Tag Archives: United States

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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Unconventional Marketing Strategies Work

It’s July and it feels like a sweltering 100 degrees in Henrietta, N.Y, just outside of Rochester. Despite the intense heat, hundreds of neighboring residents descend upon the county fairgrounds with the expectation to enjoy  “carnival” food, amusement park rides, demolition derby, live entertainment, vendor booths, and roaming silent MASKED PEOPLE!?!

Who are those people in the white hoodies and masks?

What’s up with the number on their masks?

Their shirts read, “My insurance company treats me like a number.”  I wonder who they work for?

Upon entrance to the Monroe County Fair on July 17, fair-goers were greeted by a group of people dressed in white t-shirts, hoodies and numbered masks. Expressionless, these masked individuals stood motionless and did not utter a word to those who inquired about their presence at the county fair. It is not until people approached the distinct orange NYCM Insurance trailer with a masked mannequin to greet them that they were able to learn how NYCM treats each person as an individual and not a number.

The presence of the street team coincided with the launch of NYCM’s new advertising campaign, and by all accounts, the unconventional marketing strategy was a success.

Fair-goers were intrigued and drawn to the street team’s presence because of an emotional cord — we all want to be valued as individuals and treated accordingly by businesses. The presence of the street team drove fair-goers to the NYCM booth and website and increased inquiries about NYCM’s home and auto insurance services.

NYCM’s masked street team is a good example of an unconventional strategy that reaped great results. What unique marketing tactic could your company employ to communicate its core messages and set itself apart from the competition?

— Karla Chambers, Account Executive


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A Disaster… In More Ways Than One

With the worst natural disaster in our country’s history now more than 90 days old (and counting), I started thinking about how BP and its major U.S. competitors are using marketing tactics to respond.

It may have taken them longer than many would like, but BP has revamped their entire marketing presence to address what they are doing in the Gulf.  From their television spots to their press releases, website, Twitter and RSS feeds, Facebook and Flickr accounts, and even their YouTube channel, BP is now using all their available outlets to try and keep people informed about what they are doing to stop the leak and repair the damage.

In the old days, if a company had a crisis, they would control the media and the conversation with a traditional PR effort, and their competitors would be silent (e.g., the airline industry after a crash).  But the proliferation of social media (and BP’s slow marketing response) has made it next to impossible for them to control the dialogue and get in front of the conversation.  Consider this:

  • Facebook: “Boycott BP” and “BP Sucks” pages on Facebook have more than a million combined fans, while the real BP Facebook page only has about 34,000.
  • Twitter: There are more than 185,000 followers on the main anti-BP page (BPGlobalPR) on Twitter, while the real page has only 16,800 followers.

Social media can really bite a company in the butt in times of disaster if they don’t have a plan, don’t say the right things, or don’t act quickly enough.

From a competitive standpoint, it surprised me that I haven’t seen any television spots, nor could I find one thing about the disaster on the corporate or brand websites for ExxonMobil, Chevron or Texaco.  Shell was the only brand that even mentioned it on their site, and that was only one buried link to an article that speaks about the support and assets they have been providing to BP.  They also seem to be the only brand heavily promoting the work they are doing to tap into alternative sources of energy.

But, as you can imagine, that hasn’t stopped people from making angry posts about all these brands as well, and even rehashing their prior wrongdoings and mishaps.  BP’s competitors look to be hiding their heads in the sand vs. responding and engaging in the conversation.

What do you think of the marketing response from BP and its competitors?  What would you be doing if you were the CMO of one of these brands?

— Stephen Weinstein, EVP, Director of Account Management


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The United States of Analytics Test

Everyone seems to agree these days that having a handle on the numbers helps you more effectively manage an activity. In my earlier life as a practicing CPA, I was amazed by how few people had a handle on their own personal analytics. They didn’t know the amount of their net-of-tax income; the amount of their annual household expenses; their debt-to-income ratio; or their marginal or effective income tax rates. Needless to say, the people who didn’t know these metrics tended to have expenses in excess of their revenue and ended up financing their lifestyle with a high debt-to-income ratio.

This causes me to reflect on whether the average taxpayer has a handle on the metrics of their own country, so let’s have a test to see how well you know your own country’s metrics before you enter the voting booth. (answers below)

  1. GDP: What is the annual GDP of the USA? All measurement really starts here. We gauge our booms and recessions by how this number is growing (or shrinking). It shrank by 2.3% last year, and the private industry shrank a staggering 23% in investment spending. The good news is that the GDP has been growing the last couple of quarters, and we are still the big dog, as our GDP is three times the size of China’s (but they are gaining fast).
  2. Annual Government Expenses: How much do the folks in Washington spend? This year it is projected to be a staggering 26% of GDP, one-fourth of our entire nation’s output (a record high).
  3. Annual Government Revenue: Whoops! This figure is a lot less than what we spend. That generally spells trouble for individuals (or small nations like Greece). The gap between this and our expenses is called our annual deficit.
  4. Annual Deficit: Ouch! It’s the biggest it has ever been, and it’s a whopping 9.7% of our annual GDP.  Expenses are 166% of our income.
  5. Federal Debt: Yikes! I hope this has a teaser rate and is interest only. It is 89% of our annual GDP and six times our annual revenue. That is $41,000 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. Can you say overleveraged?
  6. Debt Held by Foreigners: Hmmmm… It is 23% of our GDP and more than our annual revenue. That can’t be good.
  7. Unfunded Liability for Social Security and Medicare: If you were a private company doing this, ERISA would put you in the slammer and throw away the key. It is $130,000 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. We have promised retirement pensions and health-care insurance to everyone, taxed them for it, and have no way in the world to pay for it.


  1. $14.5 trillion estimate for 2010
  2. $3.5 trillion estimate for 2010
  3. $2.1 trillion estimate for 2010
  4. $1.4 trillion (you just need to be able to subtract to get this one right)
  5. $12.9 trillion current estimate
  6. $3.4 trillion current estimate
  7. $39.2 trillion ($5.1 trillion for Social Security and $34.1trillion for Medicare)

So, how did you do? If you couldn’t answer these questions, you might want to consider my initial premise that it’s hard to manage an activity if you don’t pay attention to the metrics. If you want a handy URL to keep track of the figures, the U.S. Debt Clock has most of them.

Mike Reineck, Principal


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