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The Megaphone Effect

by on March 5, 2011

One of the biggest rules for gaining an audience is not to underestimate it.
Nobody wants to be talked down to on television, so why should the opposite be true about advertising? It seems that there can never be such a thing as too much marketing, and that there is a direct correlation between ads and success. In reality, this straight line is more of a bell curve, increasing and decreasing the farther you move away from a central point. Obviously, you need to inform people about a product, or else no one will know what it is or where to get it. In that sense, advertising is necessary to get a show off the ground and maintain an audience. But how much is too much? Is it safe to say that there is a line where simply informing the viewer turns into an offensive and desperate assault?

This is something I like to call the Megaphone Effect. Advertising is like a megaphone; it gets the word out successfully to multitudes of people from a single location, but a megaphone is also irritating, meaning it needs to be used strategically to get the desired results. Using a megaphone once or twice from the wrong location or time (or possibly to the wrong crowd) benefits no one, as the audience isn’t around to hear it, and the messenger is just wasting time and money. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you shout through a megaphone constantly into someone’s ear, the messenger will get smacked in the face. The successful advertising campaign is one that reaches reasonable people at a reasonable time in a reasonable location. Moderation is best, and a two recent examples prove it.

First, there’s the story of the hardy FOX show American Dad, which has been shoved to a 7:30pm death slot and virtually ignored by the network, even on its own night. The show’s replacement, Bob’s Burgers premiered with a massive marketing push, to the point of real fast food restaurants being remodeled to appear like Bob’s namesake restaurant. While Bob’s Burgers is certainly worth of such network confidence, the show has only done marginally better than the unacknowledged American Dad, which is never good considering the inequality of treatment. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, either (previous contender Sons of Tucson also faced
similar disappointing results when taking on the Dad).

In a more exaggerated second example, Cartoon Network’s sports award show Hall of Game is an example of how little advertising means without one oft-forgotten ingredient. This show was advertised full blast for nearly six months (which is around four months too many for anything to be advertised for), with ads before, during, and after programs at all times. Cartoon Network most likely blew half of their total advertising budget on this one event alone. After countless months of pleading, prodding, and begging viewers to watch, the Hall of Game scored around 1.487 million viewers. That is 251,000 viewers less than the premiere of the ill-fated Robotomy, which had only two days’ notice before the premiere. The reason why two days can beat six months is because of the forgotten factor behind advertising: interest.

People don’t buy product just because someone told them to. For an investment to be made, the buyer must have an existing interest in such a product. The advertisement’s goal is to present an product that not only fulfills that demand but also presents it in a way that makes it look more appealing than the lookalikes in the market. The average audience watching Cartoon Network has more interest in comedic animation than sports. The network may have been able to influence the ease at which audiences were able to reach either, but the same result would have happened independent of any marketing whatsoever. The appeal factor presents itself in many other cases as well.

For example, anime on Adult Swim. Anime’s poor performance on the late-night lineup is often attributed to a weak night, a weak time, and a nonexistent marketing budget.
Unfortunately, those excuses don’t hold up when one looks at the performance of anime when it took up the whole night, had better nights (remember Big O on Sundays?), or had decent advertising for the whole block of premieres? With the exception of one or two cash cows, anime hasn’t done spectacularly well in years. Even more embarrassing for anime is American Dad‘s recent Saturday run, that scored Sunday-esque numbers without so much as a peep by the network. The reason why Family Guy and the like does so well wherever it’s placed is because not only is it popular, but because the majority of the audience wants and demands shows like Family Guy, with all other series being small blips on the radar (with the occasional medium-sized blip like Robot Chicken every now and then), regardless of quality.

I believe that word of mouth does far more than simply buying network time could. While companies can create awareness, good publicity (or in the face of stars like Charlie Sheen and Kanye West, bad publicity) from average joes can create genuine trust and believable buzz that can only be created organically. Word of mouth has grown exponentially powerful as the advent of social media on the internet grows, with viral buzz creating current hits, like Justin Bieber’s musical career, Adventure Time, or any number of internet memes. Why waste money when the people can do the same job much more convincingly for free? The digital age has changed various aspects of old media, and the art of advertising is no different.

It’s not that I don’t believe in advertising, it’s just that I don’t believe in the effectiveness of most practices. When a message is said, there is no need to repeat it any more than it takes to keep that message in the minds of the target audience. And if you have that target audience, encourage them to go forward with the message, and make it their own. It’s certainly a lot more admirable than trying to buy recognition.

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