Commercials That We Don’t Believe

By | November 16, 2016

Which commercials do you believe?  Too few!

Many commercials are produced these days with little effort to maintaining the premise that their message is actually believable.

Maybe we gave up trying to make them believable.  But when commercials are more believable, they are more persuasive.

There are three qualities that contribute to believability: expertise, trustworthiness, and motivation.

Just to be clear, let me describe each of these three qualities.

Expertise is all about credentials and experience with the subject matter.  Dentists recommending tooth care; doctors recommending medications; athletes recommending athletic equipment; moms who recommend things for their children.  Even real people relating their product experiences.  Their experience and expertise is relevant to their recommendations.  This aspect of credibility is the closest part of the process to logic.

We used a cardiologist and Jared to endorse the healthy nature of Subway sandwiches.  They provided the logical expertise of the cardiologist with personal experience of the public.  It worked around the world.

Trustworthiness is all about being honest.  This is the source of many “proofs” in advertising.  Demonstrations of the product in action leave the viewer to trust no one but their eyes.  A Timex strapped to the propeller of an outboard motor that keeps on ticking.  Real time footage before your eyes.  What could be more trustworthy?  This feeling of trust colours all that the viewer hears.

Motivation is about why the message is coming to you and why the source is providing the information.  It always a challenge for advertisers since people know the advertiser’s goal is to sell product.  One great advertising technique to create an expectation of unbiased motivation is to suggest that the recommendation is being overheard.  That’s why “slice of life” commercials work – we believe we are overhearing an endorsement of a product in action.  Candid interviews work this way too.

Continuing characters build a sense of trust with consumers, even if they are sort of shills.  The important part is the consistency of the character portraying a proselytizing, passionate believer in the product.

However, when advertisers fake it – when a phony interviewer gets a rousing endorsement from a fake person in the street, the commercial fools no one.  Current advertising for CUPE where this happens leads to a laughable attempt at a commercial.  It is not just bad; it makes you think the advertiser is not telling the truth at all.  So it has the opposite effect.

The same is true when celebrities or athletes endorse a product they have little or no knowledge of and little reason, other than money, why they are endorsing it.  My philosophy has always been to ask athletes to do what they do best – and that is usually not talking but doing something physical.

Celebrities are often absorbed into their famous roles by the public mind, so a commercial in which they play their publicly expected role can work.  Bill Cosby was the perfect spokesperson representing children’s desire for Jell-O Pudding.  All those weight loss advertisers who use people who have lost weight work well too.

C.E.O.’s or business owners who shill their own products often lose sight of the goal to sell products/services rather than feed their own ego as we pointed out in an earlier blog.

Commercials often forget these factors.  Actors who cannot act undermine these factors, particularly trustworthiness or motivation, and leave commercials unrealistic or unconvincing.  Dialogue that is obviously not conversational becomes a tale provided by the advertiser reminding the viewer of the advertiser’s motivation.

The thing that is mysterious is often that it is little things that betray a commercial’s credibility.  The actor “going over the top” or a line in a commercial that appears to come right out of the strategy statement with words like “lifestyle” or phoney non-conversational words blow the entire story.

Advertisers should remember that sending a message that is believable is critical to getting results from their advertising.

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