Advertising 101: A negative Does NOT equal a positive.

by / Saturday, 01 June 2013 / Published in Art direction

More “getting bad TV spots off my chest”…

A negative does not equal a positive. Many times, when creative people don’t have a real idea, they default to “humour”. Sometimes, it’s enough to be funny. It’s better to be clever, but if you can’t get there, funny’s not a bad solution. Provided it’s actually funny. If it’s not funny, it’ll be a real dog. Like, for example, when you try to turn a negative into a positive. It almost never works, but inexperienced creative people try it anyway. Unfortunately, sometimes it sells.

Example 1: Futureshop’s Christmas MP3 player spot. (couldn’t find a link online)
A Futureshop sales guy approaches some strange looking customer who, for some reason, is proudly carrying an instrument no one would ever actually play. Some type of guitar-shaped electronic Accordion. The customer himself looks ridiculous. Hair, clothes, everything. He’s just odd looking.

That’s problem number one. Creative guys think “This’ll be funny”, but as a consumer, I think “Who’s the idiot?” I’m not laughing. Then, the customer says he can’t decide whether to give “his girl” an MP3 player, or a song he wrote.

That’s problem numbers 2, and 3 combined: he has no “girl” (you’re embarrassed for him), and that’s a dumb decision to make. Creative guys think “This’ll be funny”, but as a consumer, I think “I don’t get it.” I’m still not laughing. The FShop salesman tries to help him by asking to hear the song.

That’s problem 4: the song is stupid and the performance is hard to sit through, no matter how short it is. Creative guys think “This’ll be funny”, but as a consumer, I think “I don’t want to hear this asshole, I already don’t like, try to sing and fail.” To the point, I actually mute the TV when this spots comes on. Not only am I not laughing, but now I’m cringing, and reaching for the remote.

What’s worse, is that all the way through the spot, the customers facial expressions are confusing. He constantly appears to be in shock, but I don’t know why. In the end, the sales guy recommends the MP3 player.

The message: our customers are idiots. Creative guys think “This’ll be funny.” Wrong. It’s not funny.

Example 2: Cell phone company Christmas spot (I forget which company)… (couldn’t find a link online)
The sales pitch is that this great phone and service make it easy to surf the net on your phone. Guy and his dog, with Christmas presents in an outdoor Christmas scene, sits on a bench next to some other guy dressed to hide his features. Guy with the dog asks other guy “Don’t I know you?” The other guy turns away.

When the “hero” searches the net on his phone for “guy in mask on bench”, it returns some video (we don’t see) demonstrating the strength of the phone service. The video is of a woman being butchered by a chainsaw. You hear her scream, the chainsaw fire up, she screams more but her screams are cut short by “wet meat sounds” and the chainsaw struggling through. She gurgles and dies, all audibly. Stranger looks at Hero suddenly to reveal he is a “Jason of Friday the 13th” type masked killer. Hero says “Uhhh …Merry Christmas to you and your family” and runs away.

Creative guys think “This’ll be funny”, but as a consumer, I think “Why are you showing me chainsaw wielding killers and dead girls screaming their last breath …at Christmas?”

A negative does not equal a positive.

That said, there’s a way to take a negative situation and make it work. But, that’s because it’s actually funny and based on a solid idea. Watch this one:

it’s an older Dr. Pepper commercial that poses the question “What’s the worst that could happen?” if you try a Dr. Pepper for the first time.

Bottom line, don’t make your customers out to be idiots, and chainsaw serial killers aren’t funny.

…okay, officially off my chest.

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