If all the ads you see on television sound like they’ve been written by the same person, a slightly snarky, all-knowing young hipster, odds are they have. Or, more accurately, by a crew of people who all strive to have the same voice: that of the creative directors who judge award shows.
And while the work that wins at these shows (especially the big ones) is often great, it’s generally work that appeals far more to the upscale, urban, 30something white male hipsters who judge these shows than it does to say, your grandmother, who doesn’t get why those Burger King spots with the mask are the least bit funny.
Now this theory is fine when you’re advertising beer or running shoes. But since most products advertised aren’t beer or running shoes, we quickly find ourselves in trouble: we’re talking with one voice to an audience who speaks with another. And whether it’s TV, print or online (okay, especially online), the messages we’re putting out there are “we don’t really know you, our customers. We don’t really care what you think is cute or funny or emotional. We only care what’s cool and hip (by our standards) so get used to it.”
I’ve made it practice on my blog to call out ads that appeal to different demographics: A Canon camera spot with Maria Sharapova’s dog, for instance, that my kids find hilarious.
Now of course it’s not impossible to create advertising that appeals to a broad demographic. The Budweiser Frogs campaign from about 10 years ago did that, so does some of the better Coke and Pepsi advertising. But by and large, given the fragmented media environement, we’re going to be advertising to a very specific demographic. And I’ve yet to see a brief that says “here’s what the target’s taste level is. Here’s who they find funny, the TV shows they love to watch, the magazines they read.” And the award shows don’t help this situation: they reward work that has no appeal to the intended target. Just look at this campaign for Tide that cleaned up at Cannes this year.
No wonder so few people actually like commercials.