TV commercials as mirror: is this really who we are and what we’re about?

How is technology changing society? Just look to marketing, especially TV commercials. Writers often write stories that reflect back what they see around them–prevalent attitudes, culture, changes, issues. Marketers do this too, but unlike writers who try to make a point, change our minds or get us talking and thinking differently, marketers (like me) are trying to sell you stuff. Some of the time, some of us get it right.

And then there are commercials like this one for the new Windows Phone 7.

The first time I saw it, it got my attention. The music was compelling and built up a great crescendo to match the action. The people were so distracted, I caught myself smirking. So true! So ironic! So sad! And so universal–we all know “someone” who is permanently attached to their phone in an unhealthy way. We’re a distracted nation.

Microsoft took that reality and exaggerated the truth even further, showing people crashing into each other, sitting on each other, picking up a phone out of a urinal (yuck). We’re all tripping, falling, ignoring each other, tuning out of our lives and the people around us. The point Microsoft makes is..wow, what a nation of clumsy distracted idiots we are! Look how stupid we look!

Uh huh. And you want me to buy WHAT?

The cheapest shot of all was the saccharine sweet little girl at the end, which is meant to strike fear and guilt in the hearts of parents and grandparents everywhere because we are clearly ruining the next generation. And the solution to all of this guilt, clumsiness, distraction and stupidity?

Why, it’s Windows Phone 7! The phone that will save us (and our children!) from our phones and ourselves. That’s a tall order for a mobile phone. It must have super powers. Except we’re not sure how the Windows Phone 7 will save us because no proof is provided–no benefits, no super powers, no unique design, no competitive advantages.

Does this mean there are none? After all, Windows Phone 7 is…a phone. We will still be just as likely to trip, fall, walk into someone, sit on someone or drive off the road while using this phone as much as any other. I’m not sure if anyone would dive into the urinal to get this phone–an iPhone, maybe.

In my humble opinion, this is a great example of how NOT to market to people. Sure, it’s funny to watch people do stupid things. But in the end, Microsoft is pointing out our flaws. Mocking us. And trying to sell us something on top of it.

Compare this to the HP ePrinter Happy Baby commercial.

Disclaimer: I have kids, but I’m a marketer, so by default, I’m immune to babies, puppies, kittens and Hallmark commercials. But I like this ad because:

1. It’s a simple, well-executed concept. The idea is clearly embedded in our minds through visuals and simple dialogue: send your “baby” to the printer anywhere, right from your phone.  I say “baby” in quotes because some people’s “babies’ are their cars, their dogs or their puppet collection. Way to make it universal! This is a short, well-told story. As we say in fiction, “Show don’t tell.” This commercial nailed it.

2. It surprised and intrigued me.
Very few things surprise me anymore, but the first time I saw this commercial, I stopped what I was doing. Why? The baby is cute but in a regular kid way, not the stereotypical Gerber baby way. The imagery consisted of simple visuals–baby and road scenes–juxtaposed in an unexpected way. Love that. It’s creative without trying too hard.

3. The tune set the right tone. Many of the YouTube commenters complained about the music. You’ll never please all the people all the time, but as far as I’m concerned, the music has just the right upbeat tempo for the action and adds just the right touch of whimsy.

4. It’s a positive reflection of…me! Unlike Windows Phone 7, this commercial says “technology” and “innovation”without making me feel like a doofus in the process. Gold star, HP!

I’m a big proponent of keeping things positive–especially in marketing. It requires strategic thinking, diplomacy, creativity and above all, common sense. If you want me to love your brand and buy your product, don’t show me what an idiot I am. Show me how your brand fits me and how will it make my life better. You really can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Honey.

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3 thoughts on “TV commercials as mirror: is this really who we are and what we’re about?

  1. I find it disturbing how commercials make you feel inept or less than normal for not having one of these super terrific do anything phones. I’ve somehow managed to exist without a cellphone for 2 decades and I don’t find myself trailing the world in regards to keeping pace with technology.

    1. i agree, ian. some of these commercials, taken at face value, are amusing, but the implications below the surface (like the one you mentioned), are disturbing. we often don’t have time to think about it, it’s a commercial, it’s here and gone. but the impression was made, the seed planted. my kids, like me when i was little, watch commercials more than they watch TV programs, so we have a lot of conversations about what they see.

      marketers have a responsibility to be thoughtful in how they convey their message. it matters.

  2. What i thinks is that marketers found it easy to make fun of the competition and show them self as “hero” but this the negative approach as you may be giving an image that “other competitor’s product is more popular than me and in my eyes you look stupid using that product.” This means the customer/consumer is a person who doesn’t know what to buy and what suits him/her.

    What appeal a customer is an ad with more creativity and concept of benefit rather than targeting the competition.

    For example If you watch the ads of Sony TVs and Samsung TVs you will see that they pointed their USPs, not what the other one is doing.

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