Friday, April 09, 2010

Bad Ads 2010

In re-reading a recent issue of PROFIT, I was stunned by the sheer vacuity of some of the ads in the magazine.

Advertising to small business owners isn't easy. You have to catch their eye with a compelling offer or graphic, make an emotional appeal to their needs and problems, and create a forceful case for your sophisticated, best-in-class solutions.

But that’s no excuse for the lousy ads I spotted in the January issue of PROFIT. Banal graphics, tiny understated typography that whispers, “Don't read me!”, and underwhelming messages that leave this entrepreneur unimpressed.

Here are three of those offenders:

KPMG: Devoted to your private company? Yes.
Are we efficient with moving a dolly? Not so much.

You may have seen the TV version of these ads that show people pretending to be KPMG professionals acting like ignorant goofs. This is branding? Humor is a key tool in advertising, but not when the joke is on the people you are trying to promote as world-class pros.

And what’s with the 10-point type at the bottom? Looks like legalese that no one is actually supposed to read. Yet this is their big “sell”!

Looks to me like an organization that doesn't know how to sell its services, and is so noncommittal about its value proposition that they hide it in the corner.

BDO Dunwoody: A high-concept ad looking for a concept.
So a zipper isn't really a zipper, but “an intricate system of wedges, hooks and hollows.” Um, so what? That doesn't matter to someone who just wants to fasten their coat or pants.

Talk about missing the big picture. If BDO professionals are going to overcomplicate something as simple as a zipper, why would I let them and their high hourly rates anywhere near my business?

Plus, the execution of the headline and graphic? So flat. So unexciting.

And again with the tiny type! “Fine print” communicates one message: you're not supposed to read this.

CA: Wouldn't it be nice if decisions were so easy?
I’m a fan of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants’ radio ads that use this theme, especially the one where a business chooses its strategy by spinning a roulette wheel. (“Looks like … a merger!!”) Those ads convey a realistic business atmosphere, and contain great humour.

But this print ad fails on several counts. I guess these are Tarot cards, but being one of the 30 million Canadians who know nothing about obscure mystical fortune-telling rituals, I'm not really sure. And the unholy mix of confusing labels – two adjectives ("Secure" and "Integrated") and a noun ("Holdings") – only adds to my befuddlement.

I have no clue what the message is here. A reminder that my Dungeons and Dragons club meets on Monday nights?

The sell copy, for once, is reasonably strong: “Look to a CA for the talent and integrity to make the right ones” [decisions]. Again, buried at the bottom of the page. Like an afterthought.

And is anyone else bothered that the CICA's new brand is merely “CA”? It looks so unfinished, as if no one wanted to take credit for this ad. But then, would you?

Here’s the final irony. If these ads fail to make the phone ring, the perpetrators will blame print.
(If anyone wishes to defend these ads, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.)


Stuart R. Crawford said...

Rick, great post...coming from the online world and I do understand the importance of balance in all aspects of marketing. However, these ads are simply poor and as a small business owner...would never, ever use these services. I would though if I was searching for "small business advice" and came upon a blog that spoke to my challenges...

Stuart Crawford
Ulistic Inc

Amy said...

Great post, Rick... It's all about ideas, a well-executed idea with a clear message may do any start-up company super-well!

Paul Simister, Your Profit Coach said...

You've picked three shocking ads to make your point.
When will some marketers learn that they need to do more than hammer the brand name through constant repetition.

Rick Spence said...

Thanks for your comments.

The scary thing is that I didn't have to look very hard to find these "shocking" ads - they were all in one recent issue of a magazine!