Monday, February 3, 2014

The Best Advertisement

Watching those expensive commercials during the Super Bowl, I reflected on the advertising I can remember from my youth. There was an old man in my town that had a flourishing repair business. His only advertisement aside from word-of-mouth was a converted filling station sign. He had painted it white and awkwardly lettered “I Fix Victrolas and Bicycles” on it in black. Regardless of this meager advertising, he always had a backlog and he was always finished with an assignment when he said he would be.

Some other advertising I recall is that as a Western Union messenger, I was sometimes called upon to pass out complimentary samples of an anti-acid to citizens. The company provided a cardboard box top for these distributions with a cotton strap. Messengers passed out little rolls of the product all over town until they were gone. I am sure that “advertisement” did not cost the company much, because messengers worked cheap. But I imagine it was effective. What better way to get acquainted with an anti-acid than to try it?

Further, I used to see homemade advertisements that were somewhat amusing, signs such as, “Far Wude 4 Sell,” or “Try Are Buger Baskits,” or “Cold Ice Water Inside.” I always wondered if some people had ice water that was not cold. I could just hear a customer complaining, “Hey, this ice water is hot.” If I have a choice, I want my ice water cold, how about you? I also used to wonder what a foreigner would understand from signs on the highway that read, “Rest Area No Rest Room.” That would probably seem a bit contradictory to someone who was not familiar with our jargon.

What about those television commercials that keep saying, “But wait, we are not done yet,” and go on doubling the offer and adding other stuff “absolutely free.” I only bit at one of these years ago and called the toll free number. The sales person kept me on the line for a half an hour trying to sell me an improved version of what I had seen on television as well as other products that she thought every American should own.

In my humble opinion, the best advertisement is the one that says, “If you do not like our product, tell us. If you do, tell others.” The bottom line is that reputation spread by word of mouth is the best advertisement possible. That can be a problem in college teaching though, where popularity of a teacher is often equated with easiness. On the contrary, as a dean, I found that often teachers were popular because the students found learning fun in their classes. I, for one, always learn better in a relaxed and playful atmosphere.

That old man with his sign, “I Fix Victrolas and Bicycles,” was highly skilled, honest and dependable. The poor quality of his sign had no bearing on the advertising that his reputation bought for him. So, why spend millions advertising at the Super Bowl? Companies should focus upon skill, honesty, and dependability and let the chips fall where they may.

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