Jon Hamm as Don Draper was every ad man’s favorite dysfunctional role model.
Draper got away with horrible behavior because, ultimately, he understood how advertising really worked in people’s minds. Not how people thought it worked, or believed it should work, but how it actually worked.
He famously said, “I don’t sell advertising. I sell products.” Remember the Kodak Carousel pitch? “This isn't a space ship... it's a time machine… Good luck at your next meeting.” No wonder Kodak never took that next meeting.
We’ve been dealing with ad agencies for over two decades. Our expertise is human behavior, not products. We’ve advised them on how people find value in their client’s products and how they intuitively recognize that value when they see it.
We’ve shaped pitches to prospective clients. We’ve worked on campaigns. We even provided the information to help one agency dramatically increase their client’s sale of diamonds – on the radio! Try selling jewelry the buyer can’t see.
We’ve also sat on the other side of the table, working for the agency client. The ones who actually produce the products they advertise. We’ve listened to the pitches and have been surprised by what some professionals appear not to grasp about basic human behavior.
One of the hallmarks of humanity is that we use tools to extend our natural capabilities - hand tools to enhance our physical strength, information technology to increase our mental abilities. Television is a tool like any other. The question is, how do people actually use television?So, in the spirit of Don Draper, for our agency friends, and for everyone’s general amusement, here are five basic facts about how people actually use television as a medium.
1. It’s not a home theater, it’s a campfire.TV is a social medium. People are hyper-social primates. We are biologically driven to group together. TV is the 21st-century campfire – the place where people throughout history have been intuitively drawn to share stories about who we are, how we got here, and what is expected of us.
Sure, we live in an age of ever-expanding media alternatives and pretty much every member of a household has their own TV set or they watch everything online.
However, ethnographic research--the kind where you actually watch what people do--shows that no matter how many sets and computers in the home, members of the household (defined as people living under the same roof) still gather in front of the same set for at least an hour, at least four days a week.
|No, it doesn't look like this, but it still happens.|
Reality shows don’t just dominate TV because they are cheap to make. People have to want to watch, but it's even better if they feel compelled to watch. And the thing that our brains are hard-wired to pay close attention to is the emotional behavior of other people.
That's why the people who watch these shows say they are addictive.
2. People don’t watch TV, they listen to TV.Why do you think they invented the instant sports replay? Because a lot of people miss the actual play! They were doing other things – eating, drinking, socializing, working. They heard the roar of the crowd, but they caught the action on the replay.
We watch movies; we listen to TV. All the longest-running TV shows share one thing in common – the scripts read like radio plays. Once you are familiar with the characters, you don’t have to watch to understand what is going on. Most people literally don’t even see the beautiful art direction and expensive CG effects that win advertising industry awards.
3. The only people who “see” ads are people already interested in what the product does.
Forget about edgy ads and CGI for “cutting through the clutter.” Your brain does that automatically. It’s called selective attention. It’s the same mechanism that grabs your focus whenever you hear your name across a crowded room at a party.Your unconscious brain is always scanning, and it knows what you need long before you are consciously aware of it. This is why people start noticing car advertising about a year before they even begin actively thinking about buying a new car.
If they’re in the market—even if they are unaware of it—they’ll notice your ad. If they’re not, you can’t convince them, because they won’t even connect with your ad.
4. Women are not in the room to watch the Super Bowl.Yes, major TV sports events do show a spike in women viewers. Yes, some women actually like football. But most women aren’t in the room for the game.
This is because women are the relationship monitors for the group. For them, the game they are interested is not football, it’s the family dynamic. If there is a large social gathering, they’ll be there, watching the interaction between the family members, checking that everything is OK.
In the meantime they are multitasking, serving food, folding laundry, reading, and a hundred other things. You don’t need to create special sport-themed ads for women’s products. Selective attention works for women too. If they need it, they will see it.
5. Humor is cheating.People notice humorous ads, talk about them, post them on YouTube, and can turn the punch line into a national meme. The only thing they don’t do is remember the product the ad is supposed to be selling.
The only way that happens is when the punch line is the name of the product – the GEICO Gecko, Aflac--that’s about it. Using humor to “cut through the clutter” without tying it directly to the product is an easy sell - if the client laughs (has an emotional response) they'll think it is a good ad. But the client already knows the name of the product. Trouble is, while humor is entertaining, it doesn’t sell products.
If you work for an agency, factor these into your thinking and you’ll sell products, which will make your clients happy. Ignore them and you’ll win industry awards which will make you happy – until the client fires you.
If you are an agency client, watch out for humor in your advertising. Does it directly link to your brand name in a memorable way? If not, the ad is aimed at you, not your customers.
If you don’t work in advertising, have a Martini anyway. Don would approve.