Tue. Oct 16th, 2018

What Small Business Owners Can Learn From the Disastrous Ram Trucks Super Bowl Commercial

Imagine you are the marketing director of Ram Trucks. You have just sat down to hear a pitch from your big-time advertising agency on the creative concept for your Super Bowl ad.

“We are not going to do just another truck commercial with the usual imagery and messaging,” says the Agency’s Creative Director. “We are going to do something much bigger, something that touches the hearts and minds of truck buyers.”

You are interested, even a little excited. This could be something that elevates your brand. A game changer. “Our theme,” says the Creative Director, “is service to others.”

That could work, you think. Trucks are, after all, a service vehicle. There is a connection.

And then comes the big reveal. “The sound track for this commercial will not be provided by a male with the usual deep-throated, whisky-soaked voice,” says the Creative Director. “No, no. We are going to go with a man who spoke of service to others like no other — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Months later the commercial is ready for viewing. “It is even better than we thought,” says the Creative Director. The lights go down and the commercial begins. You hear the soaring words of Dr. King while watching slice of life images of people in the service of others. Mixed in are some images of people next to a Ram Truck and, at a high point, there is the usual beauty shot of a Ram Truck. The commercial wraps with a black screen showing a single line of text, “Built to serve” and the Ram Truck logo.

The lights come up. What do you do?

Do you trust the instincts of your advertising agency? After all, they are the pros. Or do you trust your gut?

Here’s the answer. Boil down the commercial to the core concept. Keep it short. Not more than 10 words. Forget about everything else. Do not consider the wonderful editing, the perfect casting, the spirit raising music. That is all secondary.

I would compress the Ram Truck commercial into these nine words: Use Dr. Martin Luther King to sell Ram trucks.

Now what do you think? My reaction would be swift and clear: not a chance. For every person who might buy the concept, there will be many more who will react negatively. At best, they will see the use of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s soaring oratory as inappropriate. At worst, they will be enraged by the attempt to make the civil right’s leader a shill for Ram trucks.

Use the same thinking the next time someone brings you a great advertising idea for your small business. Don’t be enticed by the prospect to be on the radio or TV for the first time. Pay no attention to all the bells and whistles as they just might be little more than “lipstick on a pig”.

Focus in on the core concept. Write it down on an empty sheet of paper, where the concept will rise or fall on its own merits. And then trust our gut.

See the actual Ram Truck commercial and make your own judgement.

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