The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Advertising is complex and difficult, but all advertising must do two things: It must inform, and it must persuade. It's astonishing how often I see commercials that ignore this.

I was driving in Palo Alto this afternoon, and twice I saw bus-side advertisements for Serramonte Mall. The sign said, "Did you know .. you can almost see Target from here?"

So what was that supposed to mean? Serramonte has a Target? Serramonte is near a Target? Serramonte overlooks a Target, and it's the most beautiful thing in Daly City (second being a view of the San Francisco Airport)? One thing is for sure, I'm not going to Serramonte if I need to shop at Target.

At least Serramonte honestly wishes to persuade shoppers to visit its establishment. I suspect the same is not true of the ACLU, which has been running an anti-Patriot Act advertisement on Slate magazine (I often see it when reading Mickey Kaus' blog). The ad starts by showing an old codger on his riding mower, with the caption "I have $23,614 in my savings account. Presumably this is supposed to fill us with terror at what the government can know about us, though I would be smugly satisfied at the idea of twenty-some grand in the till. Now if they showed him with a balance of $236.14, that might make some people furtive.

Old Mower Driver fades to a younger man, with the caption "I send money to my family in Panama." Again, who cares? Isn't supporting your distant family something to be proud of? Wouldn't you try to work it into conversations. (To be consistent with my previous criticism I suppose the copy could be "I don't support my family in Panama," but that's probably taking a good idea too far.)

What does Mr. Panama do to earn the monies destined for Western Union? Well, all we can see of him is that he's topless and rather muscular. Perhaps to the ivory tower denizens of the ACLU, this is meant to suggest manual labor. But his slicked-back hair (as well as the fact that real manual laborers dislike sunburns), suggests that he makes his living as a gay porn star.

But snarky comments about how well this plays in Peoria or Topeka are beside the point. The purpose of this ad is not to persuade people to join the ACLU; rather it is to show the existing members of that organization that their dues are put to good use, and that they should donate more.


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