September 10, 2006

Head On, Apply Directly To The Forehead

If you are like me (and you probably aren't), you take the occasional weekend break from watching CSPAN-2's coverage of Book TV, and turn on a sampling of the riveting programming available on approximately two-hundred channels of satellite television. Maybe you watch a TBS feature presentation of "You've Got Mail", a 1997 movie that only appears on TBS once every five or six days. Just maybe, you decide to not mute the commercials. And then you see this:

The product is "Head On", and is available without a prescription from many retailers, including Wal-Mart, according to the "Head On" website. Slate Magazine recently wrote a story about this ad.

On this website, I've discussed my opinion of the difference between branding and selling. Nowhere is that distinction more apparent than this commercial. The commercial tells you the name of the product (several times), it tells you how to use the product (several times), and it tells you where you can find the product. The commercial doesn't even tell you what the product is for. And according to the Slate article I referenced earlier, this advertisement was designed this way. The ad was based on focus group research.

The commercial is in stark contrast to so many of the advertisements we see today. So often, advertising tries to imitate art. The middle-aged mother wakes to a sun-splashed morning, her golden retriever puppy licking her face, and her three-year-old daughter tugging at her pajamas. Gentle piano music supports images that change every two seconds. The mother walks downstairs. The puppy bolts outside through an open screen door and scampers down concrete steps into a backyard with lush, green, dew-covered grass. The husband appears, well-groomed, teeth brushed, not shaved, hair perfectly manicured, toned muscles visible through his shirt, and hands the mother a piping-hot mug of delicious, refreshing, life-giving coffee. The mother offers a warm smile, cradles the mug of coffee like it is a long lost friend, sips the perfectly prepared beverage, and realizes that life is perfect on this sunny Sunday morning. We see a well-designed logo appear on the bottom of the screen, introducing the "brand", and are left with the image of the husband and wife embracing each other, as the child chases the golden retriever puppy back into the home.

Of course this commercial doesn't exist, but you can imagine that it might.

There are pros and cons of each style of advertising. Do you have a favorable image of "Head On"? Do you have a favorable image of the fictional coffee company I described earlier? Does the "Head On" product inspire you to purchase their product the next time you are at Wal-Mart? Do the images of an idyllic Sunday morning inspire you to purchase coffee the next time you are at Safeway?

I tend to skew toward advertising that sells, though I am curious as to what you think. What are the pros and cons of each style of advertising, and if you were running your own company, which advertising style would you use to promote your organization? How do you balance selling and branding?

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