[Miscellany] Musings from being at the receiving end of bad advertising messages

  1. Programmatic advertising

Do you remember when people were stockpiling toilet paper, at the start of the Covid-19 crisis? It was so hard to find (and, in some places, so expensive) that some people even joked that they would make great gifts.

Fast forward to February 2021, and I ordered bamboo toilet paper, online. A few hours after it was delivered, I received an automated message asking for a review. Nothing new, here, except for a little twist: as I ordered it shortly before Valentine’s Day, an occasion for gift giving, the e-mail requesting a review had a seasonal – but very silly – nod to the occasion:

Obviously, no one at the company really thinks that I might be buying toilet paper as a gift for my other half. (At least, I hope no one does…). Rather, what is happening here is that, someone programmed for an automated message to go out following delivery of an online purchase, and added a line to the code such that if the purchase fell within dates X and Y, then the system would send the “Valentine’s version”. It’s an example of programmatic advertising being applied with very little thought for either the product or the buyer.

A much better, recent example of programmatic advertising was displayed by Bloom & Wild. Knowing that popular gift-giving dates, on occasion, may be painful for some of its customers, Bloom & Wild asks if you want to be kept out of mailing blasts for those dates. For instance:

Luckily, this is not a difficult date for me. But, if it was, I would very much appreciate the opportunity to not be reminded of that, by a careless, pre-programmed e-mail.

2. Representation

The Reply All podcast has a storyline looking at food magazine Bon Appetit. The reporter notes that, until very recently, the magazine would always feature white hands in the cover and instruction photos – even though many recipe testers were not white. This would happen even when the articles and photos were focusing on ethnic food, such as Pho.

That storyline reminded me of a conversation where the person in question (an African American) said that she loved planners and planning products; but that she didn’t feel valued by main stream companies, because their adverts always featured dainty, white hands. 

Diversity is so, so, so important! This isn’t about being politically correct. It is about avoiding really embarrassing mistakes and, in the case of marketing communications, it is about connecting with the market. At the end of the day, who doesn’t like to feel seen and to feel valued?

On this note, I loved Pandora’s Valentine’s imaging. Rather than limiting themselves to skinny, young, white female models – who, after all, are probably a tiny slice of their customers – Pandora used older models, as well as people of colour, and non-heterosexual couples. Now, if only health clubs would start doing the same…

Valentine's Day with Pandora

3. Relevance

Every year, I get an e-mail message from a certain eyewear firm wishing me happy birthday. A common practice, I know – but this one is particularly bad! Look at this:

Seriously??? It is depressing (are they suggesting that I am the birthday lady in the photo?); it is tasteless; and it is completely irrelevant for the product or brand in question. What does this have to do with spectacles?

You don’t need a sophisticated algorithm, or a big marketing budget, to deliver good messages. Just think about your customers’ pain points or aspirations, and talk about how your product can address them. Here is a great example that I think we can all empathise with:

Any marketing communications campaigns caught your attention lately?

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