Monday, July 30, 2007

Only 12 Kinds of Advertisements: True or False?

Slate is reporting today on the findings of Donald Gunn, former creative director at Leo Burnett who is claiming that there are 12 kinds of advertisements. If you watch carefully, he argues, all ads will fall into one (or potentially a couple) of these 12 categories:

  1. The "Demo" Ad: These ads show you the product in action, like an informercial, or the new iPhone ads, that show you the features of the product during the spot.

  2. The "Show the Need" Ad: During this type of ad, you show how something is wrong with someone's life, and then show (or say) how your product fixes it.
  3. The "Symbol, Analogy or Exaggerated Graphic Problem" Ad: Similar to the show the need ads, these typically overdue it in demonstrating a problem, often with comedy. Or they may use a symbol or an analogy. Slate notes the erectile pill where the guy just can't seem to throw the football through a tire swing, until suddenly, bam...
  4. The "Comparison" Ad: In these ads, you specifically call out the problems with your competitors, either specifically or as a group. Car dealer radio ads often do this, as in "Other car dealers try to fast talk you, but at Chris Leith we talk straight."
  5. The "Exemplary Story" Ad: In this group of ads, you create a story in which the product can really shine, showing people how they really will benefit if they had such a product at such a time. (Full disclosure: This spot is a Brogan ad--and one of my faves.)
  6. The "Benefit Causes..." Ad: This is sort of like the exemplary story ad, but in this case rather than telling the story and showing the benefit at the end, you show the benefit first, ostensibly piquing the interest of the viewer/listener, who is trying to figure out what wonder product caused this great benefit.
  7. The "Presenter" Ad: In this case, a presenter or talking head or person dressed as a researcher or some such will explain to you the benefits of the product.
  8. The "Ongoing Characters" Ad: This one is easy, think Geico Caveman, Budweiser lizards, or Jared, etc. Create a character and stick with it for a while as the character tells us about the product, usually using humor.
  9. The "Symbol/Exaggerated Graphic Benefit" Ad: Just like number two, in which the advertisers exaggerate the problem they can fix, these ads exaggerate (or symbolize) the benefit that the product offers.
  10. The "Associated User Imagery" Ad: In these ads, you convince people they want to be like Mike, but usually in more subtle ways. By showing the types of people that use the product (and, of course, their highly toned abs), people who want to be like them will buy the product. (Laugh, if you will, but it works.)
  11. The "Unique Personality Property" Ad: These ads point out something that is a characteristic of the product and highlight it. This could be a bad name, like Smuckers, or a German engineering, like BMW.
  12. The "Parody" Ad: Very popular today, these ads take pop culture, twist them and put them into ads. These ads can be very funny, or not so much.
So the big question: Is this true and accurate? Gunn believes knowing the 12 types can be helpful to the harried creative struggling for an idea to pitch. Perhaps. The first comment on Slate was from someone adding two more, including "oddvertising" and "self-aware" advertising (like Joe Isuzu). Putting aside the fact that Joe Isuzu ads didn't really sell cars very well, I believe they were comparison ads wrapped in humor.

At the same time, arguing that there are only so many 'big ideas' is not limited to advertising. In novel writing (an area with much more license than you can find in a 30-second spot), some claim there are only 36 unique plot lines. In fact, I own writing software based generally on these limitations of ideas.

My thoughts: These are pretty big categories. I suspect that just about every ad I've ever seen could fall into one of them. At the same time, I don't believe that limits the profession. There can still be highly effective types within each category, just like there are bombs within each category. So to me, it boils down to a fun way to watch the TV and critique the ads--but weren't we all doing that already?

~Jim Tobin
Life Is Marketing