CODEBREAKING: Clever commercials are often bad for business

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“JCPenney understands that you don’t like advertising for clothes. Who does? Tell you what, though, if you look at these smart fashion choices from Van Heusen, we’re going to show you this [Phoebe Cates in red bikini.] That way everybody wins.”

There are a series of these JCP ads that change the eye candy (dodge ball, the Tyson/Frazier fight, etc.) The ads are clever and attention getters. The split screen is almost always an effective device even without bikinis because it signals that something important is happening.

The problem is that the ads fail Advertising 101.

What is the target demo of these ads? Whoever fondly remembers Pheoebe Cates, dodge ball, and the Tyson Frazier fight, i.e. men over 40, which perfectly coincides to the Van Heusen/JCP demo.  Kenny Mayne (from ESPN) is also a great choice to walk you through the ad.  But while it gets the demo right, it gets the brand completely wrong. After watching this ad, what is the Van Heusen brand? Can you distinguish it from any other brand? These are clothes, clothes are supposed to be branding by design.  Can you tell what brand that is, what story wearing Van Heusen tells? And is there an aspirational component to this brand? If I’m not a Van Heusen man, do I want to become a Van Heusen man?

Does any woman want a Van Heusen man? Does Phoebe Cates?

The movie was chosen because of the draw, but it doesn’t sell the brand, there were better 80s movies for this purpose. The problem is at the “pitch” level.” While ads sell a product, they are also advertisements for the agency itself– “we’re the ones who made the X ad.” And often there is a conflict between the best ad to sell a product and the best ad to be awarded the account. So an agency has to pitch an idea that they know the middle aged folks at a company might respond to (“Fast Times At Ridgemont High!”), even if it’s not a great seller.

But even so, a truly creative team would be able to do both. To illustrate the point, here’s how the ad should have worked if they were committed to Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Start with the bikini scene, but cut immediately to the kissing scene:

fast times at ridgemont high

Use the split screen to model the same clothes Judge Reinhold is wearing, with the tag line: Van Heusen: This Way Everybody Wins. 

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  3. Codebreaking: “No Women Allowed” to Drink Dr. Pepper
  4. Codebreaking: Doritos’ “Best Part”
  5. Codebreaking: Imported from the Rust Belt

2 Responses to CODEBREAKING: Clever commercials are often bad for business

  1. Guy Fox says:

    Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah:

    Peggy Olson: Sex sells.

    Don Draper: Says who? Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this. They take all this monkey crap and just stick it in a briefcase completely unaware that their success depends on something more than their shoeshine. YOU are the product. You- FEELING something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.

  2. sdfijoidsj says:

    Sometimes you are so easy to read… Where is my TLP?
    First you give in to the OWS then to the media and advertising?
    If you can’t beat the enemy join them?