Slammed? Wow! Consumer Reports Doesn’t Like Infomercial Product Quality

I don’t read Consumer Reports.  For starters, I already own a car and the necessary large appliances but more importantly, in their bid to maintain editorial objectivity as they conduct product ratings, they accept no advertising.

No way can I subscribe to that approach.

Anyway, the New York Times posted a review of an article in Consumer Reports‘ February issue where they express dismay at how otherwise intelligent consumers purchase truckloads of infomercial products that amount to low-quality snake oil hokum.  They may even use the decidedly unacademic descriptor ‘crap.’

That’s not just their opinion; they subjected fifteen popular products to their rigorous testing process, rating everything from the Snuggie to Grease Bullet cleaning tablets and the ever-popular, thrillingly-named ShamWow!  My favorite finding?  “Each time we laundered two Snuggies, we removed a sandwich bag’s worth of lint from the dryer screen. After 10 washings, “the fabric had bare spots between pills and clumps.”  Imagine…

As one editor put it, “We tend to laugh at these commercials but they are very powerful persuaders.”  Why is that?  Why do we have such a hard time turning away from these breathless, carnival barker sales pitches that sound like parody before they inevitably become parodies?  Why aren’t we offended by their rote work plotting of problem/solution/product demo and lily-gilding a gogo?  Why are they so persuasive?

I have a theory on what makes them work…  Enthusiasm.

Raw, unfettered enthusiasm that communicates as genuine excitement, absolute faith and infectious energy.  When you compare that tone and the sound of most mainstream brands, there’s a glaring difference.  Mainstream brands come from corporations with stockholders, HR Departments and legal staffs.  Infomercials spring from the fevered zeal of hopeful entrepeneurs with the sole goal to sell, sell, sell.  And that makes all the difference.

Is there room for this kind of enthusiasm in mainstream advertising?  Certainly somewhere.  But it’s gonna require we all get a lot more comfortable with one specific type of punctuation: the exclamation point.

Or rather, the Exclamation Point!

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Your Blog Post Will Resume In Three More Words…

3pleatsEarly in my career, I had to break down and buy a decent pair of dress pants for meetings.  I walked out of a prominent men’s store the proud owner of a pair of pleated wool trousers.  But not just pleated, or even double pleated: those beauties were triple pleated.  Further, the pleats were inverted.  Yes, for that brief moment in the era of Crockett and Tubbs, I owned it.

Of course in today’s flat-fronted times, such effusively-extravagant bunching of fabric around a male waist ranks as only slightly less abysmal on the “I’ve Quit Trying” fashion scale than say a home made Snuggie.  Because fashions change in dizzying, arbitrary ways, and that sometimes costs you a pair of perfectly functional pants.  

Changing fashions apply to our business as well.  Reviewing my TV reel, anyone can chart my forays into Morphing Mania, the Tony Scott Chocolate Filtered Phase, the CG-Enhanced Animals Era, the ‘I Loved Napoleon Dynamite‘ Period…

Today however, fashion whims extend beyond the obvious realm of advertising creativity to advertising’s less obvious creative realm of media and platforms.  Today’s new thinkers denounce the time-honored Interruptive advertising model as hopelessly dated, a relic of an earlier era of one way communication.  And to a certain extent, I agree.  Newer notions of Brand Alignment or Brand Bridging that seek to create contextual empathy with consumers as they connect them to or affiliate them with our brands seem much more forward-thinking and thus earn millions of words in industry press and blogs.  We need to encourage this kind of innovation, to re-imagine where and when and how we can engage consumers in meaningful ways.  Often, this calls for the greatest acts of creativity in our workday.

But unlike the rigid world of haute couture, where the ‘in’ stands rigidly defined and the ‘out’ lies hopelessly marginalized, most advertisers should avoid sweeping judgments. Because like it or not, old fashioned or not, irritating or not…the interruptive model still works.  Television still works.  Radio still works.  Transit posters still work.  The old interruptive model even works in new media iterations like pre-rolls and page take-overs.  As do new platforms like social networking and experience marketing.

Opinion leaders in advertising need agendas, they require outspoken, inflamed ideologies to champion.  Such ivory tower conceits draw readers and fill seminar seats.  But practically speaking, down in the actual trenches of commerce, in our imperfect workaday world that lies thick with the muck of situational decision-making and budgets compromised on both time and money, we don’t face an either/or decision regarding ad models; it’s both/and.  Just like we don’t face an either/or decision regarding creative mediums; it too is both/and.

It’s convergence.  These days, it’s all convergence.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79