It’s been interesting to watch what’s happened at the intersection of entertainment and commerce over the last half century. When I was a kid in the Sixties, the TV commercials that supported the cartoons and network reruns I watched would never have been taken for anything but commercials. Most of them featured deep-throated announcers apparently trying to yell you into buying their products. The exceptions replaced–sometimes combined–the voice-of-god announcer with shrill cartoon characters hawking tooth-rotting breakfast cereal or inane jingles that are stuck in my head to this day. (“A silly millimeter longer–101s!” Ah…remember cigarette advertising?)
Advertising’s gone through a lot of phases since then. The Sixties also spawned the Creative Revolution. All of a sudden, advertisers including Volkswagen and Alka-Seltzer discovered that advertising didn’t have to be shrill or insulting to be effective. You could portray your brand and smart and likable, and the buying public would respond.
Today, it’s every ad for itself. Welcome to booming-voiced announcers, both ironic and un-. Ads that masquerade as content. Animated anthropomorphic boogers. Hopelessly straightforward, earnest, uncool ads. Ads disguised as online games. User-generated ads. Absurdist ads. Ads that are mini blockbusters, that cost more to create than many independent feature films. Ninety-second spots featuring shot after shot of third-world kids with cleft palates. Zeus (“God of Awesome”) as frat boy Scion pitchman.
The Scion spot is instructive. It’s bizarre enough to be memorable. It also screams loudly and clearly that these cars are not for me. I was never the audience for MTV Cribs the show this spot is sending up. I’m not the audience for anything suggesting I get all up in anything. Scion is pitching to twenty-somethings–maybe even young 30-somethings–and they’re not even pretending to be interested in me.
Which is just fine. Admirable, even. Scion has designed its vehicles for hip, young urbanites. The Zeus spot practically screams, “Stay away, Baby Boomer. We do not want to waste our time with you.” This is, in part, exactly what smart marketing is supposed to do: separate the people who are going to say “no” from the ones who will say “maybe.”
How about the new spot for Dr. Pepper 10?
It doesn’t get much more explicit than that. No beating around the bush here: women, this drink is not for you. (And what better way to encourage trial than to tell more than half the population of the world that the product is not for them?
Why is this happening?
It’s happening for at least two reasons. The first is that, at a time in which every person can choose exactly what sort of entertainment he or she wants to consume every minute of the day, one of the best ways to make sure people watch your commercials it to make them ironic, self-referential, and wildly entertaining. The convergence of media means commercials can be everywhere. But the fast-forward and mute buttons–and the ability to surf away from offending commercial messages–mean people have to want to watch your commercials. The two commercials presented here veritably scream, “We are commercials! But we’re also subversive! You can be join the in-crowd and be a hyper-cool individualist!”
The other reason we’re seeing these kinds of spots is that the increasingly fractured media environment gives marketers the opportunity to target audiences to a much finer degree. The fact that I’m even aware of the Scion spot suggests either that I’m watching television shows aimed at a younger audience (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), or that I’m watching shows where there’s a large enough younger audience for the media buy to make sense (NFL football). (It could also mean that the media buyer screwed up.)
All of this is rather good news for most marketers–and most marketing agencies, too. As we’ve written before, marketing is all about getting to “no”: who is not a prospect for what you have to sell? There’s never been a better environment for speaking directly to your customers and best prospects and ignoring everyone else. Today, you can reach your audience better, for a lot less money–and have a lot more fun doing it. It’s a far cry from the days of my youth, when Lucky Charms, G.I. Joe, and Rheingold beer were all sold pretty much the same way: by someone yelling at me. Or singing at me. “G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe / fighting man from head to toe / on the land, on the sea, in the air!” Honestly, don’t get me started.
Seriously. We’re done here. If you want to get me started, this post is not for you.