Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tain't Funny, McGee

One of my favorite jokes goes like this. A scientist has a frog that he's trained to jump on command, and he uses it for an experiment. He says, "jump" and the frog jumps 8 feet. The scientist writes this down. Then he cuts one of the frog's legs off. He says, "jump" and the frog jumps 4 feet. The scientist writes this down. He cuts a second leg off. He says, "jump" and the frog jumps 1 foot. The scientist cuts a third leg off. "Jump" and the frog manages to bobble a few inches. The scientist now cuts off the last remaining leg. "Jump." Nothing. "Jump!" Nothing. "JUMP!!!" Nothing.

The scientist notes this down and then writes his conclusion: when all four legs are removed, the frog goes deaf.

That joke went through my mind as I read this article on USA Today about how Insurers' Funny Ads [are] Not Paying Off.

The article says that the discounters (Geico, etc.) aren't doing too bad, but other insurers' copycat ad strategies using humor are not converting into customers.

The Geico commercials vary but some are funny, as is the AFLAC commercials. But I'd argue that most of the others are not at all. The Progressive commercials are more quirky than funny. I don't recall any of the others being funny, intentionally or not, at all. I knew people who would quote "Lost another one to Ditech!!" but don't remember ever hearing a laugh, or a chuckle, or even seeing a smile.

The fundamental issue is (or ought to be): what are the commercials supposed to do? Are the supposed to generate actual sales, or just build brand awareness that may lead to sales? The former is direct, the latter is indirect.

I doubt many people watch a Geico commercial and say, "okay, I'll buy." What it does is make Geico look like a viable player, a credible business, and the message is "call us and see if we can help you." That doesn't necessarily generate sales, it just creates the opportunity. It's up to the company itself to make good.

If it's about building awareness, then Geico, Progressive, et. al are working very well. I'm aware of their companies. And unlike some of the companies that use other (non-entertaining) strategies, like The General, I'm not ill-disposed toward them.

On the other hand, I have zero interest in changing my insurance companies. Funny or not, hard-sell or soft-sell, I haven't been given a compelling reason to check any of them out. That's not the fault of the commercials per se. None of them are going to address my concerns about choosing a discount insurance company.

I think it really comes down to this: most advertisers, in their heart-of-hearts, believe that the hard-sell works best and anything else is a fad novelty to be used on occasion to break up the monotony of the hard-sell.

I disagree: I never liked the hard sell. My mute button was nearly broken during the Billy Mays reign of terror (and I made it a point to quit buying Oxy-Clean when he began endorsing it). But I'm not in advertising, and I'm not the one who has to approve an advertising campaign. So what do I know?

I just buy stuff...

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