Marketing Anxiety & “The Half That’s Wasted”

An occupational hazard of the agency business is its cussed subjectivity. No matter how many theories you expound over how many years, regardless of qualitative or quantitative research and in spite of your best (and worst) efforts to codify success in tidy packets of best practice, the quest for “what works” remains stubbornly elusive.

It’s a state of affairs that leads many a brand to the brink of despair and, from time to time, even major brands succumb to a “try anything” mindset that has engendered some remarkably silly marketing solutions. That the persistence of the phenomenon is entirely in keeping with the lazy, thoughtless way American culture has systematically replaced coherent analysis with soundbyte and meme juggling  should surprise no one. Today, this is  simply the way of the world.

Case in point is the arrival of Yahoo Motion Ads, a gimmicky, one-note graphic treatment Yahoo would like to promote as a major innovation in audience engagement. Here’s how Yahoo triumphantly announced its newest offering on March 17 of this year:

“Today, we are excited to introduce Yahoo Motion Ads, a new ad format that brings images to life, helping brands tell more engaging stories and drive greater awareness with their target audiences.”

Featured on the announcement is a partially animated GIF of a rather membranal-looking slab of a grilled cheese sandwich—out of which steam appears to rise. Leaving aside the sample ad’s poor production values (I’d certainly never eat anything that looked like that), only the full force of a complex delusional system could convince a rational person, or even a hungry person, that such an ad is “engaging.”

In the first place, the partial animation GIF is not an innovative graphic device in 2014. An unscientific survey seems to place its origin as far back as 2009, with many subsequent examples turning up on arty and not-so-arty sites ever since. Random examples include:

• Hongkiat.com

…and there are thousands more.

But this is not to imply that innovation or its lack is in any sense a hallmark of success of failure in consumer engagement. What’s really startling here is the leap a major brand like Kraft is willing to make between a rather humdrum technical gimmick and its signature brand message-of-the-moment. Here’s what the venerable cheese-maker’s brand manager has to say about its partnership with Yahoo:

“Kraft Cheese is proud to partner with Yahoo on the brand new Kraft Singles Motion Ad. We are always looking for opportunities to engage our consumers in unique and innovative ways that deliver our news—Kraft Singles are now made with no artificial preservatives. Yahoo brought forward a great executional idea and we are excited to be the first brand to launch it.”

I promised myself I wouldn’t say “WTF” so I won’t. But I have to confess that, the current session of Congress excepted, I’ve never seen a more thorough-going case of ideological delusion than the assertion that fake steam rising off a fake sandwich can convey Kraft’s commitment to authenticity—as exemplified by its preservative-free products.

Astonishingly, after decades of hawking its wares, Kraft still has so little faith in its own brand value that it chooses to bury a powerful message strategy—involving any number of ways to demonstrate the benefits of preservative-free foods or to become the thought leader in the ongoing debate about the impact of Big Food on American health—under ridiculous claims of marketing innovation.

If there was ever any answer to the conundrum “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”—this is it. The other half is the money you spent in desperation—when a rage for certainty in an uncertain universe clouded your judgement and made you forget everything you should have learned about motivating consumers to act.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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