Has the “transparency craze” killed marketing?

89304057 One of my favorite TV commercials right now is for Chef Boyardee Ravioli.  The family is sitting around the kitchen island, and the kid is happily eating his ravioli.  The dad is reading the can and marveling that the ravioli actually is jam-packed with healthy ingredients.  

As he tries to tell his wife this good news, demonstrating their tag line, "Obviously delicious, secretly nutritious" she keeps banging the hanging pots and pans with her wooden spoon, clearly not wanting the child to hear that the ravioli is good for him.  (view the spot by clicking here)

The spot cracks me up.  I laugh or at least grin every time I see it.  And, I now know their tagline.  But not once…I swear to you, not once did I actually think that they were a family.  I knew they were actors.  But the spot still worked.

Remember Madge?  She wasn't really a manicurist.  How about Mr. Whipple?  He didn't really work at a grocery store.

So flash forward to 2010.  Best selling author Jennifer Belle launches a new book and she wants to create some buzz.  Authors understand that unless they're John Grisham, they need to take responsibility for a lot of their own marketing.  And Belle did.  She held auditions and hired 40 actresses to situate themselves all over New York City's high traffic areas and "read" her book, laughing hysterically.

This story hit the New York Post and the commenters were, for the most part, aghast and declared with indignation that they'd never buy her book now.  Because she was, in essence, faking it.

So I'm curious about your take on this.  Isn't much of traditional advertising "faking it" with actors?  Do you think we tolerate it because we know it's fake whereas a woman on a subway laughing is in essence tricking us?

Do you think Belle's stunt was brilliant marketing or trickery?  Would hearing this story impact your interest in her new book?

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16 comments on “Has the “transparency craze” killed marketing?

  1. This sounds like a wonderful way to get attention and create a little controversy – which sometimes works and sometimes backfires. It takes creativity and guts to make a splash in today’s crowded marketing environment.

    Meanwhile, I like that commercial too, and the one where the little girl spells vegetables and asks the mother what the word is. These commercials and others may make me smile, and I might remember a particularly catchy slogan. But yes, we know they’re actors and the commercial itself rarely makes me want to buy a specific product.

    Yes, commercials and marketers use actors; they are “fake” scenarios that are often more entertaining than influential. But that’s not always a bad thing.

  2. Desiree J says:

    I do enjoy that commercial, but would never buy the product for my son. We all know it’s full of processed meat and who knows what else. It comes off like Chef Boyardee is desperately trying to jump on the “healthy” train and get people to fall for this pitch. I actually see it as more of a farce than a novelist drumming up some controversial buzz with an out of the box idea.

  3. That’s just good guerrilla marketing right there.

    The only time you’re going to get in trouble for misrepresentation is when you as a company try to impersonate a buyer of your own product.

  4. …and no, transparency has not killed marketing.

  5. Tony Tiernan says:

    I think it does raise a bigger issue though. For a lot of customers, the word “marketing” has become synonymous with trickery and deception – an unfortunate legacy of the days of interruption marketing. There’s a hunger for straight-talk, honest value and differentiation that’s real.

  6. Bob says:

    I think Belles stunt is wonderful – she created Buzz, she tried something different, she got media attention and you know what they say, any publicity is good publicity.

  7. I think that’s a fantastic stunt to be honest, and anyone wringing their hands over it needs to take a long look in the mirror.

    The issue here isn’t transparency, it’s the fact that the internet has given people a public voice so they can air every petty grievance or mindless moan. It’s hilarious and tragic what some people come out with.

  8. Blueduder says:

    Very thought-provoking post, Drew. In my opinion, the outrage incited by Ms. Belle’s guerrilla marketing tactic derives from the fact she introduced marketing into people’s lives without any invitation or pre-established understanding.

    There is a predominately unspoken agreement between business and consumer where business is “allowed” to market to consumers in certain arenas. When a consumer opens a magazine, turns on the television, peruses the internet, listens to the radio, or sees a city bus or billboard, they fully expect to be inundated with advertising. That they want to watch TV means they must endure an onslaught of commercials (enter DVR discussion) – this is the deal.

    Ms. Belle circumvented this agreement, attempting to surreptitiously market to consumers without them first agreeing to or acknowledging the fact they would be consuming advertising. Thus, that element of deception might offend some folks.

    Even so, it was a highly effective (and likely inexpensive) PR stunt that obviously achieved its intended goal – it generated considerable buzz. Furthermore, of those people who claimed they’d never read her book, I guarantee many of them will forget this stunt months or years from now, see Ms. Belle’s book on the shelf or Amazon and think, “Hey, I remember hearing about this book. I think I’ll buy it.”

  9. Vanessa,

    That’s a good point — just all of this publicity around the “controversy” has to be good for her book. I wonder if that was part of the plan all along?

    Drew

  10. Desiree,

    Hmm, that’s an interesting point of view. So for you, the TV commercial is actually less credible because of the “marketing spin” in the message. That ties to the point that Tony raises about the assumption that marketing = trickery.

    Do you react that way to all TV spots or just the ones where you can see through their claim?

    Drew

  11. Scott,

    So for you — it’s just like a 3D TV commercial — but live? Does it matter that you don’t really know it’s a commercial?

    Drew

  12. Tony,

    I think you’re right — it does ask a bigger question. Following your line of logic (which I don’t disagree with) — do you think that eventually, marketing as we know it today will no longer be tolerated?

    Will word of mouth end up being the only acceptable form of pitching your product or service?

    Drew

  13. Sara says:

    I am on the fence with this one. Word of mouth marketing matters (especially when it comes to books) and Belle’s tactic is hilarious (in line with her genre). However, it feels a little bit like a fake testimonial, which we all know is a huge faux pas. Maybe she should have asked her friends and family to participate for free instead of hiring actors.

  14. Chanel says:

    I read about this elsewhere, and was shocked. Sounds like the pig farmers should have hired you guys instead!

    For some reason, I am suddenly driven to go out and buy some bratwurst…

  15. Amanda says:

    Personally, I’ve never been a fan of commercials that take a campy approach to someone in the family being a fool, whether it’s the dumb dads in so many spots, or kids being outwitted into eating healthy like their moms.

    I think the book scenario is fine, it’s true that authors have to find ways to stand out, from bringing their own platform and audience to the table to creative ways of garnering attention.

    I think transparency is a separate issue, as advertising has always been about creating a scenario that invites attention and interest, not necessarily about educating consumers about a product. I think with this user-based, consumer-review trending landscape, the transparency will be far more tilted toward products and service, than to the marketing of those things.

    Chipotle is a great example, people loved their ads, but then when it revealed that they weren’t quite as hardcore natural and locally sourced as they presented, there was backlash.

    Great, thought provoking post, sorry for the novel-length comment.

    1. Always glad to have comments — short or novel length!

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