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Are You Water Cooler Worthy?

Feb 25, 2008
As consumers, we're bombarded with ad imagery on a daily basis. And while one might think that would automatically make us all experts on what makes for a great ad -- that simply isn't the case. Large ad agencies employ huge teams and countless millions each year conducting market research on what gives John Q. Public the impetus to make a purchase.

Super Bowl commercials are an excellent example of ads that often prove to be "water cooler worthy." These are the 30 and 60 second spots that linger with us long after the halftime show, the commentary and the MVP are distant memories. Advertisers pay millions of dollars to appear during this once a year event; that said, they exhaust countless hours, dollars, and resources to make sure that the resulting promotion will do more than give viewers the opportunity to go grab a beverage to get them through the next quarter.

Companies strive to create that unique message that has the combination of a compelling call to action, and that certain "extra" that makes you remember it long after you've flicked the channel, or returned to your favorite program. It's the elements that make you want to ask your friends and coworkers about it the next day...that "water cooler factor." So -- for those of us with far less staff and even less of an ad budget -- what can we do to make our message worthy of the water cooler?

Can Your Message...

Present the Product In a New Or Unique Way
If I were to mention the Dunkin' Donuts(R) Man, with his "Time to make the donuts" shtick, the granny in Wendy's(R) "Where's the Beef?" commercials, the "Slowski's" turtle twosome from Comcast(R), or the Budweiser(R) frogs, chances are you would immediately know what I am talking about. What these spots all have in common are memorable characters. The characters help to reinforce and solidify the brands in our minds. This strategy is particularly effective; in some cases, the characters go on to become pop culture icons.

Evoke Emotion
It can be anger, shock, sadness or happiness...but you have to "move me". Not all advertisements grab your attention by making an appealing pitch. Some opt to do this with provocative, or even salacious ads. Products like alcohol, fragrances, and clothing often resort to imagery that they are fully aware will provoke discussion. Ever hear the old adage, "any press is good press?" This is the cardinal rule of provocative advertising. Every time a commercial or print ad campaign winds up in the news or as the topic of a radio or talk show, the advertisers laugh all the way to the bank.

Create Curiosity
Grab my attention, and make me want more information. A great recent example of this type of advertising message is the promotions surrounding the movie "Cloverfield." I can recall sitting in the theater a full year before the movie came out, and seeing a 30 second promotion for the film -- and it didn't even have a title! As time grew closer to the movie's release, the commercials that aired on television gave glimpses into the plot, but nothing really definitive. Yet, the buzz for this film was incredible -- and a testament to the absolute genius of those responsible.

Demand Action
Get me to your website, make me call or write for more details, or make me BUY! Charitable organizations and telethons tend to use this type of message to gain attention. If you have ever watched a promotional spot for St. Luke's Children's Hospital, or the Human Society, or countless others -- they are all examples of how to employ this method. The imagery used in these types of messages is compelling, and it commands our attention. The narrators implore us to act, and, we do...in overwhelming numbers each year. Do you want to be the reason why the Red Green show goes off the air? Of course you don't! The result? You hop on the phone, whip out your credit card, and donate to your local PBS affiliate.

Clearly Convey Your Brand
Does the consumer know what you are promoting? Your message should be well-executed, concise, and clear. There may be opposing schools of thought on this topic, but for my ad dollar, I would want my prospective customers to know exactly what I am selling. How many times have you watched a commercial spot, and found yourself wondering, "What the heck were they trying to sell me?" Sometimes it is difficult to decipher whether or not the ads were written to receive industry awards for their creativity, or to actually sell something. Don't let it happen to you!

Just as important as your message is where you employ it. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a product that crosses interest groups, and is needed by everyone. Lucky you! For everyone else, targeting your message is essential. Get your message in front of a qualified prospect, and turn them into a customer.
About the Author
Traci Hayner Vanover, The Promo Diva(R), is the publisher of Create the Dream magazine, http://www.createthedream.com, and the president of Market Outside the Box Trade Association, http://www.marketoutsidethebox.com. She also works with private clients as a publicist, copywriter and consultant.
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