Beware the Dancing Bear

In a recent interview, marketing guru Dan Kennedy was asked about various techniques — online and offline — that marketers use to get people to pay attention. Here’s his take:

“You’ve got to put people on a track with borders on it, that keeps them from wandering off in any direction, and moves them from beginning to end to a sale. If you show ’em a dancing bear, and the dancing bear causes them to keep moving forward along the path to a sale, then the dancing bear is a good thing… If they’re so fascinated with the dancing bear that they stop moving forward in the sales presentation just to enjoy the bear, then the bear is a bad thing.”

The interview took place several months ago, but Kennedy’s sentiments are especially timely coming on the heels of the national dancing bear festival that played out in Super Bowl TV commercials. From Suburban’s Trunk Monkey to Career Builders’ job-jungle schtick to whatever the heck was happening in the Go Daddy spot, the commercials sought to entertain first, and sell later.

For an event like the Super Bowl, the case can be made that the normal rules should be suspended — it’s the one time that everyone drops their filters and pays close attention. Perhaps the water-cooler talk that a funny Super Bowl ad generates is more valuable than a coherent sales message. And Budweiser and Coke have earned a free pass with decades of relentless marketing: everyone already knows exactly what their products are and how to buy them.

Your advertising, on the other hand, needs to sell first and entertain later. Humor, sound effects, snazzy graphics and promotions are only appropriate if they help compel your customers to do business with you. Be careful with the dancing bear.


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