Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Other Road - May be a Dead End

A Primer on Good Advertising

I remember exactly where I was on the morning of 9-11. 

I was driving to work, half listening to the radio, when I suddenly heard someone talking breathlessly about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. From where I was, I had a clear view of the Manhattan skyline, so I looked out my car window and just stopped my car (not a good thing to do) frozen with shock, watching the smoke pouring out of the North Tower.

It's something I'll never forget.

I remember exactly where I was when the Gulf War broke out. It had special significance for my family because my wife's brother was deployed there at the time (his was one of the first units sent to Kuwait), and she was beside herself with worry.

People who were around when JFK was assassinated remember every detail of what they were doing when they heard the news.

And there are happy occasions that I remember equally vividly. My wedding, the births of my children, to name just a few.

Folks in the advertising business spend sleepless nights trying to create unforgettable moments. They have 15, or 30 or 60 seconds to make an impression on you. 

I like to use the example of an EKG. The viewer comes into the ad with a flat reading. The goal of the ad agency is to provoke a reaction - to make the needle on the EKG move - whether up or down - to try and get you, the viewer to feel something. It can be happy, sad, excited, scared, shocked, angry, desirous - but something - as long as that line doesn't stay flat. 

It doesn't matter what the venue is - print, radio or on screen. The ultimate purpose of the ad is to get a person to react.

The Dead End

So imagine my surprise when I came across an ad online for the all new Acura RLX sedan. 

Acura's had some impressive advertising in the past. There's a nice one for the Acura TL Special Edition called Best Kept Secret which is very well done (see it here If you look around on their YouTube channel, there are some other very imaginative ones there as well.

But this one for the RLX is called The Other Road (, and quite simply, it stinks.

You'd think a big company like Acura would know better. Or at least that their agency would.

Taking my EKG metaphor and applying it to this ad, it would be flat coming in, and flat straight on through. Not one bit of emotion is stirred up as a bland voice intones bland, meaningless dialogue overlaid over bland, generic shots of a car streaking across the bland background.

Let me back up for a moment and give you some context. In classic advertising, the idea is to create a fantasy setting in which the viewer can imagine him/herself being the central character. Ideally, the viewer should be able to imagine him/herself being the one eating the luscious slice of pizza, chatting happily on the iPhone, or racing down the road in the gleaming sports car.

With this Acura spot? Meh. Rather than imagining myself behind the wheel of this $60,000 car, all I could think of was the 30 seconds of my life that I'd just used up by watching it.

So why did they do it?

I can only guess. But it may not be the agency's fault. This may be a case in which the client had too much creative input, and wound up stifling the creativity amongst those who are supposed to excel in it. I've seen it many, many times. An executive has an agenda or a vision for a campaign, and bullies it through, despite being warned that it's off-track. But that's only conjecture.

End of the Road - Or The Beginning?

Every PR piece or advertisement should be geared toward getting a reaction from your audience. What that reaction is depends on the piece. If it's a sale on widgets, you want them to bring the coupon in to your store (or mail it in, or enter it on a online order form) and buy some widgets. If it's brand reinforcement, you want them to walk away with a certain perception of your brand. If it's a fundraising appeal, then a different action will be called for; either a straight donation, or perhaps a reservation at a fundraising event or an ad in a journal.

But whatever the action, the person has to feel something strongly enough to do it. Sympathy and envy are both strong motivators as is physical desire. A major complaint on the entire advertising industry is that it is too quick to resort to playing on the basest of human desires in order to drive up sales. They answer quite honestly that it's easy and it works.

Personally, I try to hold to a more refined standard that takes a higher view of human nature. But whatever the vessel, the method is essentially the same.

What I'm trying to convey to you is what not to do. Don't become so bogged down in bureaucracy or egos or small-mindedness that you forget what the purpose of your ad or PR piece is - namely to get a reaction. If it fails to make people feel - if that EKG needle doesn't budge when they watch or listen or read your material - then the road you took really was a dead end.

What do you think? I'd love to hear!

Danny Kay is a marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

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