Aligning the Advertising Arrow


So you’ve picked out your network and distribution medium, and you’re ready to unleash your campaign on an unsuspecting public. Think you’re ready to take on the Internet? Think again. If your creative misses the mark, you might as well spend your ad dollars on pixel ads.

An ad campaign is the arrow; a straight and pointy business weapon. You can have the best advertising campaign in the world, but if it misses the product, the audience, or just has no steam behind it, it’s all for nothing. I’m completely freaked out by this bizarre ad that Altoids is running for Altoids Sours. This skinny 70’s looking guy is participating in a blindfolded taste test. While he’s tasting a piece of fruity, soury goodness, a gross guy in his tighty whities with fruit hanging off of his waste does this little bump n’ grind dance next to him.

If Altoids wants to say that Altoids Sours will make you want to puke, then they’re succeeding. I suspect the company’s trying to say that Altoids Sours are fun and different. The ad certainly communicates “different”, but I don’t think I’ll be buying any Altoids Sours again any time soon.

Advertising is all about communication. It’s designed to help your customers “get” your product. It’s easy to sell a computer. But there are a million people out there trying to sell you a computer. It’s much harder to sell a device that will change the way you organize your life and look at the world. That’s an offer few can match. That’s exactly what the HP’s “The Computer is Personal Again” campaign tries to communicate. Check out the Jay-Z spot here if you haven’t seen it on TV or online yet. Notice that the computer they’re selling is not just a computer. It’s not just a device that will let you edit music, track stocks, share photos, and play games. It’s a device that will turn you into Jay-Z. Can your Mac do that?

The reason your ad campaign has to communicate effectively is simple. If you tell your customers what your product does, you’ll know if they want to buy it or not. And if your ad campaign communicates something that’s entirely divorced from your product, your ad campaign will be attracting the wrong kind of buyers. Or worse, you attract the right kind of buyers, but once they try the product, they find it’s completely different from what the ad portrayed and they feel they have been lied to. Scratch one customer.

There’s a thin line between exaggeration for the sake of parody, and false advertising. The HP campaign treads that road well. Everyone knows that a computer will not turn you into Jay-Z. It’s parody. That exaggeration illustrates how an HP computer can be a part of someone’s life. All great ads work the same way. In Apple’s “Get A Mac” ads, everyone knows that PC’s aren’t nearly as stodgy and boring as they are portrayed. They can do everything a Mac does, but Apple exaggerates a stereotype: PC = business = boring, and Mac = me = fun.

Campaign alignment is one of the reasons that user-generated ads have so much potential. When Mozilla showed off four of the ads submitted by users in the Firefox Flicks campaign at the Vail film festival in Colorado, they generated immediate buzz. If a user is so excited about a product that they voluntarily create an ad promoting it, they obviously “get” it. They also know the product’s customers intimately, because they’re one of them.

Just like communication in real life, communication through advertising can be prone to misunderstandings and social awkwardness. It’s not always easy to design an ad creative that hits the bulls-eye. The closer you hit the mark though, the greater your ROI. If you remembers that your campaign must align itself with both your target audience and your product, and don’t stumble over your own feet trying too hard to be “cutting edge,” your shot should be right on the mark.


  1. I love the altoids ads (I love the candy even more). I laughed out loud at the fruit one, completely caught me off guard. Remember, if you can remember what an ad is about (meaning the name of the product) it works. Anyone who has seen those ads can tell you what the product is. There are some very well-made, shiny, finished ads out there that no-one in my family can tell you what the product was (this is a game we play to see how well the ad works). We can describe the ad, then stare at each other blankly when it comes to remembering the product.

  2. I have to agree with Trever. The Ad may not be your particular cup of tea, but, not only is it weirdly hilarious, and incredibly memorable (what a tagline, ‘altoids: taste the fruit’), but it is now propagating through youtube. It seems that Altoids (and Wrigleys) has a hit. Just wait until the religious right complains about the ad campaign. They won’t be able to sell enough of the stuff.


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