Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Back Off!

It's official. The economy is in the toilet. Want indisputable proof? The Superbowl. NBC just sent word that "The Road to the Super Bowl" Pre-Game extravaganza will now start at 1pm, being reduced to 5 hours instead of 6. The Pre-Kick and Post Game Elements are now included in the actual game which will now start at 6pm.

Of course, some folks would say that the first horseman of The Apocalypse rode by when they gave the Superbowl to NBC. But the fact is it would've made little difference what network had the Superbowl this year; when GM cuts its advertising, we all lose a little.

For years, General Motors has been the leading spender in sports advertising, standing far ahead of the second place rivals Toyota, AT&T, and Anheuser-Busch. You might remember those clever Budweiser frogs and horses with a warm glow, but GM made sure every time a referee blew a whistle, John Mellencamp started singing.

And that may have been the problem all along. You see, while there's been a lot of talk about why GM and the Big Three are hanging by a thread - the UAW is to blame, bad designs, too much reliance on SUV's and big trucks, front office management that makes the Cincinnati Bengals look like Lloyd's of London - the one thing that rarely gets mentioned is the ad campaigns. Or rather, the tendency to bash us over the head every nine minutes with a lame jingle for a truck I don't want, or a Cadillac I can't afford. (An article on GM's ad spending cuts appeared in last Sunday's New York Times, followed immediately by a half-page ad for Cadillac's Red Tag Event, so apparently the memo had yet to get out.)

Over exposure, or media saturation, can result in a backlash effect that undoes everything the advertiser is trying to accomplish. Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine ran an article explaining how companies need to carefully manage their brand exposure to avoid a backlash. Car companies, in the throes of a sales manager induced panic, tend to forget all these concerns and simply blanket the air with their message. If I heard Toyota's dreary "Saved By Zero" spot one more time, (For the musicians reading this, doesn't anybody teach anybody to avoid parallel fifths anymore?) I was ready to buy a Hummer just for spite. Further complicating matters are the local car dealers, wedging their ads in during the local breaks with even more clutter. And for a car company that's been on the brink since the day I was born, Chrysler manages to be on the air more than anybody, often running two fifteen second "bookend" spots that start and end the break set. "Bookending" is the bane of television advertising. For the same amount of money, you get on twice as often. It's a technique that monopolizes ad scheduling - there's no room for another car ad within the break - cheats the network's or station's inventory, causes no end of headaches for the trafficking department, and builds even more backlash from the consumer who's sitting at home saying, "Didn't you bozos just run this?" In the interest of fairness, Arby's, Macy's and Elder Beerman (Federated Department Stores) bookend us half to death as well.

As the NYT article suggests, perhaps less is more. It's not about over saturating the media, but rather carefully selecting when and where your message is shown, and crafting that message to implant the right emotional response.

NBC just cancelled "My Own Worst Enemy." The first thing a coworker said to me about this was, "I would've watched it, but they hit me over the head with the promos so much I got resentful and said to hell with that." Backlash. Scroll back to my blogs during the Olympics, and you'll see me complain about this back then. "Enemy" was meant to be, to a certain degree, a product placement device for the new Chevy Camero. Apparently, it did not work. Perhaps GM's announced cutbacks had a hand in the decision to cancel "My Own Worst Enemy."

The question now is: will Christian Slater be appealing to congress for a bailout?

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