based on research that is out of date and irrelevant. Here are 96 new rules based on new research. Throw yours out the window... You're an old dodo, living in the past. Moreover, I have written a new dogma, a new dialectic, and I am the prophet of the future."'

This appeal for someone to lead a new creative revolution in advertising was written by legendary adman David Ogilvy in his classic book The Art of Writing Advertising, which was published in 1965. In the 60s revolutionaries such as Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, Leo Burnett, and Rosser Reeves turned advertising creativity on its head. The creative director of a major agency describes the state of advertising creativity before these revolutionaries came along as follows: "It was the Dark Ages, manufacturers shouting out the factory window. There was no emotional connection. It was basically what the client wanted you to say. The creative revolution was about finding a way to talk to people. It was like finding perspective."

The creative revolution that occurred during the 60s was in many ways inspired by the emergence of television as a dominant medium for advertising. Now the Internet is the new technology invading homes in the United States as well as other countries, and many felt it would be the catalyst for a new creative revolution in advertising. Madison Avenue had never seen a

boom as explosive, spectacular, and sudden as the "great dot-com ad boom" of the late 90s that continued on into the new millennium. Ads for Internet companies such as portals and e-commerce sites were everywhere. And as these companies competed for consumers' attention and a piece of their mind-set, many were producing a new type of advertising whose style was as daring and unconventional as the entrepreneurs who built the online companies.

Among the most creative and popular of the ads for the dot-com companies were the campaign created for the online trading firm Ameritrade that featured Stuart, the young, ponytailed, red-headed day trader; ads featuring Socks, the fast-talking dog sock puppet for Pets.com; ads with sci-fi celebrity William Shatner singing off key for Priceline.com; and commercials for the online financial services company E*Trade featuring a chimpanzee. There were also numerous dot-com ads that pushed the limits of good taste to get attention and build awareness. Commercials for online retailer Outpost.com included a spot showing gerbils being shot out of cannon into a backboard,and another featured a marching band on a football field forming the words outpost.com and then being attacked by a pack of wolves. Beyond.com, an online retailer of software and computer-related products, helped pioneer the crazy dot-com advertising genre with its "Naked Man" campaign that featured a fictitious character shopping for software at home au naturel.

Many of the ads for online companies were creative and fun to watch. However,critics argued that most of the ads were ineffective at communicating a meaningful message for the companies and much of the $3 billion per year that was being spent on dot-com advertising was wasted. All of the dot-coms wanted their advertising to be the funniest or most outrageous. However, in the end it all started to look the same and became boring. The end of the great dot-com ad boom was perhaps best signified by an award-winning commercial for E*Trade that ran during the 2001 Super Bowl. The ad was a spoof of a 1971 "Keep America Beautiful" spot from the Ad Council and showed the E-Trade chimp riding on horseback into a deserted town replete with lots of dot-com businesses that had gone bust. After picking up a tattered sock puppet, the simian sheds a tear—just as the American Indian did in the much admired public service announcement years ago. E*Trade was one of the survivors of the dot-com shake-out and recently began a new campaign promoting the change of its name to E*Trade Financial and poking fun at the excesses of the dot-com era.

Many in the advertising community believe that the next creative revolution in advertising will come not from ads for Internet companies but from the medium itself. They feel that the skill set of the creativity community will really be unleashed as technological limitations that handcuff web creativity, such as bandwidth problems, are solved and the Internet converges with other traditional media such a television and print. As discussed earlier, advertisers such as BMW,Skyy vodka, and Levi Strauss are taking advertising in a new direction by creating short films that can be viewed and/or downloaded from their websites. This hybrid of advertising and entertainment is referred to in the ad world as "branded content." The agency for Nike created a campaign with cliff-hanger commercials whose endings could be found only on the Nike website. A new creative revolution may indeed be under way. However,this time it may involve more than ads showing gerbils being shot out of cannons.

Source: Suzanne Vranica,"Dot-Com TV Ads Make a Comeback," The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 10,2002,p.B5; Suein L.Hwang and Kathryn Kranhold,"Where Have All the Gerbils Gone?" The Wall Street Journal, March 30,2000, p. Bl; Eleftheria Parpis, "You Say You Want a Revolution," Adweek, Dec.l3,l999,pp.29-36.

They are also used in TV advertising, with an announcer generally delivering the sales message while the product/service is shown on the screen. Ads for high-involvement consumer products as well as industrial and other business-to-business products generally use this format.

Scientific/Technical Evidence In a variation of the straight sell, scientific or technical evidence is presented in the ad. Advertisers often cite technical information, results of scientific or laboratory studies, or endorsements by scientific bodies or agencies to support their advertising claims. For example, an endorsement from the American Council on Dental Therapeutics on how fluoride helps prevent cavities was the basis of the campaign that made Crest the leading brand on the market. The ad for Der-masil Pharmaceutical Dry Skin Treatment shown in Exhibit 9-13 uses this execution style to emphasize the breakthrough from Vaseline Research.

Demonstration Demonstration advertising is designed to illustrate the key advantages of the product/service by showing it in actual use or in some staged situation. Demonstration executions can be very effective in convincing consumers of a product's utility or quality and of the benefits of owning or using the brand. TV is particularly well suited for demonstration executions, since the benefits or advantages of the product can be shown right on the screen. Although perhaps a little less dramatic than TV, demonstration ads can also work in print, as shown in the ad for Du Pont's Teflon Bakeware Liners (Exhibit 9-14).

Comparison Brand comparisons can also be the basis for the advertising execution. The comparison execution approach is increasingly popular among advertisers, since it offers a direct way of communicating a brand's particular advantage over its competitors or positioning a new or lesser-known brand with industry leaders. Comparison executions are often used to execute competitive advantage appeals, as discussed earlier.

Testimonial Many advertisers prefer to have their messages presented by way of a testimonial, where a person praises the product or service on the basis of his or her personal experience with it. Testimonial executions can have ordinary satisfied customers discuss their own experiences with the brand and the benefits of using it. This approach can be very effective when the person delivering the testimonial is someone with whom the target audience can identify or who has an interesting story to tell. The testimonial must be based on actual use of the product or service to avoid legal problems, and the spokesperson must be credible.

Apple Computer made effective use of testimonials as part of its "Switch" campaign, which features computer users from various walks of

Exhibit 9-13 This Dermasil ad cites a scientific study

Exhibit 9-13 This Dermasil ad cites a scientific study

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