Over the years, comedians and entertainers have found a mine of material in poor quality and foreign advertising. One of Billy Connolly’s most famous routines referred to the cheap advertising found next to the racing results in tabloid papers. Peter Kay, from Pheonix Nights to Car Share targets local radio advertising. For years ITV ran shows, first hosted by Clive James, then Chris Tarrant, getting laughs out of foreign TV shows and the commercials run between them.
Connolly and Kay joke about cheap adverts for products no one in their right mind would buy such as big slippers and home barber kits. Clive James’s and Chris Tarrant’s targets were different; they concerned themselves with the cultural differences between the UK and other countries; they got laughs out of the amount of nudity on Italian TV or the appeal of Japanese shows such as Endurance, where the contestants were basically tortured into submission.
Over the last few weeks, I have endured; and endured is the right word; some of the advertising which dominates some of our less prominent TV stations such as Spike and ITV3. Basically, the main TV channels output has been so poor, I have been watching re-runs of shows like New Tricks and Porridge. The advertising shown between these shows is a mix between the poor quality promotion used by Connolly and the lack of cultural awareness shown by James and Tarrant.
I presume that the cost of advertising on these channels, particularly during the day, is relatively cheap. The production values of the adverts often are. This got me thinking about who made the decision to run these commercials and what was their strategic intent.
If you haven’t had the chance to catch any of this televisual feast, here is a summary. In the evenings, advertising tends to be dominated by commercials for online poker sites and bingo. During the day it is advertising focused on the OAP market. There are adverts for stair-lifts, mobility scooters, funeral insurance, PPI claims and various charities asking for a legacy from your will. There are even adverts for incontinence pants and, excruciatingly, vaginal dryness cream!
It was the advertising of this final product, aimed at post-menopausal women, which prompted this blog entry.
Two mnemonics are critical when considering promotional activity, DRIP and AIDA. DRIP stands for Differentiate, Reinforce, Inform and Persuade. These are the four functions of marketing communications.
The advertising content on minor TV channels often fails these four functions. Much of the charity advertising and the post-50 life insurance are of such similar format that it is difficult to tell one advertiser from another. Rather than differentiating themselves through content, they are in a game of ‘me too’. Most of the funeral insurance follows a script set years ago by Sun Life.
The main weapon of reinforcement in this advertising is rapid repetition. The same small number of advertisements run commercial break after commercial break. The advertiser responsible for scheduling these adverts seems to think that the only way to get the audience to remember the message is to repeat it ad nausiem. The assumption appears to be that a significant proportion of the intended audience are in the latter stages of dementia.
I have no quarrel with the fact that this advertising informs the audience but does it persuade them to purchase? I presume most campaigns will have an expected percentage return based on the budget spent on them. I also suspect that said percentage return is much lower than that expected of advertisements on the main commercial channels. I would not be surprised if some adverts are only on stations because that is what competitors do.
Marketing promotion is about push strategies and pull strategies. A push strategy is where a manufacturer ‘pushes’ their products onto retailers and other suppliers. For example, for the sale of medicines, it was common for sales representatives to visit doctors and pharmacists or for drugs firms to sponsor medical conferences. television advertising is a pull strategy. You advertise to end-users who in turn pressurise their local retailer (these days it tends to be expects their retailer) to stock the product. Due to the consumer demand generated by advertising, the product is stocked and sales made.
Most promotional campaigns strike a balance between push and pull. I suspect that some of the exampled advertising has the wrong balance of push and pull. Particularly the advertising of products for intimate feminine problems.
That brings me to culture. One of the tasks within marketing planning is to assess the culture of a particular market. For example, until recently, it was illegal for women in Saudi Arabia to ride a bicycle. There was no cultural expectation that women would ride a bike. There would therefore be very little demand in Saudi for bikes without a cross bar. (incidentally, that law has been relaxed, women can now ride a bike round a closed track, they cannot ride a bike on the road). Even though the law has been relaxed, Saudi Arabia’s strict religious police will still hassle women attempting to ride.
Similarly, Billy Connolly used to make great fun out of an American advertisement for a Haemorrhoid cream called Preparation H. He used to make fun of the exaggerated effects of the cream shown in the advert but the delight in his comments was making his audience squirm with the embarrassment of it. Suffice to say, within a few years of that skit, that very advertisement, with dubbed UK accents, was being shown on British television.
Now it is true that British cultural attitudes have changed over the years, the content of shows like I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here is not too dissimilar to that of the Endurance. However, am I alone in thinking that adverts for incontinence pants and vaginal dryness cream are on the wrong side of the UK’s cultural embarrassment line? Is television advertising of such products going to massively increase sales? or would the manufacturers of these products be better off by promoting products with in-store advertising; e.g. my local pharmacy has an in-store video display of such advertisements; or by promoting it to health professionals?
It just seems to me that the manufacturers of these products, many of whom I suspect are based in the United States (a country which tends to have a lower embarrassment threshold) have simply misunderstood the UK culture.
Finally there ins the mnemonic AIDA. This stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. It is a step-by-step approach to the thought processes of consumers when the see advertising. First, through the advertising, they become aware of a product; they then seek out information about the product; then they desire the product; and finally they take action to get the product.
In recent years, some marketing theorists and experts in consumer behaviour have attacked theories such as AIDA pointing out that consumers often buy on impulse without going through a step by step process. However, it remains a useful rule of thumb for understanding what is going on in the heads of consumers when they buy.
Much of the daytime advertising evidenced in this blog forgets the latter two aspects of promotion. Sure, it makes consumers aware of products and provides them with information BUT such advertising often fails to build consumer desire or provide consumers with a call to action. If your target consumers are embarrassed by your advertising content, or by your products nature, will they desire it? Will the advert itself be enough of a call to make them act?
In my view, it is clear that the executives responsible for a lot of the advertising content on lesser TV stations and during the day are doing so because they see it as being what is expected of them, or because it has been a successful tactic in their home market. What they fail to take account of is the inbuilt reserve of the British or the actual strategic aim of promotional activity.