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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Here's a foolproof way to screw up a good service - Bill Bernbach in reverse

The late Bill Bernbach once remarked that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.

Absolutely true: the better a product is advertised, the faster people will try it and discover it is rubbish, thus hastening its demise. But here is Bird's corollary** to Bernbach's axiom: few things will damage a good product more than bad advertising.

I'm not saying it will kill it but I guess if you waste enough money on the wrong messages you could go broke before the product had a chance to succeed.

All of which brings me to the picture here, which promotes BE broadband.

Now, this may well surprise many creative people but research shows that when they see a picture of a sumo wrestler near the word sumo, normal people, amazingly, think the message is about sumo.

Having got that far, if the sumo wrestler is having a tug of war with a number of people, only the most imaginative will conclude that the advertisement is about broadband.

This is a shame, because what BE offer is, as far as I can make out, very fast broadband speeds, and a service so good that it has won an ISPA award.

I believe there are millions in this country who are deeply frustrated by the rotten service they get from broadband providers. BT's speeds at my flat are so slow they are almost in reverse. When we switched to Virgin we lost caller ID and TV subtitles. A colleague would happily shoot everyone at TalkTalk, who are all words and no action.

If I am right, BE have what the late Gary Halbert called the ultimate marketing advantage: a starving crowd. But what they hunger for is better broadband, not sumo wrestlers.

When I ran a large creative department people would show me their ideas and - if I seemed puzzled - often say, "Let me explain".

I would then reply, "Sadly, logistic and budgetary constraints prevent us from sending you round to every prospect to explain what the f*** you had in mind when you thought this up."

I think that if BE said something dull and uncreative like, "Faster broadband speeds or your money back" they might do a little better.

If they wanted to be a little imaginative (they have a good story, carefully concealed) they could explain how the big providers actually slow down their speeds. That would turn customers' justified resentment into sales.

** My partner, who has a Phd in philosophy, says this is not a corollary, but I don't care. It deserves to be.

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