It’s often said (and certainly when I was growing up in the 70s) that the adverts are the best things on the telly. Yes, they’re short films made to sell things, but the sheer diversity of approaches to fulfilling this basic objective is truly mind-boggling.
And of course, intentionally or not, they also say lots about the company behind the product, both in how it sees itself and how it views its potential market. In fact, in these days of heightened brand awareness and increased media savvy among TV audiences, this is perhaps the most important aspect of the advert.
Which is why you’d think that both the companies and ad agencies involved would sometimes give a bit more thought to the implications of the messages contained within their adverts. OK, so the way that people view ads is obviously a subjective experience - but one current campaign has caught my attention for all the wrong reasons…
Ford’s ‘Clever Fiesta, Stupid Dogbot’ ads have been running for over a year now, and there’s something not quite right about them. Basically, Ford has invented a robot dog to compare one of its cars against, with all kinds of indignities visited upon the unfortunate metal canine while the Fiesta sits in the background looking smugly inert.
There’s a number of ways in which these ads don’t work for me, but the most obvious is that Dogbot is actually rather cute and lovable, whereas the Fiesta is just another toaster on wheels. It just seems pretty mean-spirited (even the word ‘stupid’ seems harsh) to pick on poor old Dogbot, who after all – like a real dog – probably doesn’t know any better.
As such, these ads make me feel sorry for Dogbot while depicting the Ford brand as being self-satisfied and complicit in Dogbot’s mishaps.
Now, you might think it’s crazy that I've got myself emotionally involved with the plight of a computer animated graphic – but that’s exactly what a lot of modern adverts are designed to do. Only on this occasion, I’m assuming that this isn’t the empathetic response that Ford was aiming for.
I suppose what amazes me most is that a campaign that has clearly cost a lot of money can still be so imprecise in the message it delivers – but this doesn’t seem to be so unusual in advertising. Public relations is also a great way to promote and enhance a company’s brand values – but I can’t imagine any PR agency getting away with a campaign that was as potentially open to such a negative interpretation.
Sure, PR and advertising are different disciplines, and they go about brand building in different ways – but sometimes, you’ve got to wonder if the desire to do something ‘cool’ hasn't over-ridden basic common sense about how people relate to certain imagery.
(And it looks like Ford isn’t the only car manufacturer that’s sending mixed messages out in its adverts)