Is it Time to Get Back to Basics with Retail TV Advertising?

Picture for Post #16With TV viewership at an all time high, how can it be that many retailers believe that TV advertising doesn’t work as well as it once did? 

Among the plethora of reasons why, I want to offer you perhaps the most obvious reason, yet arguably the most overlooked one: Ineffective TV commercials.

What you have today are too many ad agencies spending too much time worrying about entertaining consumers, and far too little time trying to sell them.

David Ogilvy, the founder of one of the world’s largest and most successful ad agencies (Ogilvy & Mather), once said this about retail advertising:

I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”

Ogilvy backed up this statement with thoughtful insights on what made for effective retail TV advertising.  

Here’s just a sample of what he had to say, verbatim …

1)     Brand I.D.  Research has demonstrated that a shocking percentage of viewers remember your commercial, but forget the name of your product. All too often they attribute your commercial to a competing brand.  Many copywriters think it crass to belabor the name of the product.  However, for the benefit of those who are more interested in selling than entertaining – use the product name within the first 10-seconds of a commercial.  

2)     Open with fire.  You have 30 seconds.  If you grab attention in the first frame with a visual surprise, you stand a better chance of holding the viewer.

3)     Voice-over or on camera? Research shows that it is more difficult to hold your audience if you use a voice-over. It is better to have the actors talk on camera.

4)     Supers. It pays to reinforce your promise by setting it in type and superimposing it on the film or video, while the soundtrack speaks the words. But make sure that the words in the supers are exactly the same as your spoken words. Any divergence confuses the viewer.

5)     Changes of scene.  Not many people can view numerous scenes without confusing them. I can’t, and I bet you can’t either. On average, commercials with a lot of scenes (cuts) are below average in changing brand preference.

6)     Miscomprehension. In 1979 Professor Jacoby of Purdue University studied the ‘miscomprehension’ of 25 typical commercials. He found that all of them were miscomprehended, some by as many as 40% of viewers, none by fewer of 19%. If you want to avoid your television commercials being misunderstood, you had better make them crystal clear.

Do I agree with everything Ogilvy professed 25 years ago?  Of course not. Do I think that a lot of what he had to say still makes good retail advertising sense today?  You bet I do. 

And this conviction becomes stronger with every passing commercial break – where I’m often entertained, but rarely sold.

(Source: Ogilvy on Advertising)


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