Tough Crowd

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

I’ve become a regular reader of Brandweek‘s peer reviews of ad campaigns.

Talk about a tough crowd. They hate pretty much everything they write about.

Ads are regularly noted for their creativity, along with some armchair contemplation of the background strategy (I do this all the time just for fun, asking myself the "what were they thinking?" question when I see something notably cool but incomprehensibly inane). I think this professional hat-doffing is a courtesy within the trade.

But inevitably then comes the whammy.

"…I applaud the consistent creativity of your previous ads, but with this one you lost the message, and the audience, in an ironic/sardonic haze,” recently ruminates one brand guru about the efforts of another to establish various associations in its ad.

"…if I had watched this spot sandwiched in between other commercials," she continues, "with only a few second to grab my attention, or feel some connection with the brand, it would not have done it for me."

Most of the peer reviews go this way. Spots don’t make sense. Creative conceits are complicated and difficult to grasp. Relevance to the actual product or service getting hawked is imprecise, strained, or just too much of a reach altogether. The acting is bad. Jokes fall flat.

In other words, the brand experts don’t like much of the branding they see in the world.

I’m with ’em.

It’s kinda like noticing how silly clothing fashions can get: you’ve got to see the stuff on someone else before you truly see it. Ditto for your driving habits, as it takes somebody cutting you off on the freeway before you realize that you, too, drive like a maniac. Or when your kid blurts out a swear word and only then do you remember that it’s one that you habitually use as an adjective.

Branding usually makes sense most to the branders, and ever-less sense the further the brandees get from the darkened conference rooms in which the branding was conceived. The variables of content and content are just simply too immense for lots of the presumptions of branding to overcome.

Considering that you can look someone you know intimately well right in the eyes, and tell them something very simple, direct, honest and true…and still be completely misunderstood for reasons you can’t even fathom…makes those presumptions of branding seem, at best, a pleasant dream.

The peer reviews in Brandweek reveal that the actuality of most branding experiences (at least in ads) is a lot less, er, pleasant.

And if the peers who are predisposed to love the stuff don’t like it, imagine the reaction of actual consumers.

Now there’s a tough crowd.

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