I’m always amused by what gets through the review, edit and approval filters and becomes advertisement. Take the following from Capital One, for example:
Obviously, credit card companies want you to run as much money as possible through the card. That’s how they make money. So the ads they come up with remind you of all the various things you wish you could afford to buy now, if only you had the money. Naturally, these pitches follow the cresting waves of popular memes because the tie-in makes the ad more effective.
So it’s no surprise that when “bucket list” enters the cultural vocabulary there’s going to be a credit card ad based on that. Or on second thought, maybe it should be a surprise, in this particular case.
Why? Because a “bucket list” is what you plan to do BEFORE YOU DIE.
To the ad agency, this is just another meme to exploit. A meme is a meme is a meme, right?
On the other hand, suppose you’ve just been given 6 months to live and receive this ad in the mail. W00t! PARTY TIME! Let’s check off everything on the bucket list! You can’t take it with you, so why not run up as much debt as possible before checking out? And if you should expire before your purchase grace period, good news – you’ll even save the interest!
Now, I’m sure this is not how they intended it and the marketing folks would say I’m interpreting it all wrong. But to me, that illustrates the problem with the relationship between vendors and buyers these days. I live in the world where the meaning of the meme is important. Memes go viral because they resonate broadly within the culture. The meaning drives the meme. Marketers live in a world where the meaning of the meme is secondary to the ability of the meme to extract money from your wallet, assuming they consider the meaning at all. In their case the meme drives the money and the meaning is incidental.
Examples abound. Remember the cruse ship ads with the “Lust for Life” song? That’s an Iggy Pop ditty about heroin addiction. Remember when Mr. Whipple came out of retirement to tell us “about an important new breakthrough in toilet tissue?” What genius allowed the words “breakthrough” and “toilet tissue” in the same ad, let alone the same sentence? I can’t count the number of films I’ve watched that were “inspired by actual events” and then after the credits they roll the disclaimer “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”
I’ll leave you with this TED talk from Rory Sutherland in which he discusses the benefits of intangible value. I’m not opposed to the kinds of uses that he describes and am especially fond of the Shreddies ads which don’t make claims to any added value, they are just plain funny. And the idea that persuasion is more effective than compulsion is great. The problem is that most marketers take the insights Rory has revealed in this talk and run away with them, using them to control rather than to inform and influence.
Lucky for us, their efforts are often more amusing than anything else.