The New Marketplace
NOTICE: This memo ends with a link to an ad-writing course description. So don’t be surprised.
The last line in most TV or radio ads is usually a "call to action," right? Especially if the ad was produced locally:
"Hurry. These prices won't last long."
"Act Now. Offer expires soon."
"You must be present to win."
We say these things because we're trying to create a sense of urgency. We want to see customers respond immediately, so we yank the chain of self-interest. But the public is growing tired of having its chain yanked. And for this reason, ads that attempt to create a sense of urgency are becoming passé. We're developing an immunity to ad-speak.
From the Great Depression through WWII, any product with the courage to advertise relentlessly was assured a place in the national consciousness. Mass media was cheap and all of America could easily be reached by it. You had three TV networks, a local newspaper and a small group of AM radio stations. Take your pick.
Then we tumbled into the 60s and advertising got creative. Along came the 70s, FM radio arrived and right behind it, cable TV.
Babies born in 1980 emerged into a plastic world of flashing lights and shallow hype. Cartoons like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were interrupted by ads for the Popeil Pocket Fisherman and the amazing Veg-O-matic. "It makes mounds and mounds of julienne fries! But wait! There's more!" Disco music and line dancing and riding the mechanical bull. Pop like a flashcube, baby. Then in 1983, Michael Jackson swept the Grammies and Madonna leapt onto the charts with Material Girl. "We are liv-ing in a material world. And I am a material girl."
Fast forward a quarter century: Never has a generation had so much to do and so little time. We're drowning in recreational opportunities. The Saturday morning cartoons of childhood blossomed into their own round-the-clock cartoon network and the nightly news has become a series ofnon-stop news channels. Comedy has its own non-stop comedy channel, movies their own 24-hour movie channel and department stores have morphed into a theme park of superstores known as Power Centers where we can watch the retail giants slug it out for our discretionary dollar: Circuit City vs. Best Buy. Linens'n'Things vs. Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Lowe's vs. Home Depot, OfficeMax vs. Office Depot, and PetsMart vs. Petco.
What is a citizen to do?
Those jaded infants of 1980 are turning 25 this year and they bring with them a new sensibility: Use technology to block out a too-much world.
1. Digital Video Recorders allow us to skip TV commercials.
2. Satellite radio and iPods allow us to hide from radio ads.
3. Video games allow us to run from reality as we withdraw into an online world unreachable by modern advertising.
MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) like EverQuest and WarCraft are a movie that never ends. The reality hook is that you are connected with other people who know you only as you have chosen to be known. Think of it as the ultimate costume party.
Did you know that you can type a text message on the keys of your cell phone that will instantly appear on the cell phone of a friend? This "instant messaging" is slow and laborious, but millions do it as a way of showing courtesy to their friends. "Ring the phone when your message can't wait, send a text when it can." Non-interruption is a high value among the emerging generation and they're beginning to spread an appreciation of it to their Baby Boomer parents as well.
Bottom line: Our growing immunity to ad-speak means that the believability of ads that attempt to trigger urgency must be linked to the credibility of your desperation. So how do you think these "Hurry! Hurry!" lines are going to work in the future?
"Prices so low we can't say them on the air!"
"We won't be undersold!"
"Be one of the first 200 people through the door and receive a free gift!"
The marketplace is changing far more quickly than is advertising.
That's why I'm here; to help you get in step with today's consumers. Do it and move ahead of the curve to where the sky is bright and the air is sweet.
Roy H. Williams
Author of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestselling Wizard of Ads trilogy