March 15, 2008

Al Eicoff and Ad Recall

As anyone who knows me can attest, I'm a big fan of direct-response history and a disciple of the "old masters" of DR going back to the turn of the last century. On occasion, however, I've heard the following criticism of my tendency to rely on their wisdom: 'Things have changed a lot since the old days; those ideas are outdated.'

Take the idea that ad recall is a poor tool for measuring an ad's effectiveness. Nearly every one of the "old masters" -- Claude Hopkins, Rosser Reeves, David Ogilvy -- has written passionately against this metric. But my favorite quote, which I recently dug up, comes from the late Al Eicoff, founder of the agency by the same name.

In his 1982 classic, "Or Your Money Back," Eicoff writes:

There have been numerous occasions when a client has come to our agency and said he was not interested in a "motivating" commercial but rather one that would acheive a high level of recall or product recognition.

Those those clients, I've always responded: "I will guarantee you the highest level of recall you've ever seen or I will pay for your entire campaign." The clients, of course, all stare at me with dumbfounded expressions and ask how I can make such an offer.

To which I've always replied: "I will make a sixty-second commercial with an Indian pounding a tom-tom and repeating the name of the product every three beats. At the end of the sixty seconds people watching the commercial will have switched stations, thrown an ashtray at the TV, or called the station to protest this incredibly obnoxious commercial. "

"But no one who sees the commercial will ever forget it."

I thought of that quote when I read a recent Wall Street Journal article titled, "Ad's Insult to Industry in China?" (link requires registration). Here's an excerpt:

The TV commercial everyone has been talking about lately in China is the one that has tested everyone's nerves ...

In the bare-bones ad, a squeaky girl's voice chirps out a triplicate list of each of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, interspersed with repetitions of the company's slogan by an adult voice. Cartoon zodiac animals hop across the screen over a plain, white background with the company's logo. As in: "Rat rat rat! Heng Yuan Xiang, official sponsor of the Olympic Games! Ox ox ox! Heng Yuan Xiang, official sponsor of the Olympic Games! Tiger tiger tiger!..."

When they first saw the ad, some people thought their TV sets were broken. Viewers savaged the commercial in print media and online, some calling it intolerable or singling it out as the worst spot they had ever seen ... Other marketers complained that consumers were changing the channel when the spot came on, ad executives say. The spot ran repeatedly on Chinese TV from Feb. 6 to Feb. 12. On Feb. 17, Heng Yuan Xiang called a press conference to explain that it had stopped running the commercial.

Here's the commercial (if you can bear to watch it):

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