Sometimes the logic in an ad backfires by creating a situation in which no matter what the viewer concludes, the astute thing to do is not buy the product or service.
Take, for example, the current Direct TV “reading of the will” TV commercial: The scene is a large conference room in which all the chairs are facing towards a large desk behind which a high powered attorney reads the will of a wealthy man. First the attorney says that the business, house and all money go to his trophy mistress, which delights her but pastes a frown of disapproval and disappointment on an elderly and primly dressed woman who is obviously the wife or ex-wife. Then the attorney announces that the Direct TV package with access to 6,000 movies and other shows goes to the obviously ne’er-do-well son. The son starts to whoop it up for joy, while the wife once again squeezes a frown of disapproval and disappointment. Then comes the sell—$29 and some change a month for the Direct TV package, the son’s shouts of joy, ever and ever more manic and louder, serving as background.
The message is supposed to be that the package is very valuable, because some rich guy is so grateful to have it and some rich and bitter crone wants it.
But let’s dig into the logic a little. These rich folk treat the Direct TV package as being worth as much as the rest of the dead man’s empire: The will has a special clause about it. The wife treats losing it exactly the same way that she takes losing the fortune. And the son—he cares not for the fortune but exults in the bequest as if it were the best thing that ever happened to him.
My point: that if these rich people value the Direct TV package so much, it must be too expensive.
Of course, there’s the opposite view, which is that the son is completely loony. But who would listen to a guy like that? If someone goes gaga about getting an inheritance worth about $360 a year, he’s probably too stupid to trust his opinion about a product or service.
It’s a difficult either/or for Direct TV. Either your endorser has no credibility or the service is too expensive. Not a pretty plate of poison from which to pick!
The problem with the logic stems entirely from the fact that the ad makes fun of the customer, one of the most common mistakes of all ads. The vignette is marginally funny, but the humor is at the expense of a customer, whose thought process we are then supposed to emulate. But why would I imitate the thought process of an obvious dunce? And why would I buy a product from someone who makes fun of me?
Ads which make fun of the customer always raise these questions. The one exception is the beer ads in which young men are made to act like risk-taking slacker-doofs, because in fact much of the target market of young men aspires to this image.
In the case of Direct TV, I think the ad backfires, even among the many people who don’t analyze the logic of the sell. The lack of logic I believe acts subliminally on the viewers, making them feel a little uneasy when the spot ends.
TV commercials never get distributed nationally without first being tested in front of focus groups, which are groups of 10-20 people who represent the target market, led by someone whose interests will usually be advanced if the group likes the product or ad under review. We’ll never know for sure, but I suspect that the fact that this commercial aired is more evidence that the results of focus groups research are often suspect.