Does it sell?


Advertising is everywhere, and it keeps our media afloat. Without ads there would be no money to support cultural centers like news organizations and sports teams as we’ve come to know them.  But are the ads that fill our lives effective at selling the products – or, indeed, worth anywhere near the money spent on them?

I’ve often thought about developing a website that rates commercials. Between the Superbowl blockbusters and breakout stars, ads are very popular on their own as small morality plays about the values of our culture (ie, we’re doomed). Such a site would make money, of course, by selling ads. My ratings of commercials would be based on whether they made any sense at all, had compelling characters, but in the end they’d be about whether or not I wanted to buy the product.

Which takes me logically to the biggest breakout star from the ad world, Isaiah Mustafa (the Old Spice guy). His ads have been big hits lately and are the buzz of the advertising world. “They have had creative talent on this brand who re-energized it at a critical point in time,” according to Gary Stibel of New England Consulting Group “They made it relevant and they made it cool.”  But do they sell the product at all? Apparently, they do not. Sales of Old Spice have remained roughly steady, falling in some areas and rising in others.  For all the buzz, there is no reason to believe that anything positive came from the hit ad.

Mustafa is getting a deal for a flick with Jennifer Anniston, however.

The problem with most ads is that they simply do not sell the product. Cereal ads are particularly strange because so many of them revolve around keep the product away from cartoon characters. Honestly, what would be the worst of it if Sonny the Cuckoo just got his bleepin’ Cocoa Puffs? How many kids even know who the Flintstones are outside of Fruity Pebbles and vitamins? Yet these ads have kept on keepin’ on for more than 50 years in many cases.

The worst ad of all time, a point I will not debate, has to be the Quiznos ads from 2003 featuring Spongemonkeys – what most people saw as singing rats. A change of planes in Denver once had me starving to death and enticed with the aroma of a Quiznos, the only food around, but I did not stop to eat.  All I could think about were rats. I have yet to ever go to a Quiznos this many years on because I associate them with vermin. Not a good image at all.

That’s not to say all ads are bad. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the black and white toned ads for Ketel One vodka that appear on Comedy Central and other cable stations have increased sales, and I can see why. Like any good story, they have strong characters that the target audience wants to identify with. The product is central to that story as well.  The “Rat Pack” image is stolen and refined easily for a new generation. They do seem to work.

It would be fun to rate ads as they come out and, if at all possible, track some of the ones that seem to be big hits or big losers to see if an untrained consumer really can tell which ones work. I’m willing to bet that with a little thought it’s not that hard to tell which are worth the money that is spent on them – and that most of them are not.

Have any ads you particularly love or hate? Ever wonder about the ad world itself? I’d love to know what you think.