Dear Terry


It's our last episode of the season on Under The Influence.

And every year, we turn our annual season finale over to listeners and answer their questions about advertising.

We'll discuss the finer details of fine print in TV commercials, the impact of DVRs on advertising, why politicians don't use jingles, why the same actors keep showing up on the same commercials, why it seems like lawyers write the copy in so many ads, and why some ads are so dumb.

It will be a buffet of Q&A. Hope you'll join us for our last episode of 2013.


The ability to ask questions is one of the defining aspects of the human species.

It could be argued that language was developed because of the need to ask questions.

Cavemen could always grunt and point and nod, but to ask a question, you needed words.

Asking questions has led to some of our greatest discoveries and has solved some of our biggest problems.

There is a Japanese philosophy about questions that I subscribe to.

Essentially, it says that if you ask "Why" five times in a row - in response to a problem - you will discover the very root of the predicament.

And every problem well-defined is a problem half solved.

I decided to try an interesting experiment. I typed the beginnings of questions into Google to see what the auto-complete function would fill in.

google search-box.png

In other words, if I typed the words "Why can't I..." and let Google complete the sentence, it would tell me what the most asked questions were in the world.

So, when I did type "Why can't I..." into the search box, the first question that popped up was, "Why can't I own a Canadian?"

I don't think I was ready for that.

Okay. The second suggestion Google listed to that query was, "Why can't I... find a job?" Followed by "Why can't I gain weight?" followed by the inevitable, "Why can't I lose weight?"

When I typed "Why is..." the first question that popped up was, "Why is... the sky blue?" Followed by "Why is the ocean salty" which was then followed by what I suspect is the really thee most asked question of all time: "Why is my internet so slow?"

When I typed "How can I..." into the box, Google's most number one question popped up asking, "Why can't I stop singing?"

The second most asked question appears to be "Why can't I grow taller?" Or maybe that's just the most asked question on my computer.

When I typed in "Where is..." the first answer that auto-complete offered up didn't surprise me at all. It was, "Where is... Chuck Norris?"

We all want to know.

The second most asked "Where is..." question is "Where is area code 202?" The answer, by the way, is Washington, D.C.

Clearly, questions are fascinating and answers are sometimes very surprising. As this is our last episode of the season, it's our annual tradition of dedicating this show to answering questions from our wonderful listeners.

While no one asked where Chuck Norris was, I did receive some excellent and insightful questions about the world of advertising and marketing.

And a few amusing ones.

I've tried to answer them all the best I can, and if I didn't have an answer, I reached out to my colleagues in the marketing world.

So let your Q meet my A.

Let's begin today by dipping into the Under The Influence mailbag. I don't get too many handwritten letters these days, but here's one.

It's from Bob Walker, and he writes:
"Every week, you seem to have at least one reference to the Beatles in every show. Am I correct?"

Um, maybe. Sometimes. Okay - Yes, it's true. I try to figure out a way to get a Beatles reference into every show. And thank you, Bob, for solving the question about how I was going to do that in this week's episode.

Skipping over to Facebook, Adam Kuttenkeuler asks:
"Wouldn't it be so much easier to make purchases if the prices didn't always end with '99 cents?' We know the everyday consumer reads $4.99 as five bucks. Does the penny make that much difference?"

Actually, the penny works the reverse way, psychologically. We all have a tendency to round down. Not up. So a price that says "19.99" - reads as 19 dollars to most. Not twenty. It's called the "left digit effect." People round to the number on the left. Retailers can tell you that a bin with 99 cent items beats a bin with one dollar items any day of the week. Human nature.

And you'll keep seeing 99-cent prices even though the penny has disappeared. Because 99-cents is persuasive.

Ian Wilson of Burnaby posted a question about fine print on our website. He says: "Car commercials with seven lines of fine print shown for three seconds seems pointless. And a beer commercial where a guy gets hit with a wrecking ball in a bar, and the fine print says, "Dramatization, do not attempt" -seems kinda obvious. What are the rules about the fine print in TV ads?"

A very interesting question, Ian. Fine print is called "mouse type" in the ad biz, by the way. I asked (Janet Feasby at) the Advertising Standards Council, and I was told the rules for fine print vary depending on the product being advertised.

For example, provincial consumer protection legislation requires the disclosure of detailed "Cost of Credit" information if lease or purchasing finance terms are mentioned in a car commercial.

And the information in the fine print must NOT contradict the main message of the commercial. In the words of Tom Waits, the large print giveth, but the fine print must not taketh away.

You may be interested to know there is no minimum size requirement for fine print. But it must be, quote: "Clearly visible or audible."

Just because an advertiser has tiny fine print in a TV commercial doesn't necessarily protect the company. Many consumer complaints have been upheld because the type wasn't legible.

Lastly, when you see the line, "A dramatization, do not attempt" at the bottom of the screen, that is not a legal requirement - but rather the advertiser trying to cover its hiney should someone try to replicate the unsafe action.

Ismenia Silveira writes:
"I'm always fascinated by companies who advertise 'nothing.' Ads that just grab our attention, then a few days later the real ad comes out."

Ismenia, I believe you are talking about "teaser ads." It's a technique that some advertisers use to drum up interest in an upcoming campaign, or an upcoming product. They tease people with a short, almost cryptic message with no real product in it. Then, eventually reveal the campaign.

Movie studios use this technique often. For example, in the winter of 2010, people saw ads that said, "Your mind is the scene of the crime" followed by "Summer 2010." Later it was revealed to be an teaser campaign for the movie Inception.

Viewers started seeing a 10-second teaser ad showing Matthew Broderick reprising his Ferris Bueller character. The ad showed Broderick in his bathrobe opening up the curtain in the morning and saying:

A Ferris Bueller teaser that wasn't advertising a new movie.
Source: YouTube

Viewers assumed it was a teaser for a sequel to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But it wasn't. That date was Super Bowl Sunday, and it turned out to be a teaser for Honda's Super Bowl Ad featuring Broderick playing his Ferris Bueller character.

Many were disappointed. Some liked it.

That's the risk with teasers. The product has to live up to the hype.

Todd Gale posted this question on Facebook:
"I notice a lot of the same actors in different TV ads. Does this help of hinder the brands they represent?"

Interesting question. Advertisers and advertising agencies are always looking for the best actors. So that often leads to the same actors appearing in multiple commercials. But you will rarely see an actor doing a competitive commercial at the same time. For example, you won't see an actress in a McDonald's commercial at the same time she's doing a Burger King ad.

Whenever ad agencies check into the availability of an actor, the first question is: Does he or she have any conflicts currently running in the... fast food category, for example.

And, occasionally, a new actor appears on the scene and he or she is fantastic. An unusual face, a gift for comedic timing, etc. Suddenly, that actor is hired by several companies, simply because they are the hot new thing.

Does it help or hinder brands? It's a case-by-case answer. I don't think it helps when the public starts to notice the same actor in lots of commercials. But if the performance is terrific, it doesn't matter, and it does help the brand.

Sandra Lambert asks the perennial question:
"Why are some ads sooo dumb? If they want a strong reaction from customers, does repulsiveness count, too?"

The short answer - no. No advertiser wants to look dumb. And no advertiser secretly uses repulsiveness as an advertising strategy. It all comes down to this: Advertisers get the advertising they deserve. If they insist on super-smart creativity from their ad agencies, they get it. If they insist on hindering the creative ideas, and sanding off all the interesting corners, and insisting that there is a low IQ out there in TV land, they get the ads they deserve.

Which is to say - dumb ads.

Brian Timms Facebooked us to say:
"I love your programme, but do not get to listen to all the episodes. So my question is, when will you write a book?"

Actually, Brian, I did co-write a book based on the radio series back in 2009 called "The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture" which is available online and at finer bookstores everywhere:

AOP Book.jpg
It's not bad. I read it.

On the subject of books, Brad Coates says:
"Terry, a while back you recommended a book titled Insanely Simple by Ken Segall. It was fantastic. I'm not asking you to start something like Oprah's Book Club or anything, but would love it if you would share a list of books you recommend."

Happy to, Brad. If you're interested in what I think are the best marketing books, just go to my website: and you'll find a full list of my favourites there, and a short note about why I liked them.

Brad also asks:
"Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses, or one horse-sized duck?"

I have no idea how to answer that question. So I'm going to go with one horse-sized... duck.

Sarah Prescott asks:
"Do those drug advertisements where they don't even mention what the drug does, so they don't have to mention the bad side effects, actually work?"

Well Sarah, there's a strange, old advertising regulation in Canada. If the drug being advertised is a prescription drug, the manufacturer cannot say what it does. If it's an over-the-counter drug, they can.

So that's why you see a lot of Canadian ads for Viagra or Cialis, for example, but they don't really tell you what they do.

They can't. It's not a weasely way of getting away with not listing the side-effects - it's actually a law preventing them from talking about what the drug does. I suppose making a claim for a prescribed drug is difficult because it might have a different effect on different people, and law-makers want people to ask their doctors about the drugs - not rely on advertising.

In the U.S., you can say what the drug does, but you have to give equal time to the side-effects. That's how you can tell Canadian drug ads from American ones. Canadian drug ads don't tell you what the drug does, American ones tell you what it does, and all the endless side-effects.

Murray Sovereign sent in this question:
"I'd like to know how many lawyers it takes to write the copy for face cream commercials? 'The look of lines visibly reduced' is my personal favourite. That means absolutely nothing - "the appearance of something appears to be less apparent" - what?? It all means absolutely nothing."

That is the problem with a lot of advertising, Murray. Especially products that have varying effects on various people. Because a skin cream's effectiveness is dependant on so many factors - like how old you are, the current state of your skin, degree of skin damage due to the sun, etc, the claims are written to straddle all possible outcomes.

The unfortunate thing is that this kind of advertising casts a shadow on all advertising - making it all seem dubious and littered with loopholes.

But the truth is that some products aren't very good - so a vague promise covers their caboose. Others are good, but regulations (like for any product that you ingest or put on your body) prevent them from making any conclusive claims, so the wording has to be vetted. And that's the job of lawyers.

Stephen @teeteebarbar tweets:
"Maybe I'm a genius, but why haven't political campaigns used catchy jingles? It works for fast food and furniture shops."

Do you mean like this:

A Kennedy-Kennedy-Kennedy jingle.
Source: YouTube

Or this one:

Ike for Prez.
Source: YouTube

Even President Obama used a jingle to reach Latinos voters in his first election:

O-Bama, O-Bamaused a jingle to reach Latino voters.
Source: YouTube

Prime Minister John Diefenbaker used a political jingle back in the day, but I just couldn't find it. Toronto mayor Mel Lastman used a jingle when he was running for City Controller in the late 60s.

It featured the line, "Lastman was the bad boy, now Lastman is a good boy." Love that. The jingle was written by Terry Bush. He did it for free hoping to get Lastman's Bad Boy Furniture account. But all he got for his efforts was a cheesy Bad Boy doll.

Welcome to advertising.

So Stephen @teeteebarbar, it has been done, but jingles are out of favour in adland these days, and that includes with politicians.

If you're over 50, this Bobby Gimby ditty will warm your heart.
Source: YouTube

David Robbins posted this question on Facebook:
"Aside from maple leafs and winter motifs, do you think there is a Canadian marketing sensibility?"

Actually, I do, David. Sometimes it's easy to spot, other times it's not. I think it's most apparent in humorous commercials. I love self-deprecating humour. I think there is something endearing about it when the humour is reflected back on the product. When I wrote commercials for American companies and used self-deprecating humour, my ads were often turned down.

Whereas when I did the same for Canadian companies, they were embraced. I just think gentle self-deprecating humour is part of the Canadian landscape.

While this isn't a hard-and-fast rule, I also feel that Patriotism is a powerful part of American advertising, but it isn't particularly effective in Canada. "Made in the USA" is not just a product feature, it is a flag waved by many brands. Here in Canada, "Made in Canada" is important, but rarely the central marketing thrust, per se.

But, as I said earlier, I would change a gear when I was writing commercials for American companies.

Alan Chow has a media question. He points to the case of Steelback Brewery. "They reportedly spent over $15 million annually on advertising, often in regions where the beer wasn't even available. It's no surprise they went bankrupt. How can an advertising agency okay a media buy that is obviously misguided and financially damaging to the client?"

There's no way an advertising agency would recommend buying expensive media time in markets where a product is unavailable.

That's not to say some advertising from other markets might not spill over to an area where the produce isn't available. But that wouldn't be the reason for the buy.

Media buys are scrutinized more than almost any other aspect of marketing - because that's where the most money is spent.

In SteelBack's case, the company did do a lot of bold advertising. They also spent a lot of money on naming rights for various sporting events and venues - including sponsorships of a Formula One racing team and the Toronto Argonauts.

The company spent a lot of marketing dollars, but was never able to buy enough market share to stay afloat. Expenditures outstripped revenues. They simply ran out of runway. It was a simple as that.

So Alan, I think it's safe to say Steelback was shut down for a variety of reasons. High marketing costs was one of those reasons, but buying airtime in markets where the beer wasn't available was probably not a big factor.

Elizabeth Sutton and Mike Chapman both asked this question on Facebook: "How has the increased use of PVR's and TIVO affected television advertisers?"

I've touched on this question before, but there's been some interesting research on this lately that I want to tell you about.

The rate of PVR penetration in both the U.S. and Canada is close to 40%. For a long time, advertisers worried about ad avoidance, as PVR's offer viewers fast forward buttons in three speeds.

But here's what recent research has shown:

In a Harvard Business Review article, research firm Millward Brown stated that viewer's use of PVRs did not diminish the effectiveness of commercials. In a study of 1,000 U.S. households, of which 400 had a PVR, results showed no decrease in recall or prompted recognition of TV ads among PVR users.

One interesting tidbit that came out of the research was the fact viewers had to pay close attention to the commercials while fast-forwarding through them in order to stop at the right time to re-join their program. Which aided the impact of the ads.

Furthermore, when Millward Brown showed a theatre full of volunteers fast-forwarded ads, it found people were easily able to mentally process the messages. Recall was no worse than the overall average recall of television commercials. And if the viewer had seen the commercial at least once before in regular speed, the recall was even higher.

When asked how much they liked the ads, viewers gave fast-forwarded commercials almost the same scores as regular speed ones.

So PVRs aren't the huge threat everyone thinks they are, at least for now.

Over to Twitter again, @Prolapsed Brain asks:
"How can billboards still exist as a method of advertising? Seems to primitive and inefficient."

Well @Prolapsed Brain, interesting that you say it's primitive, because billboards, or posters, are probably the oldest form of advertising in recorded history. It's a medium that's survived thousands of years.

Here's the upside to billboards: Size and impact. It's one thing to see an ad on your mobile phone, or even your TV screen. It's quite another to see a gigantic sign measuring 19 metres by 5 metres (or 62 feet by 16 feet for us pre-metric folks) staring down at you.

Billboards can also be highly creative. As a copywriter, I always loved the challenge and possibilities of a billboard. They can make use of context quite nicely, too. For example, a billboard for an electric car had a hole cut in it so a branch from the tree behind it could grow through the hole.

A billboard for McDonald's was created using actual lettuce seeds. Over the course of two weeks, the lettuce grew and spelled out "Fresh Salads."

Fresh salads.jpeg
Actual lettuce grew to spell the words.

Another billboard for Rapala fishing lures just showed a photo of a lure, but had a dozen cats sitting on top of the billboard - just waiting.

Rapala lures attract more than fish...

The downside of billboards is, of course, visual clutter. Some cities have even outlawed billboards, like Sao Paulo, Brazil. So have the States of Alaska, Hawaii, Main and Vermont. In Toronto, a municipal tax was placed on billboards in 2010, a portion of which helps fund arts programs in the city.

But I always point to Apple when talking billboards. Steve Jobs consistently chose them as one of his primary mediums. Even in the digital age, selling digital products, Jobs chose to put his money into the world's oldest advertising medium:

Steve Jobs loved using billboards. And he did okay.

Troy Burch tweets:
"How tough is it working on beer commercials with all the imposed "does and don'ts" that the government sets out?"

Answer - very difficult.

Here are some of the beer rules:

Beer ads cannot show actual consumption.

There must be the same amount of beer bottles are there are people in a shot. Beer cannot be shown to be important to the enjoyment of any activity - including business success, social success, athletic prowess, achieving a goal or solving a problem.

Get this - and I quote: Lifestyle beer ads can't be seen to be important for sexuality or sexual opportunity.

I know.

Characters in beer commercials can't be shown with beer before, in anticipation of, or involving activities demanding care, skill, or attention.

Those are some of the regulations, AND they vary from province to province - which partially answers a question that Thomas-Louis LaForest's asked about the difference between provinces when it comes to advertising.

So - with all those rules in beer advertising - try being creative.

It's enough to drive you to drink.

I want to take this moment to thank you, our listeners, for a great season.

You not only send me amazing articles and links, which I appreciate and always look at, but you also send me great episode ideas, too.

We make the show for you, so your input is always welcome and appreciated.

The questions we answered today are no exception.

But of one thing there is no question: And that is how amazing the people are behind the scenes at Under The Influence.

And being that this is our last show of the season, I'd like to tell you who those people are:

Our incredible sound engineer is Keith Ohman, who has worked on every single episode since day one, eight years ago.

Our theme music was written by the gifted team of Ari Posner and Ian LeFeuvre.

There's quite the O'Reilly contingent behind the scenes of this show.

All show coordination, shipping and scheduling is handled by the mighty Debbie O'Reilly. Website and podcast posting is managed by Sidney O'Reilly. Research cataloguing done by Shea O'Reilly, and audio editing done by Callie O'Reilly.

Our incredible Under The Influence researchers are Warren Brown, Lama Balaghi, James Gangl and Shea Cole. Resourceful and wonderful.

A big thank-you goes out to Chris Straw, Senior Director of Network Talk at CBC, for all his unwavering support.

And to Chris Boyce, Executive Director of CBC Radio, who took a chance on this crazy little show eight years ago.

We'll be under the influence again next January.

Have a great summer.

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