September 20, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Bad Ads, Great Online Content?

Bad Ads, Great Online Content?

In the age of DVR, Hulu, YouTube, iTunes, and other sites that make it possible to watch our favorite programs without commercial interruption, I’m surprised many ads resonate at all, but some have been making a splash of late–online. Outside of the Super Bowl (and sometimes even not then) commercials are generally nothing to write home about. They do, however, make a decent jumping off point for creative online content producers. From presidential politics to yogurt and contraceptives, boring old TV commercials are finding a new life online, whether they like it or not. And I can’t get enough.

I feel it’s within my rights as a former political professional and junkie, who used to live and breathe such things, to point out that a majority of political ads are insufferable. Gone are the glory days of “Morning in America” and “Daisy.” While presidential candidates still try to be memorable and provocative at times, for the most part political ads are a droning, boring mess. Whether predictable, trite, pandering or flat out offensive, the glut of political ads cramming their ways onto the airwaves each election year is one of life’s little annoyances. In the hands of talented bloggers or comedians, however, they can translate into interesting online content.

I was somewhat amused to see Sen. John McCain’s recent ad using images of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears to try and paint Barack Obama as little more than a well-spoken celebrity, but I was thoroughly amused to see Miss Hilton’s response. Her “response ad,” available only on the popular humor website Funny or Die, is clever and funny. It pokes delightful fun at both candidates and the strictly partisan nature of presidential politics by offering up a compromise solution for the future of American energy.

Political advertising teams should take note–this is how non-traditional media can change your fortunes. Harness it for the better and have a sense of humor, you just might start reaching the cynics like me.  Either that, or other cynics like me will skewer you to no end. Just look at Current TV.

Sarah Haskins’ “Target Women” videos for Current have certainly raised her online profile. She tackles advertising aimed at women, for everything from yogurt to birth control. Consider it “The Daily Show” for female-centric advertising. In her amusing, 3-minute videos, she takes what was certainly ages of market research and shoots it full of holes. (“Who serves yogurt at their wedding?“) I honestly never thought I’d laugh at a commercial for Manwich, but Haskins proved me wrong. Indeed, gender stereotypes in advertising are an easy target.

Online parenting magazine Babble recently posted the 15 all-time most sexist television commercials. During an exchange with my colleague Jen Zingsheim about the list, she noted that it really only scratched the surface, and that most television ads play to gender stereotypes–and usually in a negative way.

This is gold for bloggers, with feminist and other female-centric sites frequently calling out ads for their sexist or offensive content. Take Rachel Richardson, who blogs about eating disorders and body acceptance at “The F Word.” She recently called out media makers for assuming her husband is “a moron.” She notes the recent spate of ads that seem to depict men as completely hapless in the face of cleaning products.

One point Richardson makes is that while in the “Mad Men” days, men designed commercials that were likely far more sexist and degrading than those we see today, it seems that the effort to correct this has swung things in the other direction. Here’s an idea, maybe they could focus on making ads that aren’t offensive to anyone!

But then, I suppose I would lose out on all the great content out there that started with a few bad commercials.

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