John E. Fike Copywriting Services; Copy, Content & Custom Publications for Companies Who Make Life Worth Living

Advertising & Culture

It doesn't take long for the wife of a copywriter to understand almost as much about copywriting and advertising as her copywriting husband--especially when they share the same workspace day in and day out. My wife, Erin, discovered an interesting article in Fast Company over the weekend and wanted to share her thoughts with you all, so I'm giving her the floor (or blog) today. I'll chime in with my 2 cents worth at the end. Here's Erin:

There are a few ads that I really love. Like Geico's Caveman that goes to a therapist. That makes me laugh, so I watch the commercial instead of channel surfing. I only have 30 years or so of advertising to remember, but advertising has changed a lot in that time. Meow Mix anyone? That one was memorable, at least, but there were a lot that were not.

Over the weekend, I read a profile of Lee Clow in the June issue of Fast Company. He's the Global Director of Media Arts for TBWA\Worldwide and#32 on Fast Company's list of the 100 most creative people in business. According to the profile, Clow took advertising beyond memorable to cultural. For any of us that are in the business of trying to get people to take a second look at a product or service, Lee Clow should be on our syllabus. He's responsible for Apple's "Think Different" ads that launched the iMac--and Apple's return to relevance. Some newer TBWA\Worldwide clients include Visa and Pepsi.

I went to TBWA's website, and discovered that the Visa "go" ads are theirs--including the aquarium ad that is perfectly backed by The Moody Blues' "Tuesday Afternoon." At that point my respect for an accomplished ad man became a full blown "advertiser crush." I love that ad, probably because of all the hours I spent listening to The Moody Blues in the car with my dad. As marketers, that's the kind of touchstone that we need to hit. In Fast Company, Clow says, "When advertising's done well, I think it can become part of our culture. When it's done badly, it becomes visual polution." If you're a wordsmith, the same is true for your words. Check out what Fast Company had to say about Clow here:

OK, me again. Certainly Clow's ads are much more entertaining than most ads on television and are less likely to cause channel surfing. And, yes, the ads Erin mentions have definitely reached cultural icon status. However, I have a couple of beefs with the notion of advertising as culture.

First, becoming a part of the culture only comes AFTER a company establishes itself firmly. Too many young businesses fall for this trap of trying to become part of the culture--often referred to as brand advertising or awareness advertising. Brand advertising and cultural advertising will help perpetuate a brand, but young brands--especially those backed by young companies--do not generate revenue quickly enough to establish a brand and make it successful. Small companies and young companies must focus on advertising that directly increases revenue or they won't be able to run their ads long enough to become a cultural icon--they'll go broke.

Secondly, I question whether every product should become part of the culure. Here I'm going to pick on VISA. The Tuesday Afternoon ad Erin mentioned would not be very successful by itself--memorable, yes, but not successful. The ad is successful because it is backed by a huge mail order campaign. VISA is just about guaranteed that every time one of their mail pieces hits your mailbox you've seen that Tuesday Afternoon ad or one similar to it within about 48 hours. So as you open the envelope, you remember "Oh, yeah, if I have a VISA card it's easier to do things I couldn't do otherwise." And so you fill out the application and send it in. At least it works that way enough times for the whole campaign to be worthwhile.

Now this is a good example of how multiple marketing solutions work together for overall improved results. It's a good strategy. But consider these two points:
  1. VISA and fellow credit card companies clog U.S. mailboxes and, subsequently, landfills with their envelopes, sales letters and response cards on a daily basis. They hurt the environment from both a deforestation and pollution perspective. Their campaigns could hardly be considered targeted since nearly every American with a postal address receives numerous applications each year. And they show no signs of changing their tune.
  2. VISA and other credit cards are part of the predatory lending industry that has brought our economy to its knees. Should it be easier to go to the zoo on Tuesday afternoon if you can't afford to do so without a VISA card? Isn't that the kind of spending habit that has put us behind the eight ball?

Quite frankly, I'd have more respect for Mr. Clow if he showed more judgment in the clients he chooses to make part of the culture. In my mind, good advertisers, marketers and copywriters have a responsibility in who they choose to represent. Because success, especially success in becoming a part of the culture, impacts more than just the contents of our wallets.

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posted by John E Fike @ 6:00 AM,


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