Video of the Week: Case study – The Local Television Commercial

We’ve all seen them. Local television commercials are among the most fascinating media phenomena in existence. The style has been predominant among regional furniture chains who take marketing into their own hands and deliver beyond-puzzling sensory experiences. This style isn’t limited to furniture dealers, but survives as a genre in itself. Local businesses with low marketing budgets and/or an eager friend with a camera have, consciously or not, created and concretized an aesthetic that is both replicated in seriousness and in irony. Either case is assumed to be in pursuit of the same end– more traffic and higher sales. Welcome, the “it’s so bad, it’s good”, D-listed commercials.

The local television commercials in question appear to abide by certain unconventional characteristics, some of which seem almost exclusive to the genre. In the vast majority of examples, we see a direct, vibrant address to the camera. This address is normally long (pushing uncomfortable) and usually takes place inside or in visible proximity to the store. But, if you’re lucky, you might find yourself treated to a full green screen experience. The dialogue is blunt, a little sleazy, but aims for an authentic connection with the consumer. It’s essentially a 30 second plea that rests on directness to convey and convert potential customers. The intent is to market to their local community, giving it the (unintentionally) painful comedic edge.

The example are numerous. These commercials seemed to peak in popularity in the 80s and 90s, yet live on forever in Youtube as new additions join the ranks. These three examples appropriately demonstrate it’s evolution as they slowly adapt to pop culture trends and increased self-awareness. The first example is done seriously, the second attempts irony by exaggerating its self-awareness, the third is arguably modernized with less emphasis on irony, playing into a more contemporary comedic tone. Although all within the same family, it’s like taking a Darwinian snapshot of the evolution of a genre of cheesy marketing.

Are they ultimately successful? Tough to say. There is a strong case to be made arguing that this is a genre entirely comprised of “what not to do”. Low production value, choppy and abrasive dialogue, and the artistic depth of a sidewalk puddle should, in theory, amount to a marketing disaster. But in some cases, it’s the disaster that leaves them memorable. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone invested in these projects fathomed holding a candle to landing a spot on a “Top 10 best innovators” list. Infamy ultimately becomes synonymous with fame as shamelessness takes the wheel. This is perhaps why they’re parodied so often and still talked about today.

As a business strategy, I would strongly recommend against setting foot down this path. The gems from these videos seem to be the ones done with little self-awareness. The second you seem in on the joke, you’ve lost it. A cringe-worthy example is this furniture company, who has hired an–I’m going out on a limb here–amateur comedian to play a lisping interviewer. They titled the video “Worst Furniture Commercial Ever!”, evidently to coerce viewership and achieve their desired internet infamy. However, the commercial seems more closely likened to cruel and unusual punishment than viral trailblazer.

There will always be television time slots filled by small local businesses with smaller budgets and genuine cluelessness…and that isn’t a crime. From a marketing perspective, we know there are much more effective examples of media creation on a budget. For now, they serve mainly as laughable reminders of the progression of impactful marketing. It’s always good to be in on a joke and most of us have a soft spot for irony. But, as a business owner, we should be laughing with you. Who knows, maybe we’ll do our own spoof here at Brendan & Brendan and show you how hard we can bring it, old school, furniture style.

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