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The Risks and Rewards of Bold Advertising

October 7, 2019

In today's sensory overload environment, for us as advertisers, getting a potential customers’ attention is harder than ever. Quality ad content and strong copy cannot sell anything without people reading or viewing it. The market research firm Yankelovich estimates that a person today sees an average of 5,000 advertisements daily while the same person would average 2,000 per day 30 years ago. I have a hard time understanding how they saw 2,000 per day back then as they were not scrolling through their phones. 

What advertisers have to focus on now more than ever is how to get the user to stop and read the ad. Billboard ads next to highways have kept their value because people (mostly) have to look out the window to drive and will generally see the ad. But while even they see many ads a day, there is less of an overload to the driver than there is on a phone. 

You scroll through your account and an image of a lump of dog feces on a white canvas background crosses your Facebook feed. This is a high-quality image, not your everyday shot of your cousin’s neighbor’s dogs marking his territory. So, you stop scrolling to see what it is. 

The caption on top of the ad reads Stop Getting Shit Market Research and the copy underneath explains that most market research delivers bad data because their sources are not quality and you can't rely on it to make business decisions.

So the ad was able to get you to stop scrolling and read. But to measure its results we must know what the goals of the ad campaign was. If the purpose of this campaign was purely to get the brands name more attention, then it has succeeded. But (almost) no campaign has just that finite goal. 

Do we want the viewer to attach a certain emotion to the brand name? Do we want the viewer to feel comfortable with using that brand’s product in the future?

While what shocked the previous generation does not shock the current generation, there is still importance on how we want to represent the brand. A large percentage of a person’s decision is emotional, and the disgusting sight of the feces will not play positively into this decision when the viewer in the scenario above needs a market research firm.

While you want your ad to stop that precious thumb from scrolling, it is integral to properly take into account the messaging the brand wants to present and who the target demographic is. 

An older demographic looking for a financial advisor may not want any humor in the ad. While a younger demographic looking for the same advisor may want some humor as it will signal to them that the advisor understands his lifestyle and is up to date with today's technologies. 

A case where a grotesque ad will be appropriate is where that is the emotion we are trying to attach. An advertisement looking to spread awareness to the potentially deadly ramifications of leaving a child in a hot car would do well with showing a child in pain.

The same concepts hold true with ad copy but with some additional reservations. What is the goal of the campaign? Who is the target audience?

Expletives will be more accepted in certain demographics than others. Political mentions are generally avoided, but if used properly, can be a bold strategy to gain attention to your product and brand.

Additionally, with long copy, being bold or provocative can have additional effects outside of just causing negative emotions. 

Will starting a debate at the viewers kitchen table have any positive effect on our product? If the ad copy takes strong positions in anything, are we risking losing the population that feels differently? And lastly, will the copy bring the reader closer to converting or further away from the holy grail?

Newton's Third Law fits perfectly as a guiding principle. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. However bold or provocative the advertisement, we risk etching our brand into the prospect’s mind for the wrong reasons

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