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We Are Not The Entertainment

I've always had one simple, guiding rule in evaluating creative effectiveness:

Make the idea about what you're selling.

You'd think that would be a given. We're in marketing, after all. We're selling stuff. But time and again I would get concepts on my desk that were highly creative, very much attention getting, but did not pay off the connection to the product or service until the last panel. 

As an art director friend of mine used to say, "That's a long way to go for a roast beef sandwich."

In advertising we are often victims of a common misconception: We think of ads as entertainment. And that's a problem, because almost no one else does.

Please take note that I didn't say, "We think ads can be entertaining." Nor did I say, "We think ads are funny." Ads can be entertaining and funny, and lots of people can like your TV spot or mail package or web site for its entertainment value. But where we can go wrong is when we start thinking of the ad as the entertainment itself.

Think how many marketing pieces or commercials you see or hear that are beautifully created, story-telling vehicles, yet have only the flimsiest connection to the products being sold. (I don't need to name names — if you're in the business, you know plenty of examples.) Sure, they can be captivating visually and the stories can be heartwarming, but as we talked about during episode 107 of The BeanCast, people generally aren't paying close enough attention anyway. So it's likely that no matter how interesting your ad is, if the idea isn't somehow centered around your product or core promise of your service, your audience isn't making a lasting memory connection between your ad and your product. 

I'm all for better, more entertaining ads, but this penchant for wanting to be the entertainment, rather than be the sponsor of the entertainment, is making too many ads lose focus. It may be more difficult to maintain entertainment value when making an ad's basic premise center around the product being sold, but ultimately it's a better stewardship of the client's dollar. 

It takes very talented people to write a sitcom on network TV. And I love people who can create fabulous works of art. I have the deepest respect for people who can generate entertaining or thought-provoking work like that. But advertising is a different animal and, in many ways, can be much more complicated. So please, let's agree to just stop settling on the ad with the funniest punchline. Let's at least try to work toward an ad that captivates people more toward your product than your idea.

And I totally expect that people will disagree on this, so I invite the debate. But please at least take time to think about this before you respond. I'm advocating for more creative ads, not less. I just think our creativity often needs to work a little harder for the brand it represents. I'd love your thoughts.

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