Saturday, March 03, 2007

Madison Avenue, Ignore This at Your Own Peril

Several years ago, I made the choice to not subject myself to advertising. Print ads are incredibly easy to ignore. Internet browsers have all but won the war on pop-ups. I used to never listen to a commercial on FM, opting to switch channels, but now I listen to XM and don't even have to worry about that. I used to have to listen to commercials on AM, but now when I listen to games on XM I only have to put up with station promos. I watch one live action TV show, and I always tape it and fast forward past commercials. When watching live sporting events, I have mastered the art of un-muting commercials exactly as the game comes back on (I usually fill the time during commercials reading). This was all terribly hypocritical of me when I literally made my living directly from paid advertising, but hopefully I can make up for that before this post is ended.

I know many people vehemently dislike telemarketers, spam, and door-to-door solicitors, and I don't see any difference with advertising in other media. Why should I give my precious time over to anyone with the express agenda of taking money from me? I would perhaps be more tolerant of that agenda if they were at least open about it, but most advertising is designed to obscure this fact, and manipulate me with any number of logical fallacies and emotional appeals.

Though I don't think a great number of people are taking an ideological stand against advertising, I do think the changing patterns of media consumption are cutting into Madison Avenue's power. Video ipods, Tivo, satellite radio, and various forms of on-demand viewing and listening are transforming the media landscape, and advertising is caught in the vortex.

I think commercialism is a resilient force, and creative people will continue to conceive of new ways to target consumers (and the opening up of niche markets could actually be a boon to some companies), but it would be tremendously interesting just from an academic standpoint to observe how a radical diminishment in advertising would effect the economy in general. I'm well out of my area of expertise, but my guess is that consumer spending would decline some, known brands and powerful commercial entities would lose sales, smaller commercial entities would gain sales, and wealth would be more distributed.

And though I'm on record as disapproving advertising, I can't help but put forward a theory of one way that it can remain viable. I believe vintage cable networks like TV Land sometimes play old commercials for nostalgic purposes. There are a number of websites which feature vintage spots, and youtube has thousands of old commercials with thousands of views. Ironically, the mavens of marketing seem to be ignorant of the huge untapped market which is literally at their fingertips. Just think how effective a McDonalds campaign would be in which they brought back vintage spots spanning decades, with some kind of tagline which would emphasize their continued dominance in their marketplace. No matter your age, you would probably re-connect with the childhood memory of at least one of the spots, and the positive association it would form for many people is the type of associative connection ad agents drool over. The type of nostalgia such a campaign would generate may actually work on a couple levels. Consumers might also find appeal in a nostalgia for the very medium itself, as they (perhaps unconsciously) think back to a time when TV commercials carried more cultural capital than they do today, and therefore assign it more power than a new spot. (For more on this, google "Marshall McLuhan").

If you are skeptical that such a campaign would work, how do you explain the 2480 hits on the youtube search "McDonalds commercial"?

There. That should make up for all the time I spent biting the hand that fed me. If the ad industry doesn't take me up on this, at least my conscience is clear. Now I can go back to ignoring commercials and not feel bad about it ever again.


Anonymous Andrew H. said...

Hmmm. That's an interesting point. Especially since I'm a huge fan of old ad, particularly magazine ads from the 40s and 50s. I could definitely see a popularity coming about from re-running old ads along with the added bonus of the "cheesy-but-funny" ad that comes along every now and then.

On a side note, I find it very ironic that though you try to avoid advertising as much as possible, we force you to sit and stare at print ads when we choose them for our editorials.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

If we didn't have commercials we wouldn't have known the taco bell dog, and wouldn't that have been a travesty?

i have secret talent. during commercials i can switch to another channel and switch back to the original one right when it comes on. if you develop this talent, it comes in handy A LOT.

8:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you buy stuff, so that's why there's commercial's. stop buying looky!! no more commercials!!!

i dont have channels on my tv, and i quite enjoy the movie previews when i watch movies. on DVD's i go to the special features, and watch the preview for the show I'm about to watch. i never said i wasnt weird.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Tee said...

Im with you, Azor. Commercials ARE annoying,and I am one of the first to mute them, but how else to you think we would have found out about the laptops we are typing on or the hip sneakers we wear? Ever try to shop for something that you don't know exists? What store do you go to? Walmart DOESNT have EVERYTHING!
PS.. maybe they need a commercial for silly people like me who cant figure out how to use this blog and have to start a new account every time I want to post something! Tee

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ummm....Wal-Mart does have everything. have you been?

1:44 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Okay, i take back what i commented earlier. Here's what i comment now:

there's millions of people dying in the world from starvation. they don't have clothes, they don't have a family, they don't have....well...anything, and we're complaining that commercials take up our precious time? is something wrong with that, or is it just me?

2:25 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

Andrew--I think if you are going to look at ads, sitting and staring at them is the way to do it--to critically think about them and take control back from the marketers.

Tee--I think there are plenty of ways to become aware of products without relying on advertising, particularly in the information age. Old-fashioned word of mouth is always helpful, too. Also, there is a difference between products and brands. There are very few ads that alert us to products that we never knew existed.

Heidi--Life would be pretty tedious if we never talked about the frivolous (and I'm not saying that most of your posts are frivolous, but I will say that I think you can appreciate this sentiment)

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Your Dad said...

So, where do you stand on my radio ads... are they crass commercialism, or something that can cause a consumer to make an informed decision regarding automotive repair? Regarding nostalgia, perhaps I should re-play the 3 Tims commercial from 15 years ago, since people still ask about it. Now instead of 3 Tims working for me, I have 1 still working, the son of another on staff, and a 3rd is now my competitor. Maybe I could get all three together for a re-union of sorts. How about doing something about the recent "new" employee that I re-hired after 29 years (he was here when you were born, maybe we could do something about getting pulled over for doing 90 on the highway taking your mom to the hospital). You probably haven't heard my latest nostalgic commercials about outlasting some 30 automotive businesses that were around when I started, your great-grandfather's first car, a Model T Ford, Your great-great uncles' businesses in town, and other historical trivia all designed to position our business as one familiar and comfortable to people when they need to choose a "brand" of transmission repair. I know this isn't the same as replaying an old ad verbatim, but people have been very receptive none-the-less and perhaps even you might listen. PS - I tried to find the old "Signs Signs/5 Man Electrical Band" spot that Mikey recorded when he was 8 and have him voice over as it ended with a new message now, but I can't find it.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Azor said...

Dad, did you pay royalties to use that song? I have the feeling the 5 Man Electrical Band probably wouldn't have approved of the use of their music. Tesla might have been willing to cut a deal with you though.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Your Dad said...

No, I didn't, and I hadn't really thought about it. WBEV just went ahead and did it at my request, are they supposed to police these things? I once reprinted an excerpt from a book in a letter sent to a group of church members, and got permission from the publisher for that, so I'm not a total plagerist (if that's a word or even a concept). Tesla - was that that other group that did a cover of "Signs"? They probably were still in Middle School when I did that commercial back in 1995. Do you remember the local celebrity commercial actor Fred Menick? Didn't he do national Wendy's ads about the time of the "Where's The Beef?" series?

1:00 AM  
Blogger Azor said...

Tesla's "Signs" actually came out in 1990.

Menick's "Herb" was an infamous "Burger King" spokesman in what was considered one of the worst ad campaigns ever.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Brandon Stallings said...

I agree with you Azor that commercials should be more open on wanting our money and be less cheesy.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Ova said...

Well said.

8:06 PM  

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