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This is your mind on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

The Magic Secret Formula to Great Advertising!

Dr. Kowalick over at Dr. Kowalick’s Taguchi for Advertising Site (in case you didn’t know you were on the web and viewing a “site”) has a magic secret formula for creating great advertising! And if you can’t tell if I’m being sarcastic, then I will plainly state it here for the record: I am being sarcastic. Let’s review: in order to create an awesome ad that will sell your product like crazy all you need to do is make sure that your ad scores high (from 0-5) in the following categories: recognition, instictiveness, contradiction, humor, absudity, curiosity.1 If your ad scores more than 23, it’s an awesome ad. Simple, right? Yeah. Probably too simple.

Here are my two major problems with this methodology:

  1. Contradiction, humor, and adburdity are all virtually synonyms. One of the more excellent antecdotal explanations of humor that I’ve ever heard (I cite my friend over spacematic for stating it) is that what is funny is what is wrong. Not all that is wrong is funny, but what is funny is generally funny because it’s wrong. Or to put it another way, what is funny is what does not fit the pattern we are all used to. Pie in face? Funny and wrong. Most people eat pie not shove it in their face. Slip on banana peel? Classic. Funny and wrong. I could go on about this and bad jokes for a long time but I will spare you. My pont is that contradiction, humor and absurdity have an awful lot of semantic overlap and guarantee that the system will introduce some kind of ambiguity. It’s not objective.

  2. Scoring things is not objective. Football and touchdowns are objective. Gymnastics is not. Scores in football are awarded, scores in gymnastic stem from judgement. Scoring an ad on the six characteristics Dr. Kowalick points out is hardly objective. Not convinced? Score the ad he asks you to score in his column. Your score won’t match his. It won’t match mine either (mine was 18, incidentally).

So far I’ve really only managed to prove that the IRS method is not objective.2 Does this mean that it couldn’t necessarily be used anyway. Yes it does, by simple virtue of the fact that humor in particular scales on a negative sometimes and you won’t always necessarily know who that will happen with. Like I said, what is funny is what is wrong, but what is wrong is not always funny. And sometimes when it’s not funny, it’s offensive. So it is completely possible for this methodology to generate a potentially offensive idea.

Nor does this system mention anything about relevance! It rates the memorability of the ad, not the product. I can’t think of anything more counterproductive than advertising that I can remember when I can’t remember what the product is. (And that happens a lot.)

It’s not all fluff, I’ll grant. Here’s what is interesting about it: it does encourage advertisers to take advantage of a quality of the human mind — namely that since the mind is a pattern recognition machine, we tend to notice what doesn’t fit the pattern. Another way to put it is that errors in observation generally propagate to the higher levels of the mind where it is likely to get noticed by the consciousness. Fill your ads with happy, smiling people and likely no one will look twice at it. I think maybe the only exception to this is sex. People look at sex no matter what, which makes you wonder why there’s never been an ad in which people are having sex wrong. I don’t know what that means. And really, it’s not hard to say why no one’s done it. (Refer to the statements about offensiveness two paragraphs back.)

All in all I find this methodology simplistic and typical of what marketers do when they draw Cartesian graph with axis labeled “good””bad” and “desired””unwanted” and then tell you that you want your brand to be in quadrant A. Here’s a thought: instead of attempting to find a secret method to create the perfect advertisement, read the Cluetrain Manifesto. Then have an honest conversation with your customers and find out what they want. Give them what they want, help them out with it and tell your advertising agency to take a hike.

1 Last time I checked, “instinctiveness” was not a word. I know I’m being picky, but pick another word. If an object can’t possess instinct then there is no “ness” to that quality of the object. 2 Did I mention that naming your product after an institution that poeple loathe to think about is probably not a good idea?

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