Have you seen that commercial for a teeth-whitening toothpaste that features two “sisters,” one of whom says, “as a professional photographer …” but as she speaks, a disclaimer pops up on the screen that states this is not a photographer, but an actress?

Read zero on the credibility meter.

As Alexandra Reid blogged about recently in her inbound marketing post, more traditional outbound marketing, in which specific messages are pushed upon a target audience in a one-way flow of information, remains an important part of the marketing mix. The good old boob tube is the best place to see examples of it done right and done horribly, horribly wrong.

With many large brands, there is often a corporate mindset at work in which too much control is wanted over the message and the image being projected, but this can result in marketing campaigns that come across as too slick and contrived and have little resonance with the intended audience.

The most striking examples are found in those instances where big brands rely on actors to play the part of happy customers or experts. There are occasions where this makes sense and the result can be highly entertaining. Take, for example, the grumpy old men characters employed by TD Canada Trust.

On the other hand, there is often no substitute for real customers speaking from the heart about how your product or service has been of benefit to them. Or, in the case of that toothpaste commercial, having someone with the authority that can only come from actually being the expert they claim to be. I wrote a few weeks ago about the merits of letting your customers speak for you and this applies regardless of the medium in question.

With broadcast media, this isn’t a case of giving a reference customer an open mike and hoping for the best. It does take pre-screening to ensure the story that customer has to tell about the value and benefits they derive from your product or service supports your marketing objectives. Coaching and rehearsal may be necessary to ensure that story comes out in a clear, crisp way that isn’t painful to watch and fits within the constraints of a 30-second spot. But in the end, you still have a real customer talking about what mattered most to them.

I recently wrote a content marketing piece for a bank, which wanted to showcase three areas of its commercial operation. While the bank managers I sat down with expected customer testimonials to be part of the final product, their intention was that the bulk of the article still be the bank talking about itself. I suggested another approach. Give me three customers to talk to, I said, each being representative of one of these three areas. Two-thirds of the article ended up being these customers talking about the bank. The bankers were quite pleased with the result and the senior among them admitted to me afterward that this approach had never occurred to him.

No bubbly piggy bank required

I have to give kudos to the latest advertising campaign by Money Mart. Here is a financial services institution that specializes in payday loans and other services for people who, for whatever reason, need an alternative to a typical chartered bank.

Over the past year or more, it has used as its spokespeople an attractive and vivacious brunette with an equally vivacious CGI piggy bank as her sidekick. The brunette isn’t pretending to be a customer; she is simply a spokesperson talking about Money Mart’s services. The piggy bank is cute and adorable eye candy that’s more decorative than functional. There is nothing particularly wrong with these ads, as far as TV ads go, but neither do they have a real hook.

The latest series of ads, on the other hand, feature real customers talking about real challenges in their lives, including a lady with a relative who has a crystal meth addiction, and how Money Mart’s services have helped. I am not endorsing these kinds of financial services, simply recognizing outbound marketing done right. These ads feature real people talking about real challenges, even referencing the perceived stigma they feel is attached to turning to a service provider such as Money Mart.

As the advertiser, it takes no shortage of intestinal fortitude to have customers speak so candidly to the marketplace. But you tell me which approach is going to strike the strongest chord with a target audience.

Image: MomGrind.com