Commentary By: David
Issue: Does the Message Matter?
“I always wanted to be somebody. I should have been more specific.” – Lily Tomlin
2005 has been a difficult year for an industry which acutely feels the sands shifting beneath its feet. TiVo was not invented in 2005, but it became relevant. Network television buys did not suddenly become more expensive and less effective in 2005 (it has been a 10 year trend) but advertisers started to notice. When Procter & Gamble announced that it was shifting a substantial portion of its behemoth marketing budget away from network television advertising, it confirmed the industry’s worst fears.
It is telling, then, that in 2005 the industry would laud agencies whose primary focus was to break through the clutter at all costs. The poster child of this movement has for some time been Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Creativity Magazine (an Ad Age publication) this month named Cripin Porter “Agency of the Year” with a splashy and breathless writeup that proclaimed,
All of the work CPB submitted … just worked. It got into faces and into lives and into the cultural stew … at a time when the smartest people in the industry are making shit up as they go, the agency’s brain trust is making up stuff that often seems, in its own sometimes silly way, important.
Creativity goes on to write up the major accomplishments of Crispin Porter for 2005, starting with the Burger King campaign which they called “A genuine pop culture phenomenon.” (The ThirdWay Advertising Blog’s review of the Burger King Campaign can be found here)
How ironic, then, that USA Today would choose virtually the same moment to survey the American public for their opinion on advertising. And on the list of the 10 most disliked spots of the year is none other than — Burger King (click here to read the USA Today article by Theresa Howard).
Not only did ‘the King’ lead the top 10 list as the most disliked ad (30% of Americans hated the spot which tied it with Capital One’s pillager ads), but it failed to make the top 10 list for either Young Americans or Men, suggesting that it was not just women who disliked these ads.
Crispin Porter might cleverly point out that the Burger King might have been the least liked campaign of 2005 but it was also perhaps the best remembered spot of the year. And here is where we take the great leap of faith with this most disturbing trend in advertising – that attention to your brand, even negative attention, must be good.
Ideally, we could look at this campaign’s impact on Burger King’s brand equity to ferret out the truth. Unfortunately, even a proper analysis of Burger King’s short term results eludes us as the company is privately held. The chain trumpets a growth of 1.1% in same store sales in the Third Quarter of 2005 (click here for Burger King’s press release), which is very close to the US core inflation rate for the quarter. And even if Burger King was reporting much stronger sales results, the truth lies not in the present but the future of the brand. What will the cumulative effect of this type of advertising be on future sales? Will talk about Burger King and some amount of loathing for the “Burger King” character translate into a stronger brand?
It is possible. But there is little to suggest to this Advertising Blog that Crispin Porter and Burger King have changed the nature of brand equity and brand affiliation. We agree wholeheartedly that advertising must be memorable to be effective. After all, we watch television, too – we know that many ads by well-meaning consumer packaged goods companies look like literal storyboards of the brand strategy and command just as much of our attention as would a videotape of the six-hour corporate strategy sessions that led to their creation.
But the answer is not to walk away entirely from the idea of building a brand proposition. Spots like the BBDO campaign for Motorolla’s ROKR with iTunes combine energy and visibility with a reason for existing – they help us understand the product while building the brand.
This Advertising Blog is not qualified to judge Crispin Porter as an agency. Our job is the mundane one of asking whether the advertising really helped to build the brand or bring in revenue. From this perspective, we’ve seen little in the “buzz” school of advertising that leaves us hopeful.