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Some CE Ads Just Dont Add Up

The following is offered with apologies to MGM’s “That’s Entertainment”:

When one tries

To offer them some great buys

And you say

It’s just for this holiday

And you’re so nice

That you’ll beat any price

(beat, beat)


Or at least that’s retail advertising. A multipage newspaper insert with a host of products at rock bottom prices must be very effective because that’s what all the major retailers put out.

Of course that goes totally against what they taught in Advertising 101 at New York University. Ads, we learned, have to grab the reader’s attention, show why the product is needed and provide at least a clue as to where it can be purchased.

But perhaps with consumer electronics and major appliances, that approach really isn’t needed anymore. A simple “Sharp DVD Player at $149, New Lower Price,” or “GE 25 Cubic-Foot Side-by-Side With In-Door Ice & Water just $799, Save $200 After Rebate,” is enough to bring in the customers.

Of course I only get to see the ads in the red hot New York metro market, where over the last decade we’ve garnered a lot of new stores but from a lot fewer dealers.

Still, I see a lot of ads from dealers and most particularly from manufacturers that at least make a stab at selling brand image and, to a lesser degree, benefits.

As for image, I guess right now that Panasonic and RCA/Thomson are on top. Panasonic offers a constant message with their “Just Slightly Ahead of Our Time” motto. As for RCA, Martin Holleran, who was put in charge during the lamented GE era, did at least one big thing right when he brought in Chipper as Nipper’s little helper.

Sharp’s “Sharp Minds,” and Toshiba’s “In Touch With Tomorrow” tag lines are certainly worth a mention. But I wish someone would please tell me what Philips’ “Let’s Make Things Better” is supposed to mean. Is this a call for me to personally get involved in Philips product design — you know, like “Ask what you can do for your country”? If so, how? This is the kind of thing one hangs like a banner in a factory. But to be fair, maybe it’s just a bad translation from the original Dutch.

TiVo appears to be a marvelous product that’s being promoted by an ad agency that apparently doesn’t understand it. All the ads I see on TV stress that “at last” I actually can own a product that I can program to record TV shows for later viewing. The TV spots place TiVo ($200-and-up plus the monthly subscription fee) up against a $70 VCR rather than emphasize all the whiz bang features.

I think Dell has a winner with Steve trying to sell Mr. and Mrs. Feffercorn on their son Jeff’s need for a PC. As explained by Jeff, the $799 model he has his eye on is powered by an Intel Pentium III processor. The bad news is that Dell started running this ad just about the time that Intel’s Blue Man TV ads stopped promoting “The Power Of Three” in favor of their equally incomprehensible touting of Pentium IV. That’s a switch that must have cheered Dell to no end, as now it is trying to sell what is clearly a soon-to-be obsolete product.

No, not only do I fail to grasp the point of the Blue Man commercials, I didn’t even know who they were until I saw the Luxor hotel’s ads for them during the last Consumer Electronics Show. And it was only last month that I discovered that there are multiple troops of Blue Men. But that’s the price of getting older. You get a lot less hip.

While I have nothing personal against Intel — they are a fine company with strong product leadership — the Blue Man thing isn’t my first clash with their advertising efforts.

It wasn’t long after TWICE was acquired by Cahners that I started getting occasional calls from a sister publication that covered (maybe still covers) professional electronics. They held regular roundtables with industry executives and their editors, and once in a while they asked me to participate (via a short phone conversation) to offer a consumer electronics perspective on their topic.

In the middle of one such call the chief editor asked what I thought of the “Intel Inside” consumer campaign. I said that while it might influence business buyers and hobbyists, it was a wasted effort on the average consumer who would have no idea what Intel is or what having an Intel inside means. I was of the opinion that the sales person’s advice and the price had the most impact on the PC buying decision.

It was only then that I was informed that Intel’s national marketing and sales managers were in attendance at the round table. I was thanked for my comments, dismissed from the session and, as I recall, never again asked to participate.

Which of course tells you what the professionals think of my opinions of their ad campaigns.