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8/5/99 - Bad Addytude

A standard response hack creative directors love to fall back on when unable to logically explain why their staff's work doesn't meet their "standards," is to simply dismiss it with the damning phrase "too addy."

While these highly paid communicators are unable to articulate how the ad in question crossed the line into the "too addy" zone, it's assumed that the creators of the offending work, upon reflection, will realize the error of their ways.

"Too addy" might be interpreted to mean not sufficiently entertaining, ironic, hip, humorous, outrageous, warm, oblique, edgy, trendy--or just about anything else, save, not brand building enough.

Ironically, no matter what the "fix" is, once the ad enters the real world via the media, its intended audience is sure to identify this labored creation as only one thing--an ad. For them, "too addy" is a meaningless evaluation. It is what it is.

A large part of this response is conditioning. What can you expect when agencies' attempts to craft messages that transcend "advertising" are thwarted by the media they appear in?

For one thing, appearing in media "units" presents a formidable obstacle. Advertisers have to tell their stories within column widths and seconds while the content that surrounds them has the luxury of pages and minutes (even hours).

Of course, there have been attempts to get around these limitations, most notably by infomercials and special editorial sections that look like features but are really a collection of product plugs. A few years ago, Details magazine ran a multipage comic strip with storylines that revolved around the hip conspicuous consumption of the characters.

Among the traditional media, only out-of-home (the oldest) has the best opportunity to upstage its environment. That's because out-of-home media are perceptually on an equal footing with their surroundings. Not overwhelmed by them.

The "Godzilla" teaser campaign that compared the monster's size to surrounding objects--"His boogers are as big as this bus"--was effective in using the environment to provoke interest in the movie (not that it deserved it). And every so often, someone uses mannequin dummies on a billboard to provoke double takes from passersby and award show judges.

Besides the constraints of media space and time, another contributing factor to advertising's perceptual barrier are editorial and broadcasting "standards" which generally amount to double standards.

A previous Observation Post noted the Fox Network's hypocrisy in banning a commercial Super Bowl commercial that was no more tasteless than an old "Married With Children" episode.

The latest example of the barriers broadcasters present to advertising messages is a PSA about skin cancer sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology. It depicts a skin cancer diagnosis and treatment, concluding with the victim removing his artificial nose and cheek.

Well, this gross out kicker on was too much for the "We Love TV" network, ABC. Turning as yellow as their ads, they refused to air the spot.

While ABC got its nose out of joint about the AAD's efforts to run the spot last May during Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, they and other networks had no problem airing promos for "The Mummy" featuring a rotted corpse with a missing nose.

And, of course, networks are comfortable with their "reality" shows featuring graphic stories on plastic surgery and interviews with mountain climbers who've lost their noses to frostbite. In fact, if ABC's "20/20" or "Nightline" did a story on the subject of the AAD's spot, they'd have no problem broadcasting it.

Being at the mercy of the media's standards and practices, it's not surprising that much of the advertising produced today takes refuge in phony imagery and executions that scream "I'M AN AD!"

Fortunately, that era is about to end. The Internet offers the opportunity to shift from ad making to communicating. And if ad agencies fail to take up the challenge and remain fixated on traditional advertising, there are new marketing services, like Commando, willing to do so.

The knee jerk reaction to the Internet has been to force the ways of the old media onto the web with traditional space sales for contrived, "addy" ads.

But the real opportunity for true one- to-one communication lies in advertisers' websites. Within them the media limitations on size and content are gone. They allow companies to break down the wall separating them from their customers rather than plastering it with ads.

All of which makes you wonder why the American Academy of Dermatology hasn't posted their skin cancer spot on their own website. Perhaps their standards and practices department thought it wasn't "addy" enough.

Or maybe this was just another PSA concocted by an ad agency in order to win the appropriately titled American Advertising Federation award, the Addy.