Attack Advertising – Part 2
November 11, 2009
Video Game Marketing Opportunities
November 16, 2009
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Subtlety in Advertising Doesn’t Always Work

Sometimes marketers get too cute and too smart in their ads, camouflaging their intended message behind innuendo, indirection, and allusion, or hiding it behind veils of comedy or artistry. The result is generally an ad that wins awards in the minds of those limited number of people in the know, but misses the mark with the mass audiences of people who were truly the target of the ad.

Sometimes marketers get too cute and too smart in their ads, camouflaging their intended message behind innuendo, indirection, and allusion, or hiding it behind veils of comedy or artistry. The result is generally an ad that wins awards in the minds of those limited number of people in the know, but misses the mark with the mass audiences of people who were truly the target of the ad. If the intent was to deliver the desired message to a given audience size, the marketer, in essence, paid for many more effective impressions than actually occurred.

As an example, Advertising Age has an article on Caribou Coffee’s new TV ad, taking aim at Starbucks. The ad has marionettes sitting in a mall, acting like fake, snobbish people. When they see someone with a Caribou coffee, one asks, “Why don’t we ever get Caribou Coffee?” and the other responds, “Because we’re not real.” According to the ad’s creator, in addition to emphasizing that Caribou Coffee uses real ingredients, the ad conveys the message that they have a “real genuine vibe – it’s what separates them from their competitors” (i.e., the snobs at Starbucks).

Of the pool of people who think of Starbucks afficionados as snobbish, “unreal” people, how many of them would get the implied dig at Starbucks? And if they really did have something against Starbucks, might not they be more interested in turning towards McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts instead instead of towards another “specialty coffee and espresso retailer” (as Caribou writes about themselves in their Wikipedia entry)? So, the audience who actually gets the intended message is a tiny fraction of the overall viewing audience.

Moreover, with that dig at Starbucks undelivered, what message remains in the head of the viewers – that this gourmet coffee shop uses real ingredients? (Like the other specialty coffee shop doesn’t?) If Caribou truly decided to stake out their brand position as the down-to-earth shop that sells gourmet coffees, they might not have effectively delivered that message.

That’s not to say that the spot is a failure. It might become successful if there are enough messages out there that clearly emphasize their brand position. That would allow the subtlety of this message to be more easily inferred by larger audiences.

Domus is a full-service marketing communications agency based in Philadelphia. We define sound brand positions and effectively communicate them using the available mixes of media, technology, and social trends, as appropriate. For more information, please visit our web site at http://www.domusinc.com.

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