9 Questions We Answered About Ads, Brands and Marketing

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For the last week, The Atlantic Business has been running a special series on advertising, with a dozen articles and essays on creating ads, judging ads, shopping with our smartphones, and understanding the surprising marketing motives in the entertainment industry. If you missed our coverage, get the highlights here.

1: Can a Commercial Be Too Sexy For Its Own Good?

Answer: Yes. Ask the folks who designed Axe's campaign around dorky guys covering themselves with body spray to attract hot girls.

The campaign was an instant hit, and Axe quickly became the No. 1 male brand in the total antiperspirant/deodorant category, earning Unilever $71 million in sales in 2006 ($50 million more than its closest rival, Tag) and $186 million (excluding Walmart sales) in 2007, an increase of 14 percent from a year  earlier -- which was leagues ahead of its nearest rival. What's more, sales of the brand's other products shot up as well, because body sprays are often used as a "training fragrance," and if a young male cottons to a brand, he's more likely to buy other products from the same company (what we in the industry call "the halo effect").

However, the brand's early success soon began to backfire. The problem was, the ads had worked too well in persuading the Insecure Novices and Enthusiastic Novices to buy the product. Geeks and dorks everywhere were now buying Axe by the caseload, and it was hurting the brand's image. Eventually (in the United States, at least), to most high-school and college-age males, Axe had essentially become the brand for pathetic losers and, not surprisingly, sales took a huge hit.

2: Are Movies in the Box Office Business?

Answer: No. Movies are in the TV business. In 2007, worldwide MPAA studio receipts totaled $43 billion. U.S. box office accounted for less than 10 percent of that haul. The world's multiplexes accounted for a little more than 10 percent. "The other 80 percent now came from the ubiquitous couch potato who was viewing his movies at home via DVDs, Blu-rays, pay-per-view, a digital recorder, cable channels, or even network television," Edward Jay Epstein wrote.

movie biz.png3: Do Fact-Based Ads or Emotional Ads Work Better?

Answer: Probably emotional ads, says science. But it depends on what you want and how old you are.

The literature on rational versus affective advertising is very long and mostly inconclusive. Some studies suggest we care more about rational ads for things we need, like medicine, and are more receptive to emotional ads for things we simply want, like clothes. But another study by Aimee Drolet & Patti Williams & Loraine Lau-Gesk showed that, whereas younger consumers prefer emotional ads for "hedonic" products (beer and cologne) and fact-based ads for "utilitarian" products (pain relievers and investment plans), older consumers prefer affective ads for just about everything.

4: How Do You Make a Funny Ad That Translates in Every Language?

Answer: Humor is culturally specific. Puns travel badly. But gender stereotypes are universal.


5: How Will Smartphones Change Shopping?

Answer: By acting as your personal shopping assistant, consumer researcher, and coupon counter.

You are now walking into the store armed with a mobile device that is loaded with the retailer's app. By "checking in" as you walk through the door, you automatically earn reward points that are stored on your phone and can be used later to buy merchandise. Meanwhile, the app is crunching through the latest web-wide trends, reviews, buzz, stories and specs available - and guiding you to products that are the best fit for you.

Your app also takes your social preferences into account. It knows what your friends like and what they have purchased, which could come in handy if you are looking for a pair of shoes just like the ones your friend has. The app keeps track of the music you like, the activities you enjoy, the brands you "follow" and the type of overall person you are. It'll know not to guide you to that navy cashmere sweater if ripped denim is more your style. And no need to keep track of coupons. When you check out, reward points and coupons will automatically be applied to your purchase.

6: What Will Be the Game-Changer in Mobile Technology?

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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