CREATIVECOMBUSTION.TV, a company comprised of creative alumni from a full service advertising agency which set the benchmark for creative commercials AND sales for many years in the toy industry. Our experienced team undertakes every creative service from planning through production from the perspective of driving sales and making your spot stand out from the noise. And we do it a price point that is realistic and affordable. Please visit our website for more details and examples of our past work.

Smart Commercials: The Challenge Of Context And The Difference Between Promotion And Advertising

Steve Zuckerman

Context is king. Your commercial is great in the editing room; Kids jumping for joy, laughing and extolling your product in a celebration of high energy and enthusiasm. But later on you see your masterpiece on the air. It's the third spot in a series of four commercials, all toys in various categories. Incredibly, despite your own interest, you find them all blending in a fuzzy, indistinct blur of "different but same". You've just been ambushed by context. And it's not just visual. Try closing your eyes during a run of 3 or 4 spots. Is what you're hearing memorable? Is any of it Distinctive? Is it interesting? Does it even make sense? Did anything resonate with you to the point that you HAD to look? Context makes fools out of researchers and advertising creatives alike on a daily basis. You only need to spend a few minutes to confirm this.

So, what's happening? How are all these spots becoming… generic, despite what appear to be best efforts? The answer is: Promotion is different from advertising. Especially smart advertising. Promotion means getting the product idea and name in front of the public to make them aware of its existence. Promotion also includes informing the consumer of where he can make his purchase. So, if all commercials promote products what else is there? Isn't that the point? Sadly, promotion as such usually lacks the single key element, which is the core definition of advertising. Advertising is the art of instilling the consumer with desire for the product. Most television commercials for toys are promotions with little regard for the context in which the spot will air.

Cable television distribution, almost exclusively used by advertisers in the toy industry, is a sure way to reach kids at any time of day (or even past bedtime!) without having to juggle media trafficking amongst many different stations. The down side is that EVERY toy product is in the same place(s), creating an endless litany of noise. Also contributing to this barrage of clutter is the fact that television advertisements for toys and related products are mostly derivative of each other in a general sense. Even though the product and content differ the SHAPE and TEXTURE of the commercials are similar to the point of blending together in the mind of the viewer so that each successive spot weakens the one before it and so on.

Why not smarter advertising? There are many reasons why we have come to this. Some of them are hard to face. Firstly, the fortunes of the industry have drastically changed over the last 7 years. Advertising cash had to be ear-marked for more immediate needs. Then middle managers, the people who interfaced with the advertising agencies were laid off, leaving this responsibility to inexperienced personnel already spread too thin. So, in the economic turmoil that has roiled our industry, advertising quietly dwindled and died and in its place, promotion was reborn with the hope that smaller dollars placed differently would result in better sales (did they?). Compound this with the predictable demise of many of the smaller niche commercial production and editorial houses which serviced the industry leaving many of the remaining producer/directors to become storyboard artists or "concept" creators; a job formerly undertaken by the agency that hired and managed them. As in many sectors of our business, they are remnants of a broken chain. Their primary task is to understand your product enough to photograph it. They're not responsible for your sales, or understanding your target audience. Furthermore, since most advertising decisions are factored around costs, form and content become mere details and instead it's all about energy and "great shots". Inevitably, little of this will drive sales to its potential, leading disappointed brand managers and their bosses to conclude that advertising is a useless waste. The truth is harsh and simple. They were never advertising. At the very most, they were using promotional techniques in an advertising medium to minimum effect. At worst, the net result was a noisy catalog page that neither drove sales nor captured anyone's imagination.

So, what can we do to make sure that our commercial will be effective advertising for our product and work in the context of cable clutter and noise? Generally, the best solutions are the ones that will make you most nervous. Why? Because you haven't seen that kind of commercial before and that's a good start. A litany of features and product differences work better on the packaging; how high your product flies or how fast it goes and how it works is not enough to motivate these savvy consumers. You have to make the play pattern relevant, appealing and contemporary. Children today are smart, quick to "get it" and good listeners IF they're interested. If you have a product that has real play value and a commercial that resonates with kids they will want it, and so will their friends. But select the products you advertise carefully. If you make a great commercial for a mediocre or poor product kids will find out very quickly and you'll also find out why nothing "kills a bad product faster than good advertising". Even with a good product making a "smart" and effective commercial is challenging and complex; Girls and Boys respond to completely different approaches and can sense "lame" and condescension a mile away.

The idea of a "good" commercial makes economic sense also. For instance, if 100 people saw a commercial, but only 5 were paying attention then that commercial cost five times as much as it would if 25 out of the same 100 people were actively watching the message.

In the past, traditional advertising agencies were a resource for putting together people with overlapping experience and talents to find solutions for every product that aired on television or radio. It was a team of creative experts that wrote the copy, created the storyboard, composed the music, directed, edited and produced the commercials all within focused strategies which were all about driving sales. Ideas were culled for their ability to cut through the clutter and to get their point across in the context of how the spots would be aired. Today, this task often falls to one or two people "in house" who are responsible for everything or by default, to the production company or the director and the results and lack of are telling.

Today, full service advertising agencies are not a good fit for a most toy companies, leaving most to rely on production houses and or directors to develop and produce their commercials. My company was created to fill that gap. We are a group of experienced creatives who specialize in creating "smart" advertising for products being marketed to youthful audiences, starting with a concept and ending with a ready to air comercial. Obviously, expense plays a big part in making decisions about advertising. It's a large investment and there are a lot short-cuts that seem attractive. The easiest way to save money in both the long and short run is by choosing knowledgeable creatives to help shape your advertising goals and strategies before you get to the production stage. Good planning leads to a smooth and efficient (meaning less expensive) production process with better results and less wear and tear on the stomach lining.

The best thing about smart advertising is that an uninteresting idea, rendered even more un-interesting by context can cost just as much or more as a good idea that captures the imagination and interest. Along these lines I would also recommend that once you find a trustworthy advertising partner that you let them do their job. As one client said in a moment of self-realization after telling me how wonderful a competitor's commercial was: "I wouldn't have let you make a spot like that".

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