A Reason Not To Run

Maybe it was the passing of Christopher Reeve. Maybe I’m just getting old. But I was daydreaming the other day, recalling a time long ago, before I wised up and swore off sex forever, when I was set up on a blind date by my crackhead cousin to take a girl in Queens out to dinner and the first Superman movie.

I was young and way more confident in my wonderfulness than the facts warranted. So off I went in my seafoam-green Peugeot, hitting the New York highways on a Friday night with a song in my heart and the 8-track cranked up high.

Up the West Side Highway I crept in gridlock, along the Cross-Bronx Expressway and over the Triboro Bridge, then east through the borough’s seamy streets. It took three goddamn hours to go about 30 miles, but I finally made it to the woman’s house. I rang the bell—and the ugliest, surliest human being I have ever encountered opened the door.

Ninety seconds later, I was back in the frogmobile and hell-bent back to Manhattan.

I provide this anecdote in the hope that it may help illuminate a thing or two about advertising’s biggest Big Bad, most recently dissected (for the millionth time) by a new study released last week.

The research from Havas media network MPG found—brace yourselves—that digital-video-recorder owners don’t just zap commercials they’ve taped, but more than half of them change the channel or do something else during commercial breaks when they’re watching live TV. And 57 percent said they found commercials annoying.

What?! Who knew?!

Seriously, the study does frame the problem. But the solution, I believe, is one I used to dismiss as dusty old 20th-century communications thinking. Yes, I mean making good ads.

Shocking, I know, but bear with me. True, we’ve got alterations and alternatives and online and offline and bathroom urinals and painted cars and cute Crispin Porter + Bogusky gimmicks and all the rest. True, traditional media certainly doesn’t have the power it once had. Sure, kaleidoscopic channels have made the medium more important than the message in many cases. (As the philosophers have noted, if Jared declares his love for Subway in a forest and nobody hears him, does he make a noise?)

But traditional creative, done well, can still conquer just about any marketing challenge. Once you get where you’re going, you still need to give ’em some reason to stick around.

Hey, if I drove three hours and came face to face with the little blonde from CSI: Miami who also stars in a Colgate toothpaste spot, trust me, it would have been worth the trip. It was true when Sid Caesar had a show, it was true when I took that fateful trip to Queens, it’s true now, and it’ll be true when we’re beaming logos on the moon. Give ’em a reason not to run.

Given that I’m a former media editor, my instinct is to buy into media agencies’ we’re-so-smart posturing—hook, line and scatter market. All that total communications planning mumbo jumbo is fine, as far as it goes. But the truth is, media agencies don’t really know what they’re doing any more than the clients who go gaga over the concept. It’s all too new, and they’re still just tinkering.

But nothing beats a well-done, big-budget TV ad campaign. It’s time-tested. It’s proven. It’s powerful.

Not because of the numbers of people who see it—that has changed for the worse, and it isn’t close to hitting bottom. But because good ads are stories. And nothing is more persuasive—or more long-lasting—than a well-told story.

Except maybe Emily Procter flashing her Colgate-whitened teeth.