January 26, 2010

Wal-Mart Challenges Hopkins

"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?


  1. The yelling clown who scares kids might eliminate an entire future generation of shoppers!!

    In all seriousness, the positive of the spot is the actual yell, I cant tell you how many times my wife came running from the other room to see what was going on (who hurt themselves) only to be met with the Wal-Mart logo on screen.

    It’s a fad ad and will soon fortunately disappear for the sake of our children’s sanity.

  2. OMG -- that hurt ME! Can you spell killer klown? Stephen King, are you paying attention?

    Seriously, it's going to be remembered, but for what? "I saved money at WalMart," or "I set myself up for six months of tendon reattachment rehab?" As I recall, some of the funniest ads on Superbowl Sunday were ones where I can't remember what they were selling.

    Remember the cat ranchers spot a number of Superbowls back? Funny as heck, but what was the name of the company? I can't remember either.

    Bud Light is the champ at funny ads (Budbowl) and product recognition, with Miller a close second. I don't know, is it because it's beer? Perhaps.

  3. If Walmart is just going for high speed, short duration entertainment then they've hit paydirt.
    However as for driving traffic into the stores, how do you measure? Walmart is the only game in town in a lot of communities and I suspect our local parking lot will be just as packed with or without this spot airing.
    Walmart's need for advertising their brand is about as necessary as the local power company.

    It's still funny on its own merits.

  4. Hey, lurve your blog.

    Full disclosure: I already like WalMart.

    Hubz found this commercial online. When he showed it to me, we laughed ourselves silly for the rest of the night. (call us easily amused, but it's true.) I added the commercial to my (mostly political) blog & titled it "Funniest. Commercial. Ever."

    I don't know how many pinatas or birthday cakes this spot will sell, but I know that right now, I'm thinking about Walmart...