About sixty years ago, In was hired at a small boutique advertising agency in Chicago. I was still at Northwestern but my ego was large enough to believe I had “It.” The capacity to get people interested in buying something. My first assignment was to write a minute comm4rcial for a local Plymouth dealer, Walton Motors. They were offering a new Plymouth for $1495. (You can see how long ago that was!) Of course, if a salesman actually let a customer get away with a $1495 car, chances are he’d be out of a job. By the time options and additional costs were added, the $1495 was a myth. I wrote brilliant copy. I brought it in to the boss. He read it over, and complimented me. Then, he took out a felt tip pen and started marking up the copy. When he was through everything I wrote had been changed or deleted. He told me that I wrote this to please ME and not the ordinary guy listening. He said that if I took pleasure in what I had written, it was probably wrong because I didn’t understand the mindset of the ordinary person watching or, in this case, listening.
I bring this up only because I am finding that more and more of today’s ads are written to please the copywriters or lawyers and don’t speak the language of the “regular” guy or woman. Some examples I found that irritate me: There is an ad that runs often on the various news programs which has the main character say “when I went to see my professional health provider…” I suppose the lawyers decided saying “my doctor” left out physicians’ assistants and nurses. But, I have yet to hear anyone I know tell me they have an appointment with their “professional health provider…”
Then there are the voice-over announcers who, after explaining all the potential side-effects suggest “you tell your doctor about all medications you are taking.” Honestly, if my doctor, who has prescribed the medications, doesn’t know what I am taking I’d change doctors. Mine has everything on the computer. Frankly, I am bothered by the government’s requirement to list possible side-effects. After happy, joyous, healthy actors pitching how they got that way, someone intones all the side effects, including, “though rare… potential death.” Then the commercial goes back for a final smiling actor/actress praising the product.
Years ago I suggested that using kids in some commercials (other than pitching parents their toys) might work. Now, there is a glut of kids- from the excruciating AT&T commercials with those “cute” kids supposedly adlibbing, to kids in back seats of cars squabbling over something to the exasperation of parents who bought this wonderful smooth-riding SUV which drowns out outdoors sounds but not their crummy kids. Kids working with animated figures for selecting their breakfast cereal also bothers me. And when you add Dad talking to Tony the Tiger, my diabetes acts up. So do the arguments about cell phone and IPhone sharing, and those “Do Not Try This At Home” car ads.
Car commercials are also disturbing. Sometimes there is supposed to be humor in car salesmen literally forcing customers to head across the street to buy the product paying for the commercials. I hate those ads which quote low prices for “well qualified customers.” Try it at your dealer’s and you’ll see that you are usually not “well qualified” for the advertised price. Newspaper ads with low-ball prices will baldly state “Only One Available at this Price.” It’s like that $1495 Plymouth: try and find it available.
What it all adds up to, as far as I’m concerned, is that the people who create and write these ads, even the hi-tech ones, write to please their own creative egos, and those of their bosses and lawyers. All too often, like I did in my first writing attempt, copywriters tend to put themselves into what they write. That’s why I think a lot of these ads today are written by non-humans, people who lack the experience of being “ordinary” or “average.” I don’t want to be convinced to buy something by someone hoping to use his writing as an introduction to a Mensa membership.