The portrayal of gender tropes in advertisements has been a bastion of laziness for bad marketers decades running. At its best there have been a few exceptional commercials that have managed to reinvent the conversation, at worst, most of these (often big-spend) commercials are muddled with lowest common denominator assumptions and D-rate jokes. The dearth of these spots often come from companies that started coasting on reinforcement and awareness advertising without any real desire to tell innovative stories about their products or brand.
Some might say there are only so many ways to sell lavender scented dish-soap but they're forgetting it's not about the product but about how the product's story is told that impacts viewers.
Cascade has been pushing the boundary of corporate mediocrity for decades and recently created a series of ads targeted toward women -- apparently extremely passive aggressive women -- by involving a Cascade Kitchen Counsellor in tiffs between various family members over dishes being too clean. Before continuing, watch one of the spots with your own peepers and please ensure your jaw is in a position to safely drop:
Has human life really become so decadent that we've been reduced to arguing with our family members over clean dishes?
In fact, it becomes concerning that this Cascade's major Canadian advertising campaign for 2012/2013. There is a disservice in running these ads -- to women, to progress and most of all, to narrative reality. What this campaign does accomplish is shifting the lines of reality. Television, films and advertisements are designed to suspend our normal belief of reality and import our imaginations into fantastical worlds that may be unrealistic but are able to convince us they are believable.
The reality being portrayed by these advertisements is inconsistent -- where does the Kitchen Counsellor come from? The relationships portrayed are begging on the impression that families act this way but instead set a tone of believability that even a pet rock would scoff at -- break and enter much? To most viewers it is unabashedly insulting and annoying.
Suspension of belief isn't even necessary when you're selling cleaning agents, especially when a product that is well known for its quality, like Cascade, merely be able to show great results and build a campaign around that platform. In a twisted way, this is the idea Cascade has built the series of ads around but the final advertisements fail gloriously at building a competent creative concept around this core idea.
What They Should Have Done
Humans love stories so when something we're being told doesn't make a lot of sense it ruins the narrative. The most important part of any marketing concept is how well it relates to potential customers -- great production, the right words and exceptional visuals can turn a bland product into a best-seller.
The Cascade Kitchen Counsellor campaign was doomed when the creative team decided to push an idea that was status quo in the 1980s. Instead of creating a scenario that reinforces negative female stereotypes and an unbelievable situation, the series of ads could have focused on the power of awe.
Shani Sherman at Ad Princess had this to say about the first spot in the series:
"Potentially, associations to specifically the 'loading a dishwasher' activity are most useful for positive associations with Cascade. If they could strongly link 'loading a dishwasher' with Cascade and positive affect, their work would be done. However, they are currently linking it to negative connotations."
Reverse psychology is a dangerous proposition to use in a 30-second commercial, especially when it's not clearly stated. This seems to be the biggest problem with the ads, they shouldn't have potential consumers associating Cascade with negative attitudes and experiences.
Cialis worked with ad firm DDB to create a series of commercials with similar tone to the Cascade series and it works incredibly well, watch below for an example.
It plays on a fairly well known writing trope but in the end creates a unique value and lasting impression for the brand. The writing for Cascade's commercials could easily be transported to any other brand without feeling out of place, a huge problem for an already troubled series.
To capitalize on the value of Cascade's brand, the production team should have simplified and focused on turning the product itself into a positive and almost unbelievable experience to create consumer desire. By engaging the Cascade characters (and removing the bloody counsellor) in a similar conversation but keeping it positive while saving the punch line for the end of the ad would have been optimal in creating a lasting relationship in the viewers memory.
Cascade is the number one brand for detergent in Canada and while they've built a powerful and influential name but good creative execution is necessary to reduce the possibility of market share decline. In the case of the Cascade Kitchen Counsellor, the brand would have been better off with a team of monkey writers than the spit-shine these commercials offer.