For Marketers, Sentimentality Trumps Slapstick

From Ram to Subaru

As has been noted here and elsewhere, the Great Recession is widely seen as fueling the trend. At a time when many consumers faced unprecedented financial difficulties, images that mirrored real life and messages that spoke to real-life issues were what hit home. Inspiration trumped aspiration, reality beat out fantasy. As economist and Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz put it in a New York Times opinion piece, “The gap between aspiration and reality could hardly be wider.”

All that is not to say an ad cannot be humorous at the same time it is inspirational. In Taco Bell’s “Viva Young,” which was the most rewatched Super Bowl ad on TiVo this year, a group of mischief-making, partying-hardy grandmas and grandpas sneak out of the retirement home for a night of debauchery to another tune from fun., “We Are Young.” The ad, from Deutsch LA, was funny to be sure, but also spoke to simple human truths. “It was just an example of living life with a little bit of excitement,” says Jeffrey Blish, partner and chief strategic officer at the agency. The spot, he explains, was meant to present something that was “interesting and different” but also “within the realm of possibility.”

Consumers reacted to the humor (drunk and heavily made-up old folks carousing) and related to the sentiment (not only the pretty and young have fun). Not surprisingly, the ad went viral, racking up some 3 million views on YouTube and 200,000 shares on Facebook and Twitter.

It stands to reason that as ads aiming for the heart resonate, marketers are finding that superficial messages can often fall flat.

During the Super Bowl, the spots that performed most poorly in the Ace Metrix poll were for Calvin Klein underwear and the Web-domain giant GoDaddy—two executions that were the polar opposite of sentimental and the quintessence of that other standby of advertising: fantasy. GoDaddy gave us an eyeful with a never-gonna-happen make-out session between an über-geek and smokin’ hot babe—and resonate with consumers, you may recall, it did not. (“The No. 1 word people used to describe that ad was ‘gross,’” says Ace Metrix CEO Peter Daboll.) Meanwhile, the Calvin Klein ad—30 seconds of a fresh-off-the-mannequin-assembly-line male model, rippling in all his sunbaked glory—was simply unrelatable to viewers. (Said one respondent in the Ace Metrix poll: “Tired of ads featuring bodies that consumers just don’t have.”)

“It wasn’t really relevant for men, and it wasn’t really relevant for women,” says Daboll. “So who was it [relevant] to?”

Looks like certain advertising creatives could use some inspiration of their own.

Adweek Blog Network