TV Commercials for the American Consumer

I have often thought about this topic, but never got down to writing about it, perhaps this write up will help me clarify my thoughts.
It all started with the famous Nerolac Paints Ad  that played on TV in those days. Those days were not as far back as I am making them sound, it was the late 1980s. I used to look forward to watching the ads, as much as the content that used them as fillers.
Strong and appealing TV commercials were essential for any brand to click with the Indian consumer. So advertising agencies tried really hard to get the message across. The brands that went with some of the top notch advertising agencies scored high and won the consumers loyalty – Proctor and Gamble, Asian Paints, Nestle, to name a few. The ones who did not do a fair job, faded away over time.
When I got a cable connection last summer, I realized that the quality of commercials on national US television as compared to India was very disappointing.  And since american consumers were the most important in the world, I assumed that brands had to really play their cards well in the US market, to click with the consumers. Well — I was proved wrong. The only sensible ads one comes across in US are from car manufacturers (Asian manufacturers only) and beer companies (again mostly international brands – with Coors being an exception.)
Commercials in India left a mark in my mind. For e.g. the Jalebi ad from Dhara, a cooking oil manufacturer, or the cute kids in Rasna commercial from the early 80’s. I still think of those brands, and the emotions those ads evoked in me, though I don’t consume those brands any more. I relate to those brands at a totally different level. Rasna reminds me of childhood, Dhara of home made delicacies. That is the responsibility of an advertising agency – create commercials that help a customer emote and connect with the brand, isn’t it?
Advertising in United States seems immature to me. Macy’s broadcasts a banner ad for 20 seconds every Friday– the content is the same – “Door buster 20% off.” They just change the date and keep broadcasting it week after week. Then there are the ads for room fresheners – Glade and others – silly ads that suggest that a fragrance can make you feel like you are sitting in a spa. Is that really what you want when you come home from work – a fragrance that reminds you of a spa? May be its just me but these ads just don’t make an impression on me. And I am often left confused – as to what did this 15 second commercial try to sell to me? Also there is a big difference in ad qualities on regional channels as compared to national channels like ABC,FOX etc.

This disappointment is so deep that my idea of advertising has been transformed – I now feel that companies that are not making money are resorting to TV commercials. As an example, Southwest Airline advertised on national television last night and my first reaction was – “hmmm why do they need ads, people love them anyways.” Watched it a little longer and got bored of its informational content. Even Southwest, which is such a favorite with the consumers, couldn’t care less about its TV commercial?
The only analysis I can draw from this is – US consumers don’t (rather cannot) depend on TV commercials for making their buying decisions. What then is their buying decision influenced by? Also one cannot ignore the cultural impact on advertising – Asian consumer is still different than an American consumer – more on that in another post.
To give credit where it is due, some of the Gap, Kaiser Permanente, Walmart and Target commercials did click with me. But they are like a drop in the ocean.
To read more about the same topic in the Chinese context, click here.. http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/06/pick_your_channels–and_fights.html

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