The importance of good advertising and why I’ll never buy Charmin toilet paper

This holiday season, Charmin ran an ad on Spotify to sell toilet paper. The idea was that since talking about going to the bathroom is inappropriate, let’s sing about it. On its face I like the idea. It’s clever, original, and gives the brand some personality and self-awareness. To frame the jingle, a Chris-Parnell-type chimes in with “Here at Charmin, we know you shouldn’t talk about going to the bathroom, so we decided to sing about it.” They then jump into a holiday-themed jingle that’s as cheesy as it is catchy. They use terms like “shiney hiney”, and of course use an endless, monophonic chant of sleigh bells to emphasize the holiday feel. This is enough to bring any grown man into a nauseated fetal position in less than 30 seconds. But it’s ok. Advertising can be cheesy, especially if it’s self-aware, so I gave it a pass at first, because it’s not far off from most of the advertising we see. Cheese, stupid jingles, and brands crying “hey fellow kids!” is the status quo. But I heard this one about 15 times a week for 2 months, and it festered in my brain like a jolly parasite. I started to ask myself why I’m giving it a pass. If something this bad is the product of the status quo, shouldn’t we reflect on the status quo itself?

 

The first point is one of quantity. One of my favorite advertising quotes (though I’ve forgotten exactly who said it) is “how many times do you have to be told your house is on fire?” Meaning, of course, that if the message is important enough, the consumer doesn’t need to hear it 14 million times. This toilet-paper-themed cacophony violated that rule. In other words, I don’t think that hearing that Charmin commercial 170 more times would have motivated me to buy their toilet paper.

 

So, I get why people use Adblocker and all that: there’s a lot of bad, cheesy, or downright annoying advertising. But good advertising is out there. Which brings me to the second point, which is one of quality. Good ads use stories that cultivate a range of emotion in 30 seconds and sell you something in the process. Ads that feel like mini movies. Take this ad by Lacoste. The couple are viciously screaming at each other in the beginning and their apartment splits in half between them. They chase each other around their living space as it collapses, pulling all sorts of athletic feats. Then it ends with an embrace and the tagline, “Lacoste: Life is a Beautiful Sport”. They’re trying to sell me a polo with an alligator on it, but I still get chills when I see the ad. They touch something deeply human and relatable, and just happen to be selling something. And even if I don’t buy the shirt right now, the world is better off feeling something and buying nothing than feeling nothing and still buying nothing. Not to mention, I only had to see it once.

 

This is why we need good ads. And not “good” in the sense that the ad sells a lot and makes some people a lot of money. That’s great too, I want to make clients money. But in the long run, because advertising is becoming increasingly present, we need people making great ads. They have intrinsic value, even if they don’t provide strictly measurable and immediate ROI. Advertising, whether we like it or not, is part of our culture. We should be contributing to it, not detracting from it. And in the end, I’m a Hell of a lot more likely to buy a Lacoste shirt than I am Charmin toilet paper.