European ads are gay (and do they work?)

In an attempt to stay awake on my first day in Holland and conquer jetlag, I spent several hours today watching television. The shows themselves are the same, because I was really just flipping back and forth between the Discovery Channel and Comedy Central, (though I did notice that MythBusters has a different guy doing voiceover than the American version). But the commercials? Awesome.

For example, I saw a car ad that I presume was talking about how modern and flexible the car was (I speak no Dutch). How modern, I pretend you ask?  Modern enough that a young woman gives her father away at a wedding instead of the reverse. That’s right: if I’m understanding this right, in Europe, they’re selling cars with gay marriage. Let’s see Ford try that one!

In a broader sense, what is interesting about watching ads in other countries is that because you can’t be sucked into the verbal message, you start focusing on elements you never really realized you were missing before.  The individual visual elements, for example; I never noticed how ads are just voiceovers with generic visuals before.  Voiceovers have all but disappeared from the narrative structure of TV programs (as opposed to the original, very voiceovered method of telling stories via radio) and yet ads still rely heavily on a 3rd-person perspective.

Is that because we can’t effectively tell a first-person, authentic narrative in an ad?  Certainly I feel like some companies have been able to: the Volkswagen ads, for example, have been tremendously successful at telling emotive stories without even using much language.  So one could argue that companies who aren’t making solid need to rethink their ad strategy.

And yet they must think that what they put out their works, right?  They are spending truly massive sums buying the airtime, and surely no company would waste so much money buying airtime to run ineffective content?

The scientist in me is curious.  I know that measuring the impact of brand advertising is difficult, since it doesn’t track to a specific sale, but some attempts have been made by marketing companies; how much is the difference between a truly world-class ad and a bad voiceover spot?  They feel different (certainly the well-told gay father ad got me thinking and noticing the car) but I wonder if they are, empirically.

Random closing side note: there are posters all over this campus featuring a woman in a bikini on a donkey wearing sunglasses.  I’m presuming they’re advertising a party of some sort, but it is amusing to consider alternatives.

2 thoughts on “European ads are gay (and do they work?)”

  1. Hi Matt,

    Here is the link to the “gay” commercial http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pwN-yiho4M . The pay-off for this ad is: Times have changed, so has the Twingo (Twingo has been around for a long time). The actual message Renault wants you to hear is that “everybody has the right to be who they want”. Also, I think Renault is known for supporting the gay community for some time now.

    I personally think it is brave for a car manufacturer to openly support the gay community. Whether it pays off in terms of car sales, I don’t know 🙂

  2. I agree, Dirk, it is brave – and something I’d love to see more of in America. Too often business are rewarded for expressing no opinion, no brand, and being as bland as possible so as to be palatable to the greatest number of people. But when I think about the products I really identify with and will continue to use, all of them stand for something larger than just their products. If Tom’s has taught anyone anything, it is that a company can have a mission and still be a financial success.

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