Advertising As Cocktail Party: The Metaphor

Writing in BusinessWeek, Steve McKee offers a way of looking at advertising that I thought about a long time ago, but I don’t think I ever wrote down.

Think about how you relate to most ads you see. You expect them to focus on themselves. You expect them to be loud. You expect them to tell you what they want you to hear, rather than focusing on what’s interesting to you. Most ads act like someone with bad manners at a cocktail party. They fail the cocktail-party test.
Of course, it’s true that our expectations of an ad from an etiquette standpoint are somewhat lower than what we expect from human contact. We don’t get offended by an annoying ad the same way we do by an overbearing networker. But the principles of human interaction hold true, and whether the annoyance is coming at us through the door or through the television, it’s something we want to avoid.
That’s why most ads underperform. Advertisers desperately want to have a relationship with their prospects, but the reverse doesn’t always hold true. And the more an advertiser presses, the less likely it is that they will be well-received. Just like at a cocktail party, advertisers have to win people over, not bowl them over.

He’s right on. And even as more advertising dollars go to online and other new ventures, we run the risk of alienating people more than ever.



About Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Dan is also a columnist for and the author of View From The Cheap Seats and Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks.