Combating Ad Burnout

Combating Ad Burnout

What makes an ad forgettable?

Call it burnout or call it tune-out, the best expression of that phenomenon I’ve ever heard is not some complex verbal dissertation but just a very simple sound. I think Charles Shultz demonstrated it perfectly whenever we heard the familiar “wah wah wah” used to characterize the voice for every adult in a Peanuts cartoon. Kids are notorious for tuning out their parents, who often come across to them as nagging or monotonous.

But why do adults tune out certain voices, perfectly good faces or entire print ads? The answer is similar: over-saturation. Ever think your spouse just isn’t listening to you? That’s because he or she isn’t! A major medical study not long ago revealed that spouses, after only a few years of marriage, actually start to tune each other out. How many times have you sat across from your significant other thinking, “I know your lips where moving but I have no idea what you said”? By any other name, the effect is still tune-out…someone simply ignoring sameness, like not noticing the dining room wallpaper after a while.

This behavior is not limited to the home. Anything that becomes too familiar eventually gets tuned out. As a writer and producer of commercial material, this is something of which I am constantly aware and need to guard against everyday for my clients.

There is a school of thought that says it isn’t until people are nearly sick of something that they start to remember it. I’m not sure that’s the way I want to be remembered and this philosophy can work against you. There’s a radio ad for donating your car to a charity that I hear all the time. I don’t just mean that they play it all the time…I mean I hear it all the time. It’s stuck in my head when I wake up, while I’m working, during meals, at bedtime, all the time! Through a single, unchanging, mind-numbing spot, they have driven their irritating children’s chant into my head, past the point of burnout, to where the only feeling I have left is that I’d rather drive my car off a cliff than give it to them!

Unless you’re lucky enough to be in a large advertising market, with a fistful of dollars, you probably share in a mere handful of voiceover talent most of whom work at the local radio stations or can be seen on the local cable channel. Most businesses in the community use these same people year after year to promote a variety of products and services. The same holds true for local agencies and producers who develop their repetitive ‘bread and butter’ formulas for both commercials and print ads, all but relegating creativity to second class citizenship. It’s not long before an audience can forget what they’ve seen or heard as easily as they can forget what they ate for breakfast yesterday.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of keeping your advertising material fresh in order to make your product or service stand out. The use of out of market voices, producers or agencies can reinvent your ads virtually overnight, snapping your audience back to consciousness and making your message effective again. Many times, this can be accomplished for the same amount or even less than you are paying now!

Here are some things you can do to assure that your advertising dollar remains an investment and doesn’t become an expense:

  • Use fresh talent on your radio or T.V. spots, preferably from out of market. Your old spokespersons may have outlived their effectiveness and have become like Shultz’s “wah wah wah” sound.
  • Try another producer or agency with new ideas and creative designs.
  • Change your ads frequently, whether you rotate several broadcast spots or update printed specials on a timely basis. You don’t need to alter your image or core message in order to keep your content fresh.
  • Create advertisements that do not ‘blend in’ with others on the page or in the broadcast stop-set.
  • Open your mind to different approaches and think with at least one foot outside ‘the box’.

There are hundreds of qualified professionals outside your immediate advertising market and probably some good ones you haven’t tried right in your own backyard. Present day electronics make excellent service viable from almost anywhere so broaden your horizons and see just how effective some new sizzle on your old steak can be.


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