’The reason you don’t understand the ads is because you’re not in
the target market.’ It’s not until someone says it to you that you
realise that this is one of the most hurtful phrases in the advertising
lexicon, implying either that you are too old or too stupid, sometimes
But that was exactly the reaction of Campaign’s esteemed former youth
correspondent, Mairi Clark, when I complained to her that I couldn’t
understand the boo.com ads, the ones which feature a group of strangely
clad geeks and nerds attempting to turn themselves into sports
In fact, when we sat down to watch the ads together, it turned out that
she couldn’t understand them either which, as I’m sure you will agree,
was a big relief. (I should add that a nice planner at BMP has explained
the strategy to me and I now understand it, although I should also point
out that this service is not available to the general public.)
I mention boo, however, not to pick on it but to make a wider point -
which is that the standard of advertising in the dotcom sector appears
to be almost universally bad: MSN, AOL, BOL, Monsterboard. Charlotte
Street, Handbag, Demon - go on, name me a decent dotcom ad if you can.
How many do you hear on the radio or see on 48-sheets and in the press?
Even if you remember the ad you think: ’Hmm, what the hell was that
Yet considering the amount of money and talent being thrown at the ads,
this is a bit of a puzzle. A colleague, the editor of Revolution,
believes that this is because most dotcom ads try to convey
interactivity and fail because this is impossible to do it in
I think the problem is more fundamental - in fact, I’d say it’s inherent
in the sector itself. Most dotcom companies consider themselves to be
iconoclasts, breaking up the old world order and ushering in a new one.
They want ads that reflect themselves as innovators and radicals - ie
edgy, cool, different, quirky or achingly hip. In fact, this self-image
leads the dotcom companies down the wrong path - from the consumers’
point of view the only real differences between them and their physical
counterparts concern price, convenience and, in some cases,
Producing advertising that is obscure, exclusive or suggests a giant
in-joke must be counter-productive.
Nor - and this is the crucial bit - do they necessarily have the time to
build an online brand the slow way, which is the best most can hope for
so long as they produce minority-interest advertising. That is because
most dotcoms need awareness, eyeballs and sales right now. Indeed, their
funding prospects may well depend on their achievements over the
Christmas season - hence the splurge in dotcom ads.
The answer for most must surely be to behave - with all that implies in
advertising and marketing terms - as though they are mass-market brands,
not quirky niche players. So let’s forget the poncy positioning stuff
and have some ads that actually sell now.