"People don't buy from clowns," said Claude Hopkins, a founding father of direct-response advertising. Now comes word from Wallet Pop that Wal-Mart is trying to prove him wrong (HT: Lindsey Brooks):
Walmart has been called many things, but "cool" was not among them -- until the retail giant unveiled its new clown commercial during Sunday's NFL playoffs. Since then, the clown ad has taken the Internet by storm. Last we checked, it was holding steady at No. 2 on the Viral Video Chart.
Some will suggest the Viral Video ranking is proof the ad is working. I've heard it before. These same claims always arise during this time, culminating when Ad Age releases its "Top 10 Best-Liked, Most-Recalled TV Spots" of the Super Bowl. If Wal-Mart chooses to spend $3 million to air its clown commercial during the Super Bowl, it may very well make the list.
But will it sell? This is the question many marketers forget to ask, and a question only DRTV marketers can really answer. Why? Because we don't have to wait six months and read tea leaves to track sales. Ever try to make a case that an ad increased retail sales? Unless you have a solid baseline and do no other advertising or merchandising for the time period in question, it's all guesswork and wishful thinking.
However, when we air a DRTV spot with viral qualities, we can answer the question empirically. Two examples spring to mind.
The first is Vince Offer's Slap Chop. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Vince's creative work is one of the most loved in history. He's mastered the art of generating buzz, going viral or whatever you would like to call it. Actually, it's the parodies of his ads that go viral. But does this increase sales? Being a visionary, Vince actually put this to the test, as reported by TMZ. He put the most popular parody of his commercial -- DJ Steve Porter's Slap Chop Rap -- on the air with an end tag to see what would happen. The results? Let's just say the rap spot won't be replacing the original spot anytime soon. Vince the Pitchman sells choppers like hotcakes. Vince the Rap Star gets people buzzing, but they aren't buying.
The second example is Doc Bottoms' Aspray (click the link if you haven't seen the spot; it's definitely worth watching). Very viral. But I predicted it wouldn't sell. The guy in the spot was so angry, he confronted me at ERA. He said he was getting a ton of calls. "What about orders?" I asked. No answer. An anonymous reader also took me to task, "Why would you mock this ad, its [sic] getting more FREE publicity than any other DRTV spot ever," he/she wrote. Well, it's four months later, and I haven't seen that publicity translate into a spot on the charts.
The bottom line is this: People love to be entertained. But the ads that amuse us are seldom the ads that sell us. A funny clown ad that doesn't strongly reinforce Wal-Mart's positioning (No. 1 in low prices) is a waste of money. Watch the ad yourself (e-mail readers click here) and let me know if you think it reaches the "strongly reinforce" bar. Will people laugh and then go shop at Wal-Mart? Or will they just laugh?