Three reasons television commercials fail

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My post about Cheryl and the terrible Microsoft/PC store advertisement a week or two back got me thinking about other television commercials that miss their mark for various reasons. Here are three broad types of failures.

1. Terrible Taste

When creating an ad campaign, the line between promoting your product and alienating your audience often depends on personal taste — which means the line between appeal and irritation can be narrow.

Ragu learned this last week when marketer and blogger C. C. Chapman took exception to the condescending tone of their “What is dinnertime like when Dad cooks?” series and the negative light in which it presents men and their contributions to household tasks. For several days, complaints about this ad clogged my Twitter feed:

(See Chapman’s two follow-up posts for a fuller discussion of this ad and the social media pitfalls it failed to avoid.)

For me, the Charmin Bear commercials (now in their 11th year) are the epitome of bad taste:

That spot is one of many commercials in this series, which I have had the frequent misfortune of seeing during either lunch or dinner programming slots.

Let me be clear. There is nothing charming about toilets, toilet paper or the problems one may face after a personal interlude in the washroom. Showing toilet paper stuck to someone’s backside is tasteless — full stop.

Making said person a bear — or a baby bear — does not make this dilemma cute, socially acceptable, or anything I want to watch before, after or during a meal. Nor does it make me want to think about, let alone buy, your product.

On the other hand, Charmin wouldn’t keep making bear commercials if the formula was unsuccessful. Maybe good taste really is dead.

Other commercials I would site in this category include JCPenney’s Fast Times at Richmond High ripoff and IKEA’s unfortunate date night.

2. Taking the easy road

Cashmere has been running this commercial of a runway model wearing a wedding dress made out of toilet paper for ages:

Whatever novelty the dress-made-out-of-toilet-paper angle once had has lost its impact. Fashion competitions using toilet paper are so popular, they are the subject of DIY videos for bridal showers and the like. Cashmere needs a new angle.

The sad thing is that they have one. This week, 13 dresses created by Canadian fashion designers using Cashmere toilet paper are making the talk show circuit in Toronto.

The dresses — dyed pink in spots to cross-promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month — are much more impressive than the gown shown in that commercial. They also don’t trail rolls of toilet paper and feature designs someone might actually wear in public.

Better still, I have yet to see a model rubbing her face against the toilet fabric in simulated ecstasy (after this many viewings, that moment reads as lame despite the attempt at irony in the final frame).

But, instead of creating an interesting spot (or series) showing the creative process behind making these dresses (which are prominently featured on the Cashmere website and a contest microsite), Cashmere is running a new spot (that I currently cannot find online) showing two models in less impressive toilet paper wedding dresses having a good ol’ fashioned throw down on the cat walk — at least until they remember to marvel at the softness of Cashmere by rubbing it all over their faces.


3. Poor deployment

CBC and CTV, like many television networks, are leveraging their prime time content by streaming their shows on the Internet.

If you are a brand trying to reach more eyeballs with your commercials and skeptical about the traditional television delivery model, this is a good thing and worth exploring.

Unfortunately, these two networks don’t vary their online ad placement all that much (CBC is by far the guiltier party in this regard). So if you watch an episode or show or two or three of your favourite show, you will see the same two commercials over and over and over. Often this happens four times within the same episode:

Screenshot of Scotiabank ads on CTV`s show interfaceWorse, the volume for these commercials is often out of sync with the main programming. That means harsh transitions from (relatively) moderate dialogue to blaring music and voice-overs. The baby wakes up when that happens, which annoys the hell out of me.

The advertising interface built into the media players on these sites won’t let me skip ads and is too stupid to register whether I have seen the ad once or 50 times. My current hack is to mute the volume before the commercial starts, but that doesn’t always work out.

Commercials killed for me — regardless of their merit or message — by this format include:

If you have gone to the time, effort and expense of creating an effective commercial, make sure that your online rollout includes an equally effective deployment plan lest you burn whatever goodwill your campaign might have created.

Summing Up

Are there other reasons television commercials fail in your books? Which commercials can you no longer stand?