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Liking it or not isn’t always the issue; ‘Does is it work?’ is

I can remember one particular meeting, a few years ago, in which we were presenting a logo/corporate ID design to a new client. These designs had been in development for several weeks, and were the product of extensive competitive research and industry analysis. Upon presenting our designs, we explained the thought process behind the font that was used, the color scheme, the reason one letter in the company name was slightly elevated over the rest and what associations this logo was meant to induce in the minds of consumers.

After graciously hearing us through and examining the logo for a few seconds, our new client looked up and said “I don’t like it.”

We pressed a little. What about this logo wasn’t working? Did he think it would leave consumers with the wrong impression? Is it too modern-looking? To corporate-looking? Did the color scheme carry some negative connotation of which we weren’t aware?

“I just don’t like it,” he said.

This slightly comical scenario brings up and interesting point — do you, or your audience, have to like an ad for it to be effective? Many marketing professionals will tell you that the “likeability” of an ad has little relativity to its effectiveness. This is a valid point of view. A major goal of an ad or commercial is to generate awareness of the product, service or cause for which the ad was created. More accurately, an ad is supposed to make an impact on the target audience. Obviously, you don’t have to “like” an ad for it to be impacting.

For instance, when testing was conducted on one particular television commercial that we were about to produce, the target audience (teenagers) overwhelmingly said they “didn’t like” the ad. However, when probing deeper, we found that the reason they didn’t like the ad was because of a consequence suffered by the main character in the commercial, which was exactly the effect we were trying to achieve. The kids said they didn’t like the ad, but the ad itself proved extremely impacting.

To further demonstrate this point, let’s step back in time about 15 years. Remember when the Infiniti line of luxury cars was launched? The first commercials featured picturesque landscapes and soothing, Zen-like scenarios, with only a soft voiceover mentioning the automobiles. Needless to say, these ads didn’t do much to move sales. With hindsight, it is easy to see the flaws in the strategy.

However, those commercials would have never made it to the airwaves if they didn’t test well in focus groups and were generally “liked” by the target audience. Although launched at the same time, the failure of Infiniti’s initial ad campaign to impact the audience doomed the brand to play catch-up with Lexus for years. So, even though testing demonstrated that the ads were “liked,” they proved terribly ineffective.

However, before you’re sold on the notion that “likeability” doesn’t translate into effectiveness, let’s consider another point of view. One goal of advertising may be to generate awareness, but another, equally important goal, is to establish your brand’s positioning within the marketplace.

Let’s say you produce a highly memorable commercial, but for whatever reason, it really turns people off. Your brand will be remembered, but it will be associated with an “unliked” commercial, most likely hurting sales.

The recent “Mr. Six” campaign for Six Flags themeparks featured a breakdancing octogenarian. The ads were among the most memorable, highly- recalled campaigns of the year.

However, attendance at Six Flags locations subsequently experienced no real increase. Many parents found the “Mr. Six” character to be creepy and disturbing, not an image to be associated with family-friendly entertainment. Parents didn’t “like” the ads, and the Six Flags brand seems to have suffered. However, Six Flags has chosen to stick with the Mr. Six campaign, launching a new series of ads this summer. Six Flags obviously believes their audience will warm-up to the concept. Attendance this summer will ultimately prove their suppositions right or wrong.

So should we strive for advertising that is “liked” or not? Is it really important? The answer is that this question cannot be answered in a vacuum. Rather, the answer is dependent on the nature of the product, service or cause that underlies the ad. You don’t have to “like” a drunk driving commercial for it to be effective (in fact, you probably shouldn’t like it). However, to buy a luxury car, or try a new brand of beer, “likeability” is a key element. Like so many aspects of marketing, there is no silver bullet that will work in every situation. The necessity of “likeability” must be determined on an ad hoc basis. The major point to be taken from this column is — don’t kill an ad just because you don’t like it, or run it just because you do. Along the same lines, if you feel your audience needs to “like” the message you’re putting forth, don’t let yourself be convinced that “liking” an ad is not important, either.

And, oh — we redesigned the logo our client didn’t like. The second round design is still in use five years later, so I guess everybody liked it.

Tim Mask is senior account planner at Maris, West & Baker advertising in Jackson. He can be reached at tmask@mwb.com.

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