Why does advertising have to be so bad?

How did you feel about this year’s set of Super Bowl ads (Video)? If it felt like you wanted to press the “skip” button, you’re not alone. There was a ton of debate about both the content and the quality of this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads.

And have you noticed how YouTube is now slamming commercials at you ahead of just about every video? Some think it’s a bad bet.. because it’s so easy to skip the commercials. I counter advertising isn’t the issue. The problem is: most ads are horrible!

If you’ve ever watched a television spot for an auto dealership you know what I mean. If you’ve seen the screamers that try to grab you during the 5 seconds before you can press skip button on YouTube, you know what I mean. Advertising on Radio and TV hasn’t changed much since the medium was first invented. And it’s spilling over onto the web.

That’s the problem!

It’s not that ad people aren’t creative. The challenge is getting the advertiser to toss long held advertising paradigms and study what would make a listener want to hear the message. My friend and fellow malcontent, Fred Jacobs wrote about this problem awhile back. “Why,” he asks, “do radio commercials have to suck?” He was channeling former WSJ columnist, Walt Mossberg, who listed a number of reasons on-line ads are ineffective.

And too often, ad agencies focus on the creative at the expense of the brand. How many brands can you connect with the super bowl ads you watched? Here are some clues. Which of these taglines can you connect with their brands?

  • Have it your way.
  • It’s the Real Thing.
  • Ready when you are.

One guy who got the advertising thing figured out was the late Paul Harvey. He worked with sponsors to create copy that he could deliver in his own unique style. I still remember many of the products he advertised. Harvey himself came up with the line, “‘Cit,’ as in ‘citrus.’ ‘Cal,’ as in ‘calcium.’ CIT-ra-cal.” It sold millions for it’s producer, Mission Pharmacal. Bankers Life & Casualty stuck with Harvey for 40 years. Neutrogena advertised on the program for 20. I can still hear him saying, “Some day, ask me to tell you how ‘Servicemaster’ got it’s name.” They did it because the ads worked.

Instead of talking about what’s wrong with the current advertising landscape, let’s talk about what makes a good ad.

  1. The message should be customized for the program. Dumping generic stuff in to an ROS (Run of Station) schedule should be verboten. And not all products are appropriate for all programs. Be selective
  2. Think about the user experience. Our current delivery platforms on line are still clunky. Podcast hosts who who have a knack for true communication (not all do) should read, perhaps even write the copy in concert with the agency.
  3. Take some risks. My favorite Super Bowl ads in recent years was the brilliant Stella Artois commercial featuring Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeff Bridges in their iconic roles from Sex In the City and The Big Lebowski. I’ve watched that one over and over.

That’s a start. Whatever brand you’re selling, whether it’s your company’s or yourself, these rule apply. People are attracted to things that resonate with their sensibilities. We appreciate authenticity, fun and appreciate real value. And we buy from people we like.

It’s not that complicated. It just takes some courage to step beyond the conventional and create the exceptional.

“So you don’t forget, do it before midnight tonight!”

PS – Not all commercials are bad. Here are a few that make you want to keep it on the channel.


Quick Takes:

The Original GI Joe

GI Joe turns 57. The first iteration of Hasbro’s perennial best seller debuted today in 1964.

Feeling down? Here are five free ways you can increase your happiness right now? via CNBC.

Here’s what to expect when you get that second Covid vaccine shot. via The Atlantic.

When Daylight Savings time was War Time. via the DOD.

The University of Minnesota thinks it’s developed the ultimate Covid mask. via KSTP

Author Fran Lebowitz’s colorful One-Star Amazon Reviews. Via The New Yorker

Today in History:

The Beatles break a record.

1877: US Weather Service is founded.
1964: The Beatles made their US live debut on CBS-TV’s ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’; they performed five songs including their current No.1 ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. Never before had so many viewers tuned-in to a live television program, which with 73 million viewers, was three-fourths of the total adult audience in the United States.The show had received over 50,000 applications for the 728 seats in the TV studio.
1953: Superman TV series premiers
1961: The Beatles appeared at The Cavern Club, Liverpool, for the very first time (as The Beatles), they would go on to make a total of 292 other appearances at the Club.
1967: Canadian conductor Percy Faith died aged 67. He scored the 1953 hit ‘Song from the Moulin Rouge’ and 1960 US No.1 ‘Theme From A Summer Place’, which spent nine weeks at No.1, and won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1961.

Bill Haley dies at 55.

1981: Bill Haley is found dead, fully clothed on his bed at his home in Harlingen, Texas from a heart attack, aged 55.
1997: Scottish singer Brian Connolly with the Seventies Glam rock group Sweet died of kidney and liver failure aged 51.
2009: Ringo Starr became the 2,401st person to be added to the Hollywood Walk Of Fame during a ceremony that marked the 50th anniversary of the attraction. The Beatles as a group were given a star in 1998.
2015: Bob Dylan turned the tables on his critics during a 30-minute speech, at the Musicares charity gala honouring his career. The 73-year-old, who rarely talks about his work, asked why critics complained he can’t sing” and sounds “like a frog” but do not “say that about Tom Waits?” The singer added
1942: Daylight Savings War Time goes into effect in US.
1950: Senator Joseph McCarthy charges State Department infested with 205 communists.
1963: 1st flight of a Boeing 727 jet.
1964: GI Joe character created.

Today’s Birthdays:

Carole King

1891: Ronald Colman, English actor (Tale of 2 Cities), born in Richmond, England (d. 1958).
1914: Ernest Tubb, American country musician (Walking the Floor Over You), born in Crisp, Texas (d. 1984).
1914: Carmen Miranda, singer (d. 1955)
1928: Roger Mudd, American news anchor (CBS Weekend News, NBC Evening News), born in Washington, D.C.
1939: Barry Mann (‘Saturday Night At The Movies’, ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’, ‘Walking In The Rain’,’Who Put The Bomp, In The Bomp, Bomp, Bomp.’)
1940: Brian Bennett (The Shadows).
1942: Carole King Her 1970 US No.1 album ‘Tapestry’ has sold over 15 million copies and became a Grammy award winner in 71.
1943: Joe Pesci, American actor (Half Nelson, Goodfellas), born in Newark, New Jersey.
1943: Barbara Lewis, American singer (Hello Stranger), born in Salem, Michigan.
1945: Mia Farrow, Actress (Rosemary’s Baby)
1947: Major Harris (‘La-La Means I Love You’, and the hits ‘Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)’, and ‘Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love)’).(d. 2012).
1947: Joe Ely (The Clash), a one time member of Linda Ronstadt’s band.
1951: Dennis Thomas (Kool & The Gang).
1963: Travis Tritt, Marietta Ga, country vocalist (Country Club).

Much More Music:

Barbara Lewis

Birthday girl, Barbara Lewis‘ “Hello Stranger” spent two weeks at number one on the R&B singles chart in Billboard, crossing over to number 3 on the pop chart in 1963. Her 1965 hit, “Baby I’m Yours” reached#1 in Detroit in June, peaking at #11 nationally. On August 8, 1969, together with actress Joanna Pettet, Lewis had lunch at the house of Sharon Tate in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, a few hours before Tate’s murder there during the night that followed. (Video)

The Bradys – 1990

On February 9, 1990 CBS revives The Bradys. This hour-long comedy-drama was the last ongoing incarnation of The Brady Bunch. Everyone returned except of  Maureen McCormick. The audience magic wasn’t there and the series was cancelled after six episodes. Of six LPs cut by the cast only Meet the Brady Bunch was noted on the Billboard Charts, bubbling under the Hot 100 at 108. (Here’s the 1990 show opener)

On this date in 1965,  Martha and the Vandellas release “Nowhere to Run” the first single from their third album, Dance Party. The Holland, Dozier, Holland team wrote and produced what will become the group’s signature tune. The Gordy/Motown hit peaks at No. 5. (Video)

Mary Wilson

We woke up this morning in 2021 to the news that the Supremes co-founder, Mary Wilson, died unexpectedly the previous evening at her Las Vegas home at age 76. Mary began her career with the group as a 15-year-old in a Detroit housing project and stayed with trio until its dissolution in 1977. (Variety Obit)

It wasn’t just the Super Bowl Ads that generated conversation. It feels like we either loved or hated the halftime show. Madonna graced the Super Bowl stage in 2012. Number 1 today in 1985. Like a Virgin, first of her 12 number-one hits on the Billboard Hot 100. It debuted at number 48 on the issue dated November 17, 1984, holding the top spot for three weeks.

Thanks for listening!

Scott Westerman
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit