Friday, August 11, 2023

Running on Emptiness.

For a few decades now we've been hearing about the prevalence and perils of empty calories. 

They're calories that come from food and drinks that are loaded with sugars, fats and chemicals but provide virtually no nutritional value.

Think about washing your breakfast of Pop-Tarts down with an eight-ounce glass of Hawaiian Punch. Or watching the big game while dipping Tostino's Pizza Rolls in Hidden Valley Ranch ranch dressing. Or two 7-11 franks and a 64-ounce frozen orange Slurpee.

Most people who care--at least somewhat--about their health, well-being and, yes, longevity, take measures to avoid empty calories. They're proof that you can be both dangerously fat and dangerously malnourished.

It occurred to me moments ago, that most advertising provides the communications equivalent of empty calories. 

Our emptiness is made up of empty words and pictures, not calories.  Still, the effect on brands and consumers is the same. Empty words and pictures are bad for your health. You can consume a lot of them and get absolutely nothing of value.

Empty messaging.

Devoid of truth.

Devoid of meaning.

Devoid of value.

Devoid of anything but buy buy buy. Shouted at the top of a pair of non-union lungs.

Most of what I read and see online and on television is empty and beige. A car that looks like every other car shot on a road that looks like every other road driven by a model that looks like every other model to a voice-over that sounds like every other voice over a musical rug that sounds like every other musical rug is an empty communication.

A spokesperson who looks like every other spokesperson telling you how much you can save through a telco bundle that sounds like every other telco bundle punctuated by eleven lines of mouse type on screen for one point five seconds is an empty communication.

I took ten minutes, literally ten minutes just now, and found these examples. I don't know what most of these words mean.  Empty.

I'm not being a hard-ass or a wise-ass. I literally don't know what half these words mean. What's more, you've given me no reason to be curious about what they mean.

In large measure, advertising exists to create a preference for a brand, product, service or person. Without providing differentiated information, preferences are almost impossible to create. Without preferences, it's hard to prefer one brand over another. Without preferences, you wind up competing on price. Most often that means your brand is in the race to the bottom.

Years ago I was asked to help a CMO create advertising for a luxury cruise line. For six months (or one-million dollars) they had worked with a branding agency and had come up with the phrase "aspirational luxury." Empty.

I got on my high horse, a nice animal btw, and said 'what does that mean?' I heard about supple leathers in the staterooms, and elegant dining and their attentive staff. Then the client said, 'we don't rush people from place to place.'

From that I wrote something like: 

Other cruise lines cruise at 30 knots per hour. 
We cruise at 29. 
A small difference.

Courtesy of the great art director, Dave Dye, and director Howard Zieff, you may want to spend some time with Zieff's reel. It's all about making brands different. Oh, and likeable. 
Oh, and memorable. You know, different.

It's not empty.

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