Don’t be flaky: You gotta connect it to the dandruff

There's a new radio campaign out there that starts off great. It's a series of phone conversations, very nicely written and very well produced.
The premise is, somebody's phoning in the hopes of getting something done. They want to set up an appointment for a massage, or they want to know when their car will be out of the body shop, that kind of nice real-life stuff.

There’s a new radio campaign out there that starts off great. It’s a series of phone conversations, very nicely written and very well produced.

The premise is, somebody’s phoning in the hopes of getting something done. They want to set up an appointment for a massage, or they want to know when their car will be out of the body shop, that kind of nice real-life stuff.

The dialogue is excellent. The body-shop man is maddeningly unspecific: ‘The guy who does that isn’t in today…maybe, maybe not…could be, could be not.’ The masseur’s receptionist checks his schedule (‘next week, vacation, after that, spiritual retreat…’) and winds up suggesting next March. It rings true; we’ve all been there.

So naturally enough, I wait to find out what they’re selling. Somebody’s dependable service, no doubt — maybe Mr. Goodwrench or UPS or even (gulp) Air Canada. Why not. FedEx built a whole brand by showing how the other guys screwed up, then promising they wouldn’t. And some of the fine IBM spots do it that way, too.

Nope. The segué into the sell goes something like this:

ANNOUNCER: Not everything works as hard as it should … but our dandruff shampoo does.

Huh? Eh? Say what? Dandruff shampoo? What the hell does dandruff shampoo have to do with a lazy guy in a body shop? (I know, you just told me. He doesn’t work hard, and your dandruff shampoo does. Sorry, but a] that claim would work equally well for floor polishes, engine additives, laser printers, electric lawn mowers, laundry detergents, and laxatives; b] it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with any of them.)

The lovely radio spots are suddenly a failure. I can quote you virtually word-for-word on the dialogue (and you’ll be glad to know I don’t take notes on the Gardiner Expressway), but I have absolutely no idea what the name of the shampoo is. And it’s my job to pay attention; I think you can be pretty sure the impact will be even less on Joe Average who has no basic interest in advertising.

You gotta be relevant. Yes, you gotta be attention-getting, and yes, you gotta be memorable, and yes, you oughta be entertaining…but none of these is worth a pinch of barnyard growth accelerator if you don’t associate your advertising with your product.

Examples of this go back to the high-tech glory days before the Nasdaq crash. Back then in the Dark Ages, maybe thirty months ago, dozens of advertisers were spending millions of dollars on great creative commercials designed to make their particular dot-com into the household word of the future. Hot advertising agencies and the Super Bowl media sales team made out like bandits, and many of the spots were lauded in awards ceremonies.

Where are these commercials today? Where are these great new brand names? In the same part of my memory bank as the name of the dandruff shampoo…filed under LOST FOREVER. Because all those dot-com spots, like the shampoo spots, made you remember the cleverness and not the product.

I used to argue with Archie McLean, the guru of McCain Foods Advertising, because Archie actually fought against putting entertainment value into his commercials.

He believed it was a distraction. I think it’s a great weapon, enhancing brand personality and product uniqueness and the sale.

But entertainment can’t be a substitute for all those other basic good things. While you’re using your head and being flaky, you gotta connect it to the dandruff.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING * CREATIVE THINKING.’ He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com.