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Is It The Creative Or The Promotion

Have you seen the horrors that comprise the Boost Mobile ad campaign?

People eating sandwiches off of dead peopleA woman with long armpit hairPigs eating pork. These are some pretty darn disgusting ads that 180LA is churning out. And targeting aside (yes, we know you have to be all "edgy" for the young'uns) they do nothing to attract people to the brand. They shock. End of story.

Yet customers are flocking to the product. According to Adweek, they added 1 million new customers in 2009 and now Boost is planning their first Super Bowl spot. Oh, happy day!

Here's the rub, though. Boost offers something pretty unusual in terms of mobile plans. They have a $50 all-you-can-eat promotion going, when the other carriers charge a minimum of $99 for similar offerings. Which begs the questions: What is really driving the customer acquisition rate -- the promotion or the ads?

Obviously Boost and their agency would politically say that it's a combination of the two. But who are we fooling? There's no brand-building going on here. There's no identity management or core beliefs being communicated. They are shocking you to pay attention to an offer. It's all about the promotion.

In fact, I would suggest that if you had put the late Billy Mays up there and had him shout about the all-you-can-eat plant for 60 seconds, you would get the same results and maybe even do a little better. Hey wait! What am I saying?!? This is a Boost commercial. We should just put the real dead Billy Mays up there rotting away to stay in keeping with the theme they've created.

I want to be clear that I am not necessarily recommending this tactic of doing a direct spot with a pitchman, alive or dead. Certainly I believe it could pull better than what they're doing now and might even avoid offending people along the way. But I bring it up to highlight another example of how advertisers and their agencies often will credit their creative for what their promotion is achieving.

In this case, the creative is only used to shock people into paying attention. In my mind, while this is effective for direct marketing (think loud, shouting guy that shocks you out of complacency), it makes for a lousy brand impression. It builds nothing in terms of long-term value or over-all customer relationship. So in the end, it's a missed opportunity. They are achieving the results of their promotion at the expense of their brand value. This is a premise that's unsustainable and at some point, as their market penetration matures, they'll most likely find themselves with heavy attrition and low advocacy -- unless, of course, they're spinning webs of gold in terms of customer service.

I won't be so bold as to suggest a better course of action creatively. But I will say that wild ideas designed only to shock don't live long in a promotional vacuum. The best ideas offer a sustainable path toward growth and brand equity. And clearly neither are offered in this work.

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