The fact that advertising is both pervasive and eerily powerful is by no means a new topic of counterculture discourse. (Although for an interesting discussion, watch the below YouTube video for Shepard Fairey on the Henry Rollins Show.)
What’s more annoying than advertising? The type of advertising which doesn’t have a snowman’s chance in hell of selling its product. I didn’t think such failure was even possible anymore, but two recent experiences have changed my mind.
I flew on US Airways and United in December, and I can’t remember for sure which was the culprit, but if it was US then their Hudson River landing yesterday was certainly a punishment for stupidity. Not only do they now charge outlandish prices for drinks and snacks as they tighten their belts in the face of economic problems, but they have taken to forcing flight attendants to advertise their frequent-flyer reward Visa cards and offer applications during the flight, when passengers have no choice but to listen. I’m sure these cards somehow make money for the airline, but soliciting people on the plane? Who actually signs up for a credit card on an aircraft with all of the other passengers watching? I’m guessing that even if the deal sounds appealing, most people will be unwilling to raise their hand and publicly request an application out of embarrassment, since whether they save money or not, such offers have the smell of a gimmick. Nobody wants to look like a fool in front of a bunch of strangers – at least not with alcoholic beverages costing 8 bucks in-flight.
While the airline’s strategy probably has low profit, at least its only cost is dignity. An example of grosser incompetence: I recently attended a hockey game and witnessed a slew of McDonald’s advertising. Standard, I suppose, but probably not a wise move on the part of their marketers; these ads must be both costly and ineffective. Granted I can only make this inference “from the armchair,” but does anyone really see a broadcast ad at the Pens game and decide to try the new special at Mickey D’s? It’s undoubtedly only a slightly different combination of the same ingredients from which all their other menu items are made. The kind of person who eats there all the time will continue to do so independently of advertising activities. Those who eat there out of necessity at highway rest stops certainly aren’t basing their decisions on such an unspectacular ad. Intermittent samplers surely stop at McDonald’s more because they happen to be near one than because of some commercial in the background at a hockey game.
But wait! Is there an untapped resource out there of people who have never before tried McDonald’s, but will now be inspired to give it a whirl? Perhaps foreigners and children fall into this category, but they seem far more likely to patronize such a place because family or friends introduce it to them than as a result of clever marketing. Maybe the marketing people over there have some “data” they’re using to strategize, but I fail to see how this technique is getting them anywhere. Real data might be superseded by denial.
Would these companies go into battle and massacre their opponents as a way of getting attention for their own ritual suicide? Everyone loses when they operate in such a way. They waste money and we have to put up with it. Ads are annoying however they’re done, but what I don’t understand is the persistent incompetence and imprudent allocation of advertising funds despite continuing research in psychology and marketing. If you’re going to force advertisements down people’s throats, at least do it in such a way that you have a chance of profiting. This late in the game, even the worst players should be learning the rules and scoring some points.