Selling Underwear in 2017


Yesterday a creative director friend sent me a thought piece titled, "Has Advertising Lost Its Sense of Humor?"

It argued that humor is underutilized in messaging, whereas attempts at emotional depth run rampant, to the detriment of the brands behind them.

It struck a chord. Here's why:

I write a lot of advertising copy. A question I see clients constantly grappling with is, "How silly is too silly? How non-traditional can we go before we risk being seen as weird/irreverent?"

The default (safe) decision? Benefits-plugging language per usual, characterized by some version of "We're the best!"

Does this check the "Our brand message is out there in the universe" box? Sure. But does it RESONATE? Is it effective?

Those are different questions entirely.

My belief is that anything packaged like a traditional ad is more or less noise in 2017's crowded messaging landscape.

Now, can a traditional ad campaign still gain recognition value with audiences by being far-reaching and ubiquitous (albeit ho-hum)? Sure. But it takes a LOT of money to blanket the world with your status quo message to the point that it's absorbed by the masses.

To really get bang for ad buy bucks... to make audiences stop in their tracks or click that banner or put down smartphones long enough to absorb what you're saying...you need to surprise. You need to delight. You need to do SOMETHING to differentiate. Old school "we're better than the next guy" talk alone won't cut it.

And sometimes this differentiation (as some small, smart brands are learning) means shifting not just your language strategy but the PLATFORM on which you advertise - that is, aligning your brand with something funny or unexpected.

Exhibit A:

This morning I listened to an episode of the popular My Favorite Murder Podcast. If you're not familiar with it, it's two irreverent comedians from LA (both women, awesomely) discussing real-life murders with a mix of horror and morbid glee/curiosity.

Unsurprisingly, advertisers have signed on, and have the podcasters sorta improvise the spots. This is pretty typical in podcasting: Talent banters around advertiser-provided bullet points, injecting the copy with their trademark rapport. The end result sounds somewhere between a scripted ad and a naturally-occurring on-air aside.

A company called MeUndies took this approach - that is, provided straightforward talking points for Karen and Georgia to riff on.

I'm not sure if they got what they bargained for, but it sure is memorable:

MeUndies selects and sends you underwear. That's their business model. What they do.

Well, rather than deliver this info straight, the My Favorite Murder ladies basically MAKE FUN OF MeUndies in their half-scripted spot. They giggle over MeUndies' suggestion that underwear shopping is time-consuming. They drop a few f-bombs. They even REFERENCE VICTORIA'S SECRET - yes, in a new, young startup competitor's spot!

I can imagine the conversations that might typically take place in HQ upon hearing this audio: "This is horrible. They mention our competitor! Where's our earnest case for underwear on your front stoop!? Where's the urgency? SOMEONE GET ME COFFEE!"

Maybe those conversations went down at MeUndies. Maybe they didn't. Either way, the company was brave enough to roll with what Georgia and Karen recorded, snorting laughter and all.

And you know what? For me, it worked. I now know who MeUndies is. Even more, I like them because I associate them with a brand I like.

High-five to MeUndies for recognizing (or at least ultimately accepting) that association with a snarky brand = a snarky spot. For trusting that My Favorite Murder listeners value subversion. And finally, for being cool enough to break traditional advertising rules. I'd be curious to know how this ad buy worked out for them.

(Props to My Favorite Murder hosts Karen and Georgia, too, for being themselves rather than feigning reverence in exchange for ad dollars.)

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