When People Complain About Your Advertising

“Most ads aren’t written to persuade, they’re written not to offend.” — Roy Williams

Not long ago an ad agency pulled a home improvement commercial off the air in Portland and Seattle because several listeners had called the client to complain about it. The client was concerned that he was offending potential customers, and the agency is now scrambling to come up with something else.

So what happens when some people don’t like your advertising?

Sunny Kobe Cook, whose relentless pitches for Sleep Country USA in the 90’s irritated thousands, once told a seminar audience that she would occasionally work behind the counter at one of her stores.

Customers would walk up to the counter after choosing a bed, hand her their credit card, and then do a double-take. She described the typical encounter like this:

Customer: You’re Sunny Kobe Cook!

Sunny: Yes, I am.

Customer (leaning forward, whispering): I hate your commercials!

“They’re standing in my store,” said Cook, “and making a purchase for a thousand bucks or more. I want everyone to hate my commercials like that!”

Cook annoyed people with her voice and relentlessness. Rob Christensen, by contrast, deliberately pushes the envelope of good taste. Christensen runs Apple Auto Sales of Charlotte, North Carolina. In his TV ads, he plays “Reverend Rob”, a televangelist who will “HEAL your credit.” They’re cheesy, poorly-acted, and have the ability to offend on multiple levels.

They also sell cars. You can watch one here.

According to Mike Drummond of the Charlotte Observer, Christensen has been running these ads since 1997. Viewers have complained, and some stations have refused to run the spots.

Christensen airs the commercials on stations who will accept them, and takes his money to the bank. “I’ve had people tell me they hate my ads — hate them,” Christensen told Drummond. “And yet they still bought a car from me.”

Roy Williams echoes the sentiment:

Ninety-eight point nine percent of all the customers who hate your ads will still come to your store and buy from you when they need what you sell. These customers don’t cost you money; they just complain to the cashier as they’re handing over their cash.

A caution is in order here: An annoying campaign may get you noticed, but you can’t forget to sell within the commercial. The Sleep Country and Apple Auto Sales commercials were more than just exercises in irritation. Each one contained a powerful sales message and a call to action.

But you shouldn’t reject an idea simply because some folks might not like it. They don’t have to like it — they just have to buy.


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