Will a Farting Penguin Make Your Advertising Better?

I recently met a retailer whose television and radio commercials feature a farting penguin.

Penguins can sell

Photo by Piumadaquila/dpc

The ads are amusing — I laughed the first time I saw one — and when customers come into the store the penguin is a great conversation starter.
  • But many customers who laugh at the ads may not be coming in at all. Here’s where the campaign is running into trouble:
  • Little attention is given to the benefits the product delivers.
  • The store is in a remote, hard-to-find location, but the ads don’t give viewers any help in finding it.
  • The “Directions” link on the store’s website — a hugely important component under the circumstances — is difficult to find on the home page, and difficult to read.

There’s no way to put a hard number on it, but I am convinced that there are many potential customers who enjoy the penguins and never take the next step in the purchase process.

Marketing guru Dan Kennedy was once 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.”

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.

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.

Local advertising hasn’t earned that luxury. It needs to sell first and entertain later. Humor, sound effects, snazzy graphics and farting penguins are only appropriate if they help compel your customers to do business with you.

Be careful with the penguin.

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