In the last two and a half years, Thumbtack, which matches customers with local service professionals, has raised $255 million in funding. If the company had spent the merest fraction of that sum on a professional copywriter with an elementary understanding of how advertising works, it could have come up with something more effective than this existential shrug of a billboard.
“We don’t know.” <Shrug> 8th and Harrison streets, San Francisco
It’s not that I don’t get the tiny, unconvincing joke, O Hipster Ad Agency. Nothing rhymes with orange. Haha.
Here’s the thing (and it pains me to have to point this out):
Billboards are meant to grab your attention in a split-second. They’re not supposed to be convoluted in-jokes. They’re supposed to sell.
And they’re supposed to sell your stuff. Not roses, not “this billboard,” not even florists or poets. If you’re Thumbtack, you want people who see your ad to grok the glories of Thumbtack.
At the risk of repeating myself: We don’t know? Are you effing kidding me? Your website says you’re “reshaping local economies.” You’re “getting things done.” If you don’t know, who does?
And finally: Why is the most important message – “Hire skilled pros for absolutely everything” – in the tiniest type?
A good ad should make you smile in instant recognition. It should be memorable and motivational. It should leave you with a positive impression of the advertiser.
It shouldn’t make you feel like your soul’s been sucked out of your body and sacrificed to the gods of snark.
I enjoy a little word puzzle as much as, or maybe more than, the next public-transit user. But two Bay Area bus-shelter signs, both for worthy nonprofit organizations, go beyond puzzling to confounding.
“Do You Really Want the City 7 x 7 x 7?” asks this poster. I stood in front of it for a couple of minutes, trying to stitch together “Do you really want the city” and “7 x 7 x 7.” What could it possibly mean?
You’re cruising along at 25 mph in Oakland when you glimpse a billboard across the street. You see it for about two seconds, across three lanes of traffic, before you drive by. What registers? What’s being advertised?
“Siri, find me a place above 50°.” Broadway near 51st Street.
I’ll tell you what I saw: an ad for Siri, the iPhone voice app. Or maybe, on second thought, an ad for kayaks. In, I dunno, Alaska.
It wasn’t until a third and slower drive-by that I caught the much smaller type in the lower right-hand corner: “Real summer. Real close.” And beneath that line, in even smaller type—at last—the name of the advertiser: GoTahoeNorth.com.
In other words, this is the 2014 edition of the you-poor-suffering-San-Franciscans campaign that GoTahoeNorth introduced last year. The first time around, I said I liked the catchy slogan (“Winter, Spring, Winter, Fall”). What went wrong this year? Simple: the agency led us astray by name-checking an unrelated brand. After we see the “Siri” billboard we aren’t thinking about Lake Tahoe, we’re thinking about iPhones.
Moral: It’s not enough to come up with what you think is a clever line. You have to remember the context as well. What works in a static medium like print may not work in the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t environment of outdoor advertising. When you’re pitching to a moving target, you need to make sure they see your name, not some other brand’s, writ large.
Tangent: The Tahoe North folks have a harder sell this year, because here in the San Francisco Bay Area we’re enjoying an exceptionally warm summer. Last week daytime temperatures climbed into the 80s in San Francisco, and one overnight low in the middle of the week was the warmest on record for that date—a near-tropical 63°. (It’s more July-typical for San Francisco’s daytime high temperatures to be in the low 60s.)
Here’s an even weirder tidbit. Where I swim in San Francisco Bay, we’ve been recording water temperatures of 66° and 67°, about four degrees above normal. Some veteran bay swimmers have been overheard grumbling that the water’s too damn warm. Not I: after two weeks of 49° water in January, I’m happy to revel in this quasi-Hawaiian treat.
So, Siri, I’m happily staying put. See you next year, when I hope you’ve counseled GoTahoeNorth on a better way to sell its summer weather to us flatlanders.
Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher (2011). “She doesn’t give an ‘F’.”
Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa(2003). “He doesn’t care if you’re naughty or nice.”
Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant (1992). “Gambler. Thief. Killer. Cop.”
And in live theater, Bad Jews is playing Off Broadway through December 15.
Of the four movies, I’ve seen only Bad Teacher, which was sour and unpleasant and, well, bad, despite the charms of Cameron Diaz and costar Jason Segel. Now the movie’s being adapted for a CBS TV series; Diaz is a producer, and Ari Graynor (terrific as Eva Destruction in the very enjoyable Whip It) will take the title role.