Reality-based ad creative works

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fat_small.jpgADOTAS — Adland, it seems, is offended by fat.

A recent Advertising Age article  bemoans a proliferation of “belly fat” banners that are cropping up increasingly online. Published by “some of the web’s shadiest advertisers,” more and more websites are apparently so revenue-starved that gluttony is newly enticing.

But as GA ad budgets shrivel, direct response advertisers thrive – both on and offline. First, of course, the formats perform. Second, with boardrooms now focused on all kinds of accountability, measurable results are understandably tempting. Third, as TV stations and networks grapple to fill empty ad slots, the laws of supply and demand favor DR, allowing different sorts of advertisers to gobble up plentiful inventory. As DRTV maven A.J. Khubani describes some of his clients’ move into prime-time TV: “we’re getting beachfront property at trailer park prices.”

An infomercial marketer dissing trailer parks? My, my, it is a new world. That such a comment is no longer immediately ironic is a certain sign that direct response advertising, at least in the offline TV world, is more accepted and respected than ever. And even worse for general advertising’s traditional standard-bearers is the fact that cost information is leaking.

The New York Times reports that some DRTV advertisers pay as little as “5 percent of what a general advertiser would.” Admittedly, Ped Egg, Steam Buddy and the like receive these huge discounts through last-minute fire-sales of unsold inventory. But media-buying savvy is DRTV business as usual. Vigilant media buyers strike quickly when opportunity knocks.

Online, ad rates are dropping, propelled by supply and demand, so general advertisers should be happy. Display ads are still moving merchandise, so direct response advertisers remain happy. Enough consumers obviously are happy, or they wouldn’t click and buy the featured products in such impressively large quantities. So why all the fuss about style?

Well, that’s easy. According to the media elite, mini-infomercials and belly fat banners are just so … well … ewwww.

Who wants to open a news site and see a protruding tummy in all its muffin-top glory? Whatever happened to the good old days when health ads featured models who’d already conquered their problems? I mean, you didn’t see Jared chow down all his Subways at a shirtless and hefty 340.

It might have made for a pretty big ad, though.

According to tradition’s many unwritten rules, NBC’s Biggest Loser has utterly no business becoming a powerhouse franchise. Its stars aren’t the world’s Hayden Panetierres or its Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsens; its biggest stars are the country’s biggest people. Like direct response sales figures, the ratings don’t lie: people aren’t offended by unaesthetic realities. The folks who squirm at bulging bellies—or Anthony Sullivan or Billy Mays, for that matter—are undoubtedly angry that they no longer set cultural tastes. After all, it’s hard to keep that corner office as a Madison Av Mad Man when the unexceptional public starts to outsell your sizzle.

You have to wonder if brand advertisers are taking this in. How would you like to be Coca-Cola and learn that you’re laying out nearly twenty times more for your spot than one later in the program that the Nicer Dicer folks bought? Or what about the GM exec who learns that his stylish web banner promising zero percent financing pales in terms of click-throughs to unvarnished cellulite? It’s a hard fact to accept that reality-based ad creative generates immediate response better than fiction. But if more in the brand communities started acting that way, we’d witness a cultural earthquake – or at least more palatable CTR’s.

Generationally speaking, it wasn’t all that long ago that a whole lot of pudginess wasn’t unseemly at all—it was stylish. That extra layer suggested you didn’t physically labor, so your big belly was a badge (and a bulge) of success. To be sure, this was well before weekly warnings from Surgeons General helped to alter these norms, but the point is that entrenched fashions change.

If the pundits are right, and the advertising that funds both the airwaves and the internet are facing hostile takeovers from aggressive and uncultured rubes, big advertisers and agencies should act on an old-fashioned adage: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Don’t hang on too long to the old realities. Depict today’s real people with contemporary problems—as well as the products that solve them—and you’ll soon be creating consumers’ new truths. And greater response.

Rather than off-road to some mountaintop plateau that (in reality) demanded a big helicopter, show truck drivers on-roading to Home Depot—and successfully loading up cumbersome drywall. Yes, towing airplanes with pickups makes pretty good visuals, but so too do two stout Midwesterners sliding comfortably into their truck’s roomy cabs. Chances are, the truck-buying audience has a whole lot more “Biggest Losers” than people stumbling across aircraft that need a quick tow. C’mon, advertisers … embrace the belly fat! And look the truth square in the button. There’s no more receptive an audience than one that knows you accept it and respect it, despite all its flaws.

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