Old School Product Demonstration Marketing

Old School Product Demonstration Marketing

By John Butler
In May 24, 2012

One of the old advertising stories I bore my clients/friends/family/people on public transit, etc., with is about the Sears DieHard car battery TV commercial that aired in the ’90s. The premise of the spot is that they take a Sears DieHard battery to Soldier Field which has been conveniently stocked with 300 cars — all with dead batteries. And, of course, it’s the middle of winter. And, of course, it’s the middle of the night. Cutting to the chase, the legendary Diehard starts all 300 without breaking an anthropomorphic sweat.

Pretty cool, right?

Nice, dramatic demonstration of the key brand attribute that drives the consumer decision of which replacement car battery brand to trust — nothing is more powerful than the Sears Diehard.

One problem: Even in 1990, any new standard car battery had 300 starts in it. Even when it was cold. And even in the dark.

Drained batteries or not, any competing product on the market would be able to pass this test with flying colors. However, this is not common knowledge among the general car-battery-shopping public and the iconic Sears DieHard brand had a well-established reputation for industry-leading power and performance in even the most demanding weather environments. So, basically, this approach to communicating the superiority of the DieHard to other car battery brands was not, strictly speaking, exclusively factual. It merely implied that this was a spectacular challenge that the DieHard was clearly up to.

It calls to mind one of my favorite lines from “The Blues Brothers” — the scene in which Jake asks Elwood if he has indeed, as promised, held the band together while Jake was doing time in Joliet:

Elwood: I took the liberty of bullshitting you.
Jake: You lied to me.
Elwood: Wasn’t lies, it was just… bullshit.

This is not meant as a knock on the fine and upstanding professional marketers who have historically or are presently stewarding the iconic DieHard brand. This is just a colorful way of describing a much-revered approach to product advertising: The “seemingly-impressive-but-questionably-scientific-or-differentiating” product demonstration.

At this point, anyone who knows me is asking this question: What does this have to do with sports? Glad you asked, I was just getting around to that.

Prior to this year’s NFL Draft, Brandon Weeden, a 6’4″, 225-lb. quarterback from Oklahoma State by way of the New York Yankees farm system, was featured in an ESPN-produced video. In this video, the viewer is introduced to the physics involved in the sport of skeet shooting — which is pretty simple. A catapult launches a clay pigeon (which presents roughly 5 sq. inches of surface area) at 43 miles per hour (about twice as fast as the NFL’s fastest wide receivers). In skeet shooting, participants are armed with shotguns. For this spectacle, Brandon Weeden was armed with, well, an arm.

The “product demonstration” featured in this video consisted of the strapping Mr. Weeden standing perpendicular to the flight of the clay pigeons and attempting to strike them with a football as they pass. Spoiler alert: Amazingly, he hits (and shatters) 4 of the 5 clay pigeons he throws at.

Pretty impressive.

Looking at his body of work, Brandon Weeden does not have much to prove in terms of collegiate success — these are all Oklahoma State records — and as OSU plays in the Big 12, they were achieved against teams clearly in the upper echelon of college football:

  • Passing Yards, Season — 4,278
  • Total Offense, Season — 4,209
  • Completed Passes, Season — 342
  • Completion Percentage, Season — 66.9
  • Passing Yards, Single Game — 435
  • Completions, Single Game — 34

Any pro football pundit will tell you that you don’t need an All-Pro quarterback to win a championship (I’m looking at you, Trent Dilfer). But, not having at least an efficient quarterback can prevent you from having any chance at all. If you break down the skill set of a successful NFL quarterback you’ll come down to 1) arm strength, 2) accuracy, 3) quickness of release, 4) ability to identify and adjust to defensive coverages, 5) intelligence and 6) leadership (in roughly this order). Against the objective of convincing an NFL team that you’re “their guy,” these are effectively the purchase drivers that would promote your brand ahead of your competitors.

Fast-forwarding to this year’s draft, the so-called experts had determined through a seemingly endless period of intense study, that the two best available quarterbacks coming out of college this year were Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Heisman-Trophy-winning Robert Griffin III — followed at restraining-order distance by a host of others, including Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill and our video star, Mr. Weeden.

Our very own Cleveland Browns, not apparently sold on their incumbent quarterback Colt McCoy, spent quite a bit of time wringing their hands over the most judicious use of their bevy of high-round draft choices — most of which they acquired during last year’s draft by the Atlanta Falcons, who used the Browns pick to select Julio Jones from Alabama. With the 4th, 22nd and 37th picks in the draft, and multitudinous holes to fill on their roster, the Browns were apparently inclined to think that Brandon Weeden, if not fitting the bill as Mr. Right, was well on his way to being Mr. Right-This-Second-Round-Pick.

However, our aforementioned experts felt very secure in saying that he was a dislocated-shoulder reach at #4 and a pretty solid Little-Leaguers-elbow reach even at #22. The smart move, they said, was to take the best available player at #4, the best “need”-based player available at #22 — and then blow the 37th pick on Brandon Weeden, who would certainly still be sitting by his phone in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

So, my question is, what did Brandon Weeden achieve by smashing four clay pigeons on ESPN?

This simple product demonstration showed that he had arm strength, accuracy and a quick-enough release to react to a 5 sq. inch target moving at a speed equal to 15 yards in .7 of a second. In short, he managed to show that his brand’s performance attributes included the top three purchase drivers of the NFL quarterback buying decision. And this likely moved him from the 37th pick in the draft up to the 22nd, where he was selected by the Browns (against the counsel of the so-called experts) — which very likely will amount to a high-percentage increase in his rookie year contract salary. Not bad for five throws, one of which he missed.

Time will tell whether this was a solid decision. There’s a significant difference between hitting defenseless clay pigeons in a closed studio and hitting Mohamed Massaquoi in a 40-mph snow storm in Cleveland Browns Stadium in December as James Harrison tries to perform a spine-ectomy on you without a local. On the other hand, you have to admire the tried-and-true marketing strategy.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, in the spirit of comparison shopping, I’m heading over to Colt McCoy’s house with a bag of ping-pong balls and an air compressor.

John Butler

I am a lifelong Clevelander and have spent nearly 30 years in the marketing communications industry. It is my belief that you need to have a diverse range of interests in order to bring perspective to a client’s marketing needs. So my blogs will generally be about social media, dogs, music, media planning, historical fiction, content marketing, professional sports, brand positioning, restaurants I like, quantitative research analytics, science fiction movies, target audience segmentation, running/cycling or the impact of digital media on advertising messaging. You get the idea.