Return To Main PageCOMMANDO LOGO

8/7/99 - Best Sellers

Movies have them. TV shows have them. Recorded music has them. Books have them. So why not ads?

I'm talking about rankings, ratings and top ten lists. The public seems to find reports of the winners and losers in the publishing and entertainment fields a form of amusement in and of itself.

However, in the ad industry, the only thing that comes close to a scoreboard is USA TODAY'S Ad Track. A spin off of USA Today's annual Super Bowl commercial Ad Track, it (via the Harris Poll service) measures the popularity of TV spots with a group of viewers.

But what does that really mean? Like all opinion polls, it's a limited sample, in this case 150 respondents. That's a pretty flimsy measure of popularity compared to the 1.8 billion dollar box office of Titanic. And even if Ad Track were an accurate gauge of popularity, who says liking an ad translates into buying what it's advertising?

It would be nice to think such a cause and effect relationship exists, but that's not the case.

Lots of people liked last year's Nissan campaign that featured a spot with flirtatious Barbie and Ken dolls. They liked Nissan's mysterious Japanese spokescharacter Mr. K and his cute Jack Russell terrier. But they didn't like them enough to buy the cars. Sales plummeted while the campaign aired despite laudatory ad trade press and award show honors.

After angry car dealers gave Nissan a reality check, they said "sayonara" to Mr. K and the CEO that championed the campaign. The replacement spots featured beauty shots of sheet metal on the road. What's more, Nissan followed up by dusting off a ten-year-old campaign concept that featured engineers discussing the merits of the cars they've designed intercut with more sheet metal. Presumably, all this car footage got those pesky dealerships off their back.

Unlike Ad Track and other ad industry popularity contests, top 10 and bestseller lists don't look at whether people liked these films, recordings and books. Nor do they report the critiques of industry opinion makers. No, these statistics simply reflect the amount of hard-earned cash spent on a selection of entertainment products. They're a record of people voting with their wallets.

That's one of the big problems with ranking advertising--people don't pay for it. Since it's free, you can only measure the sales of the products it promotes.

Well then, would people pay just to see advertising? Nope. Despite proclamations that commercials are "the best thing on television" (a line that probably got started in a network sales department), you don't see reels of Cannes winners playing an extended run at the local multiplex. And I'm sure it's no oversight that there isn't an "all commercials, all the time" cable network around.

As stated in an earlier Observation Post, while advertising incorporates (some would say cannibalizes) elements from pop culture, the public perceives the end result as something distinctly different from the programming it appears on.

With companies loath to divulge the effectiveness of their advertising, it's safe to say we won't be seeing any meaningful advertising top ten lists any time soon. And that's good news for ad agencies everywhere.

However, while the industry is free from public accountability, it still has to worry about topping the charts on client best seller lists. Just ask Mr. K.