In this day and age of localization, it is now possible to see TV commercials on nationally famous shows that relate to your immediate area. These are priced for affordability for the advertiser but they also serve the purpose of bolstering ad revenues for local networks which otherwise would not gain advertisers who only target a limited geography.
As a result of this phenomenon, some of the commercials we see are obviously self-produced since affording a big-city Madison Avenue advertising agency is a bit of a stretch for small advertisers, especially in this economy. For that matter, affording any agency is perceived as far too expensive by these Mom and Pop advertisers.
What these small businesses may not realize, however, is that their commercials may run within time slots where they are surrounded by slick, big-city agency spots making the amateurish nature of their presentations even more exaggerated.
Ironically, though, TV and radio commercials which often feature testimonials or dramatizations by the actual owners of the business, as well as their children, grandchildren and occasionally their pets, tend to be quirky enough in a comical, entertaining kind of way that the spots are actually watchable regardless of their lack of polish. The reason for this is that the people filming, recording, mixing and producing these spots are true professionals – behind-the-scenes technical artists – who assure that the spot is successful, despite being homemade in content.
Unfortunately, this is not so for homemade print advertising. While the radio and TV spots have the excellent technical guidance of the studio engineers, print ads which are made on someone’s desktop with little or no compositional expertise, design sophistication or technical understanding of where the ad may be published, usually fail miserably in a number of areas.
First and foremost, design falls short with message failure a close second. Resolution of visuals and legibility of text round out the disaster making the amateurish attempt at do-it-yourself marketing an utter waste of precious funds. And with print advertising, you’ve got the added distraction of other visual competition on the page (unless you’ve purchased the back cover of a magazine, for instance, in which case if your ad is lacking in any way, it will not rate a second glance.)
Many parameters must be considered when creating print advertising. What kind of printing process, line screens, and type of stock used greatly affects print contrast, color rendering and registration precision. Will reversed type be swallowed up by heavy surrounding color if the wrong font weight is specified? Will font replacement occur when submitting artwork to the publication’s art department if fonts were not embedded or outlined, resulting in copyfitting problems? Were visuals submitted as RGB instead of CMYK resulting in off-color or non-color display? And if RGB conversions were performed without knowledge of proper color balance, will portrait photos look overly red, yellow, or worse, green?
Newspaper ads differ dramatically from magazine ads both in resolution and in legibility. An error in one medium may amount to a catastrophe in another depending on the error. Combine these difficulties with the absence of professional hardware and advanced software along with professional experience and proven expertise, and you’ve got the makings of a veritable fiasco every time. There is no safe haven when dealing with print advertising. And even when you’ve got decades of experience to rely on, vagaries in the publication’s pressroom can work to derail even the most professional ad, let alone one produced by an amateur.
While print remains the ultimate proving ground, one of my clients self-produces his own TV ads with remarkable success. An accomplished trial attorney by day, he has had years of improvisational experience both in the courtroom and in front of film crews as host of a TV talk show in our region. With a rare confluence of self-confidence and personal appeal, he exudes a sincere blend of affability and congeniality both on camera and off, a quality not commonly found in a person so forceful before judge and jury! Clearly, he has a gift which he has translated not only into an exemplary career but the ability to self-market via radio and TV. Yet he recognizes that his abilities do not translate over to print which he admits he knows nothing about (along with websites, and until recently, computers!) and has kept me in the mix for more than 20 years to keep him on the right track.
Another case of TV and radio advertising in our region cannot be described with such glowing terms. In fact, upon first exposure, my skin crawled to hear the two voices deliver their juvenile message in a sing-song rendition, tediously grating on this listener’s sensitive, musically trained, pitch-perfect ears. As years passed, they opened more stores and added TV to their repertoire of self-marketing. A most unlikely success story, they now enjoy widespread renown in spite of their amateurish marketing or rather, in fact, because of it!
One other radio spot has been broadcast annually every summer with the same blatant mispronunciation of a common word by the store’s owner, showcasing his ignorance in full regalia. Am I the only one who hears his error? Doesn’t anyone mention it to him…not even his wife?
As it turns out, with enough repetition, radio ads we cringe about, whether because of poor articulation, grammatical errors, contrived voicing or obvious lack of refinement of any kind, have become acceptable in their familiarity and folksiness.
Yet, sad to admit, the do-it-yourself print ads which run over and over in an attempt to reinforce with repetition, continue to sabotage the advertiser after all this time.
There is a common thread within this story, regardless of whether the do-it-yourself ads were made for print, radio or TV. The advertisers who are featured, whether for their acting and voiceover talents, or for their scripting, design and compositional expertise (or lack thereof), are all convinced of their self-made success, and continue to pour endless funds into running these ads to the delight of the stations and publications benefitting. Blinded by their egos to the lack of revenues generated in response, they justify their efforts by how much they’ve saved in the creative process, making use of their natural talents, instinctive genius and brilliant business acumen!
While we are embarrassed by their asinine attempts at Hollywood stardom, we nonetheless peruse their showrooms, shop their merchandise and most ironically of all, remember their ads!… which proves one thing: sometimes you get lucky and even bad marketing works!