By Barry Klein
Many of us have been confined to the house by bad weather, and it's likely that you've been exposed to some outrageously expensive TV commercials in the Super Bowl and the Olympics, or in the network programming that helped pass the time, even entertained at times. But unlike some of us (curmudgeons like me), you probably haven't noticed that the commercials to which you paid attention and liked the most were softly emotional and told a heartwarming story...even if they had little to do with selling the product advertised.
Did the friendship between a puppy and a Clydesdale make you want to buy a Budweiser? How many boxes of Cheerios were sold by the dad agreeing to get the little girl a puppy when her sibling was born? Did lots of people switch to Visa after Morgan Freeman's unique voice told the stories about the athletes?
So, why did those marketers spend so much money to produce and buy the time for those commercials? They will tell you that it's all about building the brand with the large audience to which those ads are exposed. But the opinion here is that it is entirely possible to deliver a message that communicates emotionally and sells products, too.
Just look at the P&G "Thank You, Mom" campaign, which could be a textbook case of outstanding marketing. They are delivering a selling message about their brands, and putting it all together by saluting mothers (their primary target audience) with extremely well-produced, interesting commercials. Admittedly, there are few companies who could benefit from a similar message, but P&G approved the idea and the budget, and ran the campaign. Brilliant.
Now let's look at recent restaurant advertising. McDonald's Olympics ads were a pitch for 20-Piece Nuggets at $4.99. Would it have been more memorable to create an ad that featured athletes working out and enjoying the nuggets afterward because they "Deserved a Break?"
Burger King could have shown an athlete arguing with a coach and then having something "Your Way..." after the argument.
Or why couldn't some chain do a commercial about their support of a worthy cause with the people who benefited discussing what they like best on the chain's menu? Subway shows sports celebrities endorsing their sandwiches, but without any connection to reasons why. (OK. I'll stop trying to create commercials now ...)
At one time a large portion of restaurant advertising did attempt to capture the emotions of the audience, delivering some sort of selling message at the same time. A good example is the original Subway campaign in which Jared lost weight by eating at Subway. When Jared appears today, people may not even remember the original campaign.
Or, Cliff Freeman's early campaign for Little Caesar's "Pizza, Pizza," with its interesting attitude that has recently been revived. Then there's Dave Thomas and his folksy, homespun, self-deprecating commercials for Wendy's. Audiences couldn't help but connect with this lovable guy who said he had "The Best Burgers in the Business."
Restaurant advertising today seems to be the same for all brands: beautiful food photography of a new product or recipe, with a price that is supposed to be a value, but available for a limited time only. There are so many similar commercials that it is hard to remember what brand is offering which product. Has restaurant brand management abandoned the principle of communicating why consumers should patronize that brand? Yes, it is a challenge to reinforce the brand story and sell products in the same ad. And it's a lot easier to just make it a product/price message with a cute twist that makes the viewer smile.
But when was the last time you watched a comedy act and then bought something that was mentioned? Funny isn't usually funny when you watch it repeatedly. If humor is the emotional attraction for the campaign, you'd better be ready to produce a lot of commercials and change them often; maybe even eliminate the "crotch crash" that represents the competition, and sneak in a brand-building, positive reason to come to your place, in addition to selling the product.
The current buzz in the marketing world is all about "engagement." It seems that the best way to achieve that engagement is to strive for a bit of emotion in the communication, even if it slightly diminishes the cutesy twist. Let's not forget that a restaurant meal is at least partially entertainment — a break in the pressure of the consumers' day. And doesn't emotion practically define entertainment? An advertiser that brings emotion back to messaging should really stand out in today's marketplace, and reap the sales benefits.
Barry Klein is best known for creating the Ronald McDonald character and led the "You Deserve A Break Today" advertising campaign for McDonald's. In his current occupation as a marketing consultant, Klein has developed business-building concepts, new products and more for Coca Cola, Pizza Hut, Quiznos, Cadillac, Ruby Tuesday, Friendly’s, Perkins, Pay Less Shoes and others.