I got to sit in with Dr. Yolanda Cal’s Advertising Campaigns class last week as they worked to develop a strategic campaign for their semester client, New Leaders New Schools. Lots of ideas swirled about the room as the discussion ranged from goals and objectives to target audiences to “the big idea” and how that might be executed. With so much creative energy in the room, I thought about all the exciting advertising that would result from this campaign.
That led me to another thought. If so many good ideas come up in the process of creating advertising, why are there so many bad ads out there? And there are plenty. As a VP at Young and Rubicam once remarked, about 90 percent of all advertising is bad.
But is that a good thing? Randall Rothenberg believes bad advertising plays an important role in American society. In a 2005 article in Advertising Age, he said, “Truly insipid advertising – the kind that causes eyes to roll, heads to nod and palms to slap disbelieving foreheads – is disappearing from the U.S. landscape, a victim of increasingly clever copywriters, imaginative graphic designers, inventive TV producers and directors, and new technologies that enable dazzling special effects and accentuated punch-lines entree into our homes and psyches.” He goes on to say, “This is a bad thing. The disappearance of stupid advertising has deprived Americans…of one of our few unifying platforms: our ability, regardless of race, sex, age or creed, to ridicule Madison Avenue.”
Sarcasm aside, bad advertising can be effective – in creating bad reputations and public perceptions of products and the companies that make them. Rance Crain said in the same publication eight years earlier, “What supposedly sophisticated companies fail to realize is the debilitating effect bad advertising can have on an organization.”
There are MANY examples of bad advertising (both in taste or lack thereof or in claims made). Recently, Mental Floss added to my collection with “Who Approved That? 7 Food Promotions Gone Horribly Wrong.” My favorite “ads gone wild” example on the list was for Hell Pizza, a name almost as weird as Naked Pizza.
Listerine, whose hand has been spanked for overstating claims in ads, was listed in “5 Times Drug Companies Promised Too Much (Or Explained Too Little),” also on Mental Floss.
It’s not just consumer products that suffer from bad advertising. Bad nonprofit advertising not only has the potential to make people sneer or laugh at the ads but can seriously damage the reputation of the organization. Cagla Okten and Burton A. Weisbrod wrote in 2000 in the Journal of Public Economics that advertising and information have a direct and positive effect on fundraising. We might infer that a negative effect is also possible, if the advertising and information are bad.
Andy Goodman, an expert in public interest advertising, has written about this topic in “Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes.” It’s available for free download here.
I’m looking forward to seeing the end product when I get to be one of the judges for the Ad Campaigns final presentation. I’m sure the students will bring their best work. And I hope that, as we send this group out into the working world of advertising, they’ll do their best to change that 90 percent to a number – and advertising – they can be proud of.