Confusion Thy Name is Advertising

“Three Quarters of Americans Have Found a TV Commercial Confusing”

And so reads the headline of the Harris Interactive poll released August 26, 2010. Is anyone really surprised by this? How many times have you looked at a TV commercial and wondered “What the heck are they selling?” And it’s not confined to TV alone. How many times have you driven past an outdoor board with about 20 words of copy on it and said to yourself, “How am I supposed to read that at 60MPH?”

And, as the survey points out, the confusion isn’t related to age or education:

  • Roughly 90% of all adults watch TV commercials regardless of their age. And roughly the same percentage watch regardless of their educational level.
  • 75% have found a commercial confusing at some time.
  • Approximately 20% said it happens often or very often.

The report concludes that, “Commercials are supposed to be somewhat clear. Yes, they can be artsy.  Yes, they can be clever. Hopefully they are both entertaining and informative as well. But, a commercial’s main focus needs to be selling a product or service. If consumers watching these commercials are unsure of that main focus, the marketers are doing something wrong.”

It’s that last sentence that got me wondering what the marketers are doing that’s causing this confusion. Here’s the list I came up with (in no particular order of importance):

  1. The product has a simple selling point and the strategy on which the ad is based is way too complicated.
  2. There is no strategy. That’s right boys & girls, the ad was written on a whim, from the “Bewitched” school of advertising copywriting.
  3. The ad was approved by a committee. Just like a camel is a horse designed by a committee, so too was this ad.
  4. The spots are confusing. Really, they’re confusing.
  5. The client saw something last weekend and thought, “We should include that in what we’re doing.” So that’s what they’re doing.
  6. The creative group’s idea of what really resonates with the intended audience was developed at an art show after a few too many local brews. (Too high brow, too esoteric. Or the reverse.)
  7. The target audience needs a remedial reading course (but no one will say that out loud) and needs pretty straightforward communication.
  8. It was designed to communicate to a variety of consumers and instead talks to no one in particular.
  9. The media buyer got a real ‘deal’ so the ad (announcing a sale on women’s shoes) is now running in the NASCAR race that weekend.
  10. Poor graphic design and execution.

Those are my top 10. What do you think are some of the causes of ad confusion? Do you have a top 10?

I’m guessing that a lot of the responses will be from personal experience.

Just sayin’….

— Dave Capano, EVP, Director of Media Services


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