Good Taste In Advertising?
Quiznos Tests Taste.

Quiznos’ new ad campaign.

It made me laugh.

But it did not make me hungry.

Does that make it a bad ad?

Attempting to get noticed, brand managers approve creative that some consider edgy – others decry as bad taste or even indecent. (In this case Quiznos’ approved a bit of locker room humor that intentionally ties a sub to a male body part. There are at least two versions, one slightly sanitized for earlier time slots.)

Sometimes edgy works brilliantly, and sometimes it falls flat.  The definition of edgy is high risk, but  to be honest safe campaigns fail all the time as well. (Nothing risky about the bland  Tropicana package redesign, right? Wrong.)

Edgy creative gets noticed.  Whether it is sex, humor, bad behavior or some other outlier. And in case you haven’t noticed — ‘Noticed’ is a very difficult thing today. Consumers have their blinders up, don’t want to be bothered. Marketers end up exploring the far reaches of ‘bad taste’ to prove they have ‘good taste.’ 

So, when you are thinking about letting the whippersnappers at your ad agency do something that will get that young target market you no longer understand motivated (Kids, what’s the matter with kids today?),  what process can you use to keep from making a horrible mistake?

First: Long Term Risk assessment. If the creative goes horribly wrong, communicating the wrong message more powerfully than attracting business what is the long term risk.  Can you just pull the spot, apologize for the bad joke and move on?   Truth is, most risky creative that can get approved for mass distribution probably falls into this category. For example – Quizno’s survived the singing Rats and Cartoon Network survived the bomb scare, with casualties of course). Your target market might be full of relatively forgiving people. Maybe more forgiving of taking the risk than visa-versa. 

Second. Personal With-it Assessment. If you have started to feel about your target market like Paul Lynde felt about kids in Bye Bye Birdie. Then you should leave this decision up to someone you trust. This is not to say you should take the agency’s word for it. In addition to the stated objectives in their creative brief – drive traffic, motivate transactions, improve image, build brand… – they have their own set of objectives that can color opinions – win awards, break barriers, build career, get cooler client…. While those additional objectives usually work in your favor, when dealing with edgy they can dangerous.

Third. Research. Please notice.  Started with gut above. If your research budget is limited then the conclusions you draw about a dramatic change or edgy stance will be limited. If your research budget is unlimited, then there is a good chance it will be biased against edgy. (Research is great at knowing what was and what is. Terrible at figuring out what will be.) If you want to stand out, you are going to have to take a bit of a leap.

Focus groups are qualitative, not quantitative. Therefore they are a source of inspiration not decision. In the case of ‘edgy’ you might be able to get a picture of what kind of ‘group think’ to expect.  (One person becomes explosively angry at the spot – so goes the group.) Or potential for unexpected interpretations. (Does Quizno’s know what picture I now get when I hear their name?) And even how edgy is it – (We all LOVE this idea is unlikely to be edgy.)

Quantitative research can let you know if you are connecting with your target group and to what extent you might be offending or putting off other groups.  It is unlikely to give you a good idea of what kind of group think may occur driving backlash through the web. You may be able to get a read on awareness, but actual behavior changes are very difficult to read.  So understanding the tradeoff between lost traffic due to disgust vs new traffic due to cool still plays out in real life.

Neurological research is coming on fast.  Getting a direct brain read is cool, but what behavior results if you light up the College Prank cortex? (Fun post about wiring a shopper up to an EEG machine…)

Fourth: Reward Assessment. So, Quizno’s Torpedo has gone viral creating a multiplier effect on their advertising budget of say, 500%. And let’s just pretend that the ad works for the target market driving traffic that would result in a 5% boost in sales.  So the real question ends up being, ‘What percentage of traffic is so put off by the ad that they don’t show up?’  More than 1%? Doubtful. The key to a brand manager here is the efficient use of advertising budget.  A viral campaign can have a huge multiplier effect on your exposure.

Fifth: Alternative Opportunities. Sometimes my friends, you have nothing left to lose.

Now – mash the information together.  How does it balance out? Think other thoughts should be included, say – ‘corporate responsibility,’ or ‘morality?’ 

I don’t know what the Quiznos equation looks like. As with most ad campaigns, time will tell.

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Quiznos Tests Taste.

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