Do You Insult Consumer Intelligence With Entertainment Value?

I wrote recently about the advertising business’s mis-understanding of the idea of “likability”. I think we have a similar problem with the idea of “entertainment”.

Listen to many agencies and you’ll think that the only things that entertain are movies, concerts, comedy shows, and video games. That’s quite scary because movies, concerts, comedy shows, and video games FAIL TO ENTERTAIN far more than they succeed.

So the good news for the ad business is that people are more interesting than Hollywood thinks.

Does Advertising Need to Be Entertaining? Of course it does. But agencies need to stop looking at what’s called the “entertainment business” and start looking for a more robustly human sense of entertainment.

There are many things that people find entertaining – learning things, training pets, browsing the web, reading a book, watching a documentary, playing poker, shooting the breeze with friends, working out, running, hiking, fishing, sewing, woodworking, fixing stuff, writing blogs, …. The list is endless and varied. Heck, there are people who think it’s entertaining to lock themselves into a tiny capsule tied to a balloon then risk their lives floating around the world 10 miles above the earth (this one doesn’t make my list).

To see this wide ranging sense of entertainment consider infomercials (yup – the 30 minute type). Infomercials work because it is inherently entertaining for people to learn about products they buy for areas where they are passionate. What do they learn? How products work, what other people think about them, how they might apply to their lives. Because of this, the infomercial business is extraordinarily successful and has nearly universal influence (every TV viewer is influenced by them even if they don’t call to buy).

Intelligent infomercials succeed – like our half hour for the Drill Doctor drill bit sharpener which spent 30 minutes talking about drill bits and drove sales of 3 million units. Entertaining? You bet. This show received 1 ratings (not share) in local markets on early weekend mornings. Why? Because it’s entertaining to learn about tools.

Sadly, some infomercial practitioners insult viewer intelligence by using the same techniques on TV that they use on the Atlantic boardwalk. But infomercials aren’t the worst…

The Worst Insulters of Consumer Intelligence are Traditional Advertisers. Advertising agencies insult consumer intelligence constantly by assuming that (1) consumers don’t want to know anything or (2) saying something significant makes creative “boring” or (3) saying something directly is offensive. Consumers really want all of this – it’s the agencies who don’t.

In part, I find many agencies believe they are honoring consumer intelligence by keeping meaningful content OUT OF their work. Instead, the creative approach is “highly intelligent”. Except… Consumers aren’t artists and creative intelligence is primarily lost on the vast majority of people. There is only one truly universal thing that consumers DO care about: making smart purchase decisions with their limited resources.

The Agency Selection Process Helps Cause This Reality. When shopping agencies, clients view advertising in a portfolio or on a reel as if they were a theater audience. That means entertainment industry-style values play a huge role in agency selection.

But, consumers catch advertising as part of their everyday lives. Caught from the corner of their eye while cooking, glanced at while paging through a magazine with the TV on, or briefly considered while their 2 year-old pulls on their hair. If advertising is to be valuable to them, then, they need it to say something clear and direct that makes pretty immediate sense.

And notice what happens: Theatrical impact requires the creative cleverness to avoid saying things clearly, directly, and in ways that make immediate sense. Consumer impact usually requires clear and direct communication. It takes a brave agency to create advertising that moves consumers – because in so doing they are risking their ability to get that next job.

The Result: A One Dimensional Theory of Entertainment. Heart pumping, eye-catching, sexy, funny, outrageous – these are the terms agencies like to apply to their advertising. But how restrictive of the human animal. Yes, I know PT Barnum talks about how easy it is to foist things on the public. Perhaps that only matters when your primary product is Barnum’s taxidermically altered animalia shown at the county fair.

Fortunately, most advertising doesn’t involve that kind of junk. So why don’t we sell it intelligently – to the whole person, to the entirety of the human beast?

Respect Consumers As Fully Human, Fully Alive. Do this by telling them the things that have meaning to them. And tell them these things in ways that are understandable. Respecting consumers makes your advertising watched more often and successful more often.

Speaking of success, let’s revisit that “entertainment industry” model. The ad biz’s fascination with entertainment considers only the exciting potential while ignoring the dark side. In the entertainment business, failure happens at a massive rate.

Love that sitcom? They spent 5 years developing it and 100 others failed to be effective along the way. Can you spend 5 years developing your ad campaign and risk failing 99 out of 100 times?

Didn’t think you could. The really beautiful thing about considering the entire human animal: you can create advertising that is successful almost every time. But only after you reject the one dimensional view of how your advertising should entertain humanity.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

About Doug Garnett
Growing retail based businesses through television, DRTV, and all forms of video. Doug is a strategist, executive producer, director, author, & teacher.

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