Advertising engagement, without the annoyance factor

Advertising engagement is a polite way of defining the raison d’etre of ads… you advertise in order to engage your audience.

There are a number of ways to create advertising engagement. You can make your audience smile, make them laugh, pull their heartstrings, even stir outrage that drives them to action.

As a general rule, however, annoying people into buying your product isn’t sound thinking.

Sure, it worked when we only had three channels to watch – remember having your favourite show interrupted by the same terrible ad in every commercial break, and not being able to do anything about it? You hated it, but the assault on your senses seemed to pay in sales.

Today, however, it doesn’t pay.

I just had an interesting ad passed along to me. Seems McDonald’s shot a commercial where a dad’s death was used to sell Filet-O-Fish. Sure, it tugged heartstrings. But it also seriously annoyed a great number of people who had lost their parents and found the crass attempt to connect bereavement with junk food a bit crass.

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How do we know they were annoyed? Because they voiced their disgust in capital letters all across the internet.

Playing with the emotions of people who have lost their parents to sell a Filet-O-Fish? How could that go wrong, the client must’ve asked themselves, never.

Not the sort of advertising engagement you want

This example of tone deaf advertising is just the latest in a series.

How can we forget Kendall Jenner solving race relations by giving a Pepsi to a cop at a Disney-fied Black Lives Matter protest? And how about that incredible joint United Airlines / Chicago airport security attention-getter? And Kendall Jenner & friends shilling for the Fyre Festival, the failed Coachella for the 1%? Wait, Kendall Jenner got a tone deaf twofer?

My point is, marketers don’t seem to have learned terribly much about the power of the interweb when put into the hands of ticked-off consumers. Why not?

For a start, let’s be fair. 99% of all ads stick to the knitting, selling stuff by promising whiter whites, flatter abs and skydiving while taking some pill that has 25 seconds of side-effects. They do a fine, utterly forgettable job. We watch the ads, we ignore them, we go to the supermarket and perhaps give a glimmer of a thought when we’re reaching for a new brand of rice or salsa.

The problem starts when marketers get bored. They want to make a statement. They want to connect their soda to civil rights in their advertising.

Suddenly, they’re crossing over from selling stuff to tapping into our passions and fears. Their thinking is that they can hitch their sugar water to feelings we have for another issue. A bit of a free ride, as it were.

This comes off as superficial at best. And downright cynical at worst.

Rule of thumb. Don’t let your product do your fighting for you.

It’s time to get back to the basics. Advertising sells soda by saying it’s good soda. Or it will make you happy (although that sort of fluffy claim isn’t standing up as well in an age of consumer reviews and citizen journalism – makes you pine for the innocent ’80s, right?)

We live in interesting times. There are plenty of things out there stirring our emotions and making us furious. Tying soda to those things is not only superficial and cynical, it’s lazy.

If you want to show you’re concerned about civil rights, get out from behind your Roche Bobois desk and get out in the streets. Write furious letters to your local elected representatives. As the Bible says, play nice in the sandbox. But don’t let your soda fight your fight for you.

And please, don’t give me a fish sandwich to remind me of a dear departed dad.

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