Negative Ads…It’s not just politics anymore

It seems negative ads are everywhere, and there’s nary an election around (Massachusetts Senate excepted).

Much to Ad age columnist Bob Garfield’s dismay negative ads and negative attacks are making their way mainstream.

What’s funny (or funny to me) is that they really aren’t much better than their political counterparts.  Yes they’re better produced, and they try or pretend to be more high-minded, but the reality is that’s they’re pretty ordinary.

I read somewhere that if you have to explain your analogy or metaphor then it’s really not a good one.  This Caribu ad is obviously aimed at Starbucks.  Now I think there is a decent line of attack, Starbucks has become the McDonalds of Coffee places, it’s not authentic or real.  But there are two questions, is Caribou any more “authentic” than Starbucks in the public’s mind?  Plus this analogy doesn’t quite work for me, I don’t know.  Real chocolate in their drink, ok…, that’s a lot of effort to frame yourself as authentic, real, and your opponent as not.

The big one fight is the AT&T v. Verizon dust up that was taken to court and recently settled.

Is Luke Wilson really the best messenger for the ad? I’m not sure how he ended up as the attack dog for AT&T.  In the Bob Garfield piece, I link to above, he says about the fight “The current tit-for-tat between Verizon Wireless and AT&T demonstrates that the ugly tactics of what politicos call “opposition research”—and what we call “lying”—can corrupt a major commercial brand.”

I’ve taken issue with Mr Garfield before about political ads, and I’ll take issue with him here.  Opposition research isn’t lying  — lying is lying, whether you do it in politics or consumer advertising.  The best negative ads have to be truthful, they have to connect to something authentic to connect with the audience or else they’re seen as out of line or untruthful (even if technically true).  Opposition research is simply finding potential areas of contrast with your opponent.  In political ads that necessary when key voters (those 20% on the fence who haven’t made up their mind) see little difference between one candidate or another.  As products become less differentiated in consumers minds, this kind of comparison and contrast becomes more important.

Is there a difference between AT&T and Verizon?  Yes, Verizon has the better network (not even close as a former Verizon customer), AT&T has the iPhone (not even close as a current iPhone user).  But mostly it’s the same prices, same crappy customer service, same package.  The AT&T response is ineffective not just because they picked an odd choice as messenger (wouldn’t some kind of “expert” or third party be a stronger choice), but because they’re fighting against the public’s perception — that Verizon has the better network (is there any doubt).  To win that fight you’re going to need to make a stronger or funnier case than Luke Wilson and his magnets.

I quoted this article before, and I’ll quote it here again because it’s so relevant: “People don’t hate negative ads, they hate bad ads.” I wonder if Bob Garfield has as much an issue with the Mac v PC ads, he didn’t seem to object to this clever Verizon ad, placing the iPhone on he Island of Misfit toys:

It’s an important point to remember as these types of contrast start moving into the mainstream.

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