Monday, October 1, 2012

It can't all be buzz

Aiming to shock and awe: Volkswagen suspended a Vento from a building during its launch in New Delhi. Photo: Kamal Narang

For all its shock value, Volkswagen’s recent vibrating ad may not have people rushing out to buy its cars.

“Half my advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half.” - John Wanaker
In my years in advertising, agencies have been most persecuted by this particular statement which has been usually made out of context by clients. Leading the volley would be accountants (those days there were no chief financial officers but only accountants who continued to attack our business with great relish title or no title). And yet, when I saw the recent Volkswagen “vibrator” ad I wondered whether the great man who spoke about advertising wastage got his numbers wrong and whether the figure should be closer to a total waste. If ever I saw advertising money go down the drain, I think it must have been on Tuesday September 11th 2012. For on that day, the company released a four page ad in one of India’s leading English dailies which had a vibrator in it as the ad spoke about how the new models of Vento and Polo would make you shiver with excitement. Some shiver! And if they thought that it would send shivers down the competition they surely have another guess coming. I am sure the competitors are laughing all the way to the bank!!

Glorious past, indifferent present

At times when I introspect, I wonder if I am being too critical of Volkswagen and its advertising. But then I have a special regard for the brand that has been fuelled and furthered by the brand’s advertising. I came into advertising because of ads like “Think Small” and the “Alka Seltzer” advertising that Doyle Dane Bernbach produced so easily. I had the privilege of interacting with some of the greatest minds of DDB as the agency I worked for six years was its partner. I had even been to the legendary Bill Bernbach’s room with the feelings of entering the very portals of creativity. Though I must confess that when I left the room, I was as dull as ever! So when I see an ad like this for the brand that Bill created, I shudder which probably not what the advertising is meant to achieve. While it is easy to get sentimental and nostalgic about the past, it probably makes better sense to analyze the ad in greater detail.

What is the objective?
One of the reasons why people fail to see the value of advertising is because both clients and agencies tend to forget the objectives of advertising campaigns. This leads us to ask a seemingly simple question. How do people go about choosing a car? They surf the net for user experiences and reviews, ask their friends, shortlist a few vehicles and then take test drives before finally choosing the car even as they haggle with the dealer on discounts and the financier on EMI options, ask their wife to choose the color and drive home after having the picture taken at the dealer outlet while sucking in their paunches assiduously. So clearly advertising is not as important in the whole marketing mix though it still has value. This leads me to ask the question. What is the advertising objective? To my mind it is to get people to take a test ride. The proof of the pudding has to be a rush at the dealerships of Volkswagen which incidentally aren’t too extensive. Be that as it may, it would still be worthwhile to check out if this high profile ad (that must have cost a bomb) really had a surge of people asking for and taking test drives after the ad. I wonder. I am sure the people involved with the campaign will talk of the “impact” that the campaign created. Really speaking, this is another hazy word that marketing abounds in. Let’s go back to the purchase cycle of a car. People don’t rush out and buy a car just because a celebrity endorses it or they see a “talking” or “vibrating” newspaper. They buy it after thinking about it for long periods of time. Isn’t it better to sustain interest rather than “one big bang” followed by a long hiatus when the purchase cycle is long and when new buyers are coming in everyday?

Media innovation et al
There is no doubt that media which yearns to be “the other creative department” has done something that will be noticed, talked about and sadly even ridiculed. You should see some of the comments about the “vibrator” on the net! Let me once again say that you cannot ignore the ad and that is to the credit of the media agency that has done a great job on negotiation, working with the publication, etc. And yet it would have been even more dramatic if the creative content of the ad was anything as striking as the media part. Clearly the standards of print advertising in the country are falling quite dramatically. The true test of the ad’s creativity is whether it stands out in the other newspapers where it was just a one page ad without the vibrator. It left me cold if not shivering! It was another ship that passed me by in the night.

Cost vs benefit
Ultimately every marketing activity has to provide more benefits than the cost and if you ask me, the ad fails on this count and rather badly or that is my prediction as it is too early to talk about results. However this high profile damp squib reminds me of the concept of “caveat emptor”. Let buyers of advertising beware before they buy such expensive duds in future as they will have only themselves to blame when they come to grief.

How brilliant Bill Bernbach must have been to write the headline “lemon” over fifty years ago! Little must he have known that he was already writing the review of the current vibrator ad from the same company albeit in India!

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Rajendra said...

I think creativity in content still makes a big (ger?) impact than gimmicks.

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