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COMMERCIALS THAT CONFUSE, CONFOUND AND SELL NOBODY ANYTHING

By Patrick Quinn
Posted Tuesday, January 11, 2005

I may be missing something, here, but it seems to me that, in advertising terms, the loonies have taken over the asylum. What is getting me all lathered up is the preponderance of TV commercials that go out of their way, not only to confuse their target audience, but also to project an alarming image of their product.

I'll elaborate. The first example is the sad, but fortunately short story of a current tv spot for a company called Debenhams. Now, Debenhams is a large UK department store which has branches in many major cities throughout the country. As such, it has an excellent reputation and an enviable turnover.

Well, this outfit is running a commercial which has two distinct scenes. The first shows a man sitting in a room at a table, and beside him is a back-projection of a pond. As he sweeps an object off the table and into the pond, we see ripples in the water. The second scene is of a young girl in a room and the back projection is of some trees, each carrying a profusion of autumn leaves. As the girl moves around the room, the leaves begin to fall.

So far so good; and as an exercise in special effects this spot is exemplary, because the last thing you'd expect to see in your living room is a pond or a stand of trees.

Anyway, we are now treated to a voice-over which says, to the effect, that if you drop into Debenhams you'll find lots more of the same. My question is: the same what? Throughout this commercial, we are not actually told what it is we are being offered.

I assume it is wallpaper, but I could be wrong - it might be personal back projection.

The second example concerns a new computer from Apple-Mac. The spot opens with an explosion and a man being thrown against a tree. The camera then tracks towards a house, in the side of which is a gaping hole. The camera continues through into the house, showing us debris falling all around and large holes in the walls of successive rooms. We finally track towards a computer, and the voice-over says something like: Introducing the fastest, most powerful computer in the Mac stable.

The message I interpret from this is that the new Apple-Mac is so powerful it explodes. Not only that, it will probably reduce your home to rubble.

Oh, yeah, I must rush out and buy one of those.

Am I alone in thinking that these two commercials, despite their huge production values, are less than clever? On the one hand, the advertiser neglects to tell us what it is that he's trying to sell. On the other, we have a product that is reminiscent of Mission Impossible and self-destructs when you switch it on.

Given all of this, I'd like to pose a question. When the respective ad agencies presented the storyboards for these commercials to their clients, did nobody on the client side raise a query or two? Like: since we're spending all this money, shouldn't we at least say what we're offering? Or: is it really a sensible idea to associate our computers with explosions?

Of course, it could be that I am missing some wonderful new marketing strategy that will shortly be revealed and will make me look extremely foolish. Though I doubt it. And I doubt it because I saw a beer commercial the other day (Stella Artois, I think), in which a man on a balcony actually spat on the people below. You have to be a very brave advertiser -or a very stupid one -to ally your product to this kind of imagery. And this crudity seems to be more and more prevalent.

I leave you to ponder all of this. Meanwhile, you'll do no better than visit (www.wordpower3.com). There, you'll find an e-book that could make your working life a whole lot easier. It contains close to 200 ready-made headlines, taglines, copy openers and clinchers, plus a comprehensive theme-finder that will give you just about every promotional word and phrase you'll ever need.

It's called Word Power III. Buy it and every word you write, will Sell.

About the Author
Patrick Quinn is a copywriter, with 40 years' experience of the advertising business in London, Dublin, Edinburgh and Miami.

Over the years, he has helped win for his clients just about every advertising award worth winning

His published books, include:

The Secrets of Successful Copywriting. The Secrets of Successful Low Budget Advertising. The Secrets of Successful Exhibitions. Word Power.