Monday, June 2, 2008

I Still Hate These Billboards!

Remember how I hated this billboard?

Well, that old post got a pointed comment last week that I thought was worth highlighting. Here's what the commenter had to say:

The irony is, of course, is that you actually had enough of an emotional reaction to the billboard to take a picture of it and write about it. Indifference is the worst possible outcome for any advertising campaign. All you've done is amplify the power of their ad buy.

The commenter's guiding idea here is the old maxim that "any publicity is good publicity." Like a lot of old maxims, however, there is not a lot of connection between this one and the real world. Short of people who make their living by positioning themselves as "extreme" -- punk rock musicians, say, or members of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation -- bad publicity is generally just bad publicity. Ask anyone at Arthur Anderson or Bear Stearns, for instance, how much all that free publicity helped.

The idea that I "amplified the power of the ad buy" implies that some of you gentle readers jumped ship to a new financial institution on account of how I pointed out that its marketing campaign stinks. Anyone? No?

Really, my guess is that the good folks down at the credit union would be horrified to realize how negative an impression their ad campaign is making. Actually, no. My guess is that most of the folks at the credit union are already embarrassed about the ad campaign, but that the clueless suits who are paying for it would be horrified. I thought about sending them a letter, but people always get mad at me when I try to be helpful like that.

The problem, Commenter -- thanks for reading and contributing, by the way -- is that your approach accidentally advocates passive acceptance of advertising messages. A logical extension of the just-ignore-it argument would be "don't talk about advertising with children; you'll just call their attention to it." That doesn't work. Advertising, perhaps more than anything else, is richly in need of conscious attention and active critique. If something stinks in the room, it's usually a good idea to talk about it.

That being said, let me tell you about how

I Still Hate These Billboards!

This one is next door to The Company. (Yes, that's a gang tag on a doughnut shop. I work in a classy neighborhood.)

Rewards Checking Woman was passively ecstatic and grateful; Rewards Savings Boy is active in his exhuberance. He is so happy with his bank account, he's all in your face about it. Happy Person Advertising doesn't even have a narrative, and it manages to cast people in gender roles. That's some trick.


And this one looms over Cinemagic, on Hawthorne.

She's hot. She's winking. She's giving you the thumbs up. She wants you. She has nothing to do with personal finance. Happy Person Advertising drags its trail of slime across a perfectly respectable old movie theater.


The Calico Cat said...

Well, I hate billboards in general - I don't care if they are advertising a bank, a movie, or a lost child!
(I live in a "planned" community - code for far too many rules for our own good - where even the gas signs have a height restriction that is short by any stretch of the imagination.)

d said...

commenter is right in one regard. the point of any 'art'(and i use that term very loosely) is to evoke a reaction. positive or negative, it doesn't really matter as long as the viewer remembers it. so, you may not shop at rivermark because you hate their advertising so much, but you've brought their great low rates to the attention of a lot of other people who may not've known about them before.

Anonymous said...

I can't get enough of these great low interest rates on CD's and savings accounts! Wow! Amazing!

Rebel said...

I can't remember where it is, but there's a billboard somewhere for one of our state's fine universities and on it there's a bubbly young lady in a short skirt leaning over with her hands at her waist and I swear it looks like she's about to take her skirt off. Um yeah. I think you *should* write a letter ... who knows you might even get a postcard out of the deal.

The [Cherry] Ride said...

I atually saw that Billboard with Rewards Savings Boy when I was in town 2 weeks ago and my gaydar went to 10.

Nichim said...

I have to say, I see all three of these billboards on my way to school every day and they are so yucky to me that I turn away in disgust before I even register what they are trying to sell me. I mean, sure, the words go into my brain, but they're 80% obscured by "yick, go away, creepy fake happy stock photography people, I'm trying to ride my bike, here." I'm not sure I could have told you what they were for. Of course, it doesn't really say, right? Just some numbers and an acronym. Must be something about managing my money. Double yick. Best to keep my eyes on the road.

Yankee in England said...

While I would agree that most bad publicity is just bad publicity, in the case of the Catholic Church, or any church for that matter it just happens they are somewhat more vocal, bad publicity=good publicity. Never have I been so interested to read a book or see a film as when a church has come out against it a heresy.

Rex Parker said...

Having vast experience with this kind of commenter, let me just say what you should have said: f@#$ him/her. Seriously. What kind of condescending @#!# takes time out of his/her day to lecture you (wrongly) about how advertising works?


PS I totally have a Rivermark "Rewards Checking" account now. I told them "Michael5000 sent me!"

gl. said...

i noticed the new billboards and thought, "augh! i wonder what michal5000 has to say about that?" and here you are! :)

Bridget said...

Yes, I too dislike those billboards. And yet, the first time I saw the one with "happy sexy chick with thumb up" I thought,

"Wow, that's a cute top!" and then

"I wonder if a red top like that would look good on me?"

followed by,

"I wonder where I can get one?"

with a concluding thought of

"Oh, that's one of those awful credit union billboards, isn't it? Oh well."

Kent White said...

Hi - I used to do marketing for a credit union in the Portland area. The thing about credit unions in general, and Rivermark in particular, is that they are surprisingly responsive. If you phoned or e-mailed them and pointed them to this blog, odds are they would seriously consider changing out the boards. Credit unions hate making people unhappy. Give it a go - you've got nothing to lose but a baord you (and others) hate.

Anonymous said...

God, M5000, now you've amplified the power of a gang tang too. Swindling unwitting readers into signing up for a credit union AND promoting violence and vandalism! You are the source of all of the world's problems!!!!!!!!!

Hey, do you know where I can find a credit union with 5% APY???

Michael5000 said...

@d, mrs.5000: Actually, I think they were hoping you would remember their great high rates, not their low rates.

@Nichim: I hate and fear the creepy fake happy stock photography people. My favorite CFHSPP, though, are a Vietnamese-American family who like to cluster around their minivan. They use my credit union, and also an online money-related service I have an account with. I was surprised to see on a recent trip to Michigan that they are also patrons of a department store chain there. That wholesome ethnic family really gets around!

@Rex: Eh, I figure it's a public forum, anybody can lecture me about anything they want to. I'm just happy somebody's taking the time to read this stuff.

@gl.: I'm like clockwork!

@Bridget: I bet you would look great in a red top like that! I wonder if the billboard was a joint enterprise between the Credit Union and the Acme Red Top Company?

@ZG: I bet you are right. I've thought about contacting them, but I feel kind of shy about it for some reason.

@MDIC: You've discovered the secret gangsta agenda behind the L&T!

The thing about 5%APY is, if you have enough money in your credit union that you are concerned about the interest rate on savings, you seriously need to get you an IRA. Make a billboard for me when you hit 8%APY.

Anonymous said...

**I thought about sending them a letter, but people always get mad at me when I try to be helpful like that.**

Go ahead and send them a letter. It might be self-defeating b/c they'll know that you cared enough to do it, and therefore continue this type of marketing.

I'm pretty sure they wouldn't discourage the critique of the ad. Anyone worth a damn in marketing has to have a pretty thick skin.

I didn't suggest that the billboard should be ignored or passively accepted. It's a uncontroversial commercial message that you can choose to ignore, love or hate. Let's face it: it's a checking account at a local credit union. Not exactly thrilling stuff.

To compare attention generated from these billboards to the publicity generated from the collapse of major financial institutions is somewhat ridiculous. I'm sure that the buzz Rivermark has created is much more beneficial for this credit union and its members rather than, say, the attention generated by WaMu for gobbling up a lot of bad mortgages and destroying their brand. But you might think WaMu's ads are better. They have (or had) a lot more resources than Rivermark does.

Nobody's life is being ruined by these billboards, even if they hurt your eyes and sensibilities about what you consider to be good advertising.

I've enjoyed both of your blog posts on the subject. We'll just have to respectfully disagree here.