How the Ghostbusters Slimed Advertising

by Jeff Ebbing
Southeastern Community College
West Burlington, IA

We survived! Sadly, not everybody was as lucky. Millions of people lost everything, and the healing will take years. Rebuilding has begun, and life is slowly returning to normal. No, I’m not talking about Hurricane Sandy. I’m talking about election season.

There are a few things that make me ashamed of my marketing brethren radio spots that spend over half the time repeating and repeating and repeating a phone number; seizure-inducing banner ads for low-interest mortgages; anything that promotes the purchase and consumption of Hot Pockets; and worst of all, negative political ads.

Regardless of our political leanings, everyone agrees that negative campaign ads escalated exponentially as voting day approached. With over a kajillion dollars spent this year on political muck-rakery, it was pretty much an “anything goes” open season on (insert candidate here).

I know this because Casa Ebbing was subjected to said doom and gloom for the past year and a half. It didn’t matter if they were running for president or lunch lady ticket-puncher, everybody wanted our vote. And many of the ads brought out the worst in our profession.

If everything I saw, heard and read were true, we would live in a country where undocumented dependents of outsourced terrorists sell solar-powered Chinese insurance vouchers to unemployed off-shore Wall Street bank executives. And where everyone wears flag pins on their flag pins.

Who do we have to blame for this adjective-bloated apocolypto-fest? The Ghostbusters. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the irrefutable evidence:

Threatening the mayor of New York into action by prophesying disasters of biblical proportions? Dogs and cats living together? Scare tactics of the highest order, I say.

Now such filth makes its way into our collective consciousness every two years. All too often, marketers pull a “Mr. Stay-Puft.” They forgo rational policy arguments in order to scare the bejeezus out of the American electorate. It’s the opportunistic messaging equivalent of crossing the streams.

So how could this possibly relate to community college marketing? Persuasion is most effective when there’s an emotional connection.

I’m not advocating creating negative ads that threaten fire and brimstone just to boost enrollment (even though they’d be a blast to write). And although it’s proven that negative ads work, so do positive ads. That’s because logic isn’t the driver in decision-making. It’s how we feel that ultimately closes the deal.

So stop writing ads that are nothing more than a laundry list of features. Instead, make an emotional connection, then support it with supporting information that supports your support.

Here are two messages:

BAD: Welders make an average of $25 per hour. The factory down the road is hiring experienced welders. Our college has a welding program, so you should enroll now.

GOOD: It really would be nice to make a better life for my family. I could use a little job security, and welding is a good career field that pays well. Plus, I could see myself as a welder.

The first ad spews vanilla facts with as much personality as a codfish. Three cheers for Captain Obvious. The second ad poses a problem and offers a solution by way of a story that people find relatable and relevant.

So when you embark on your next marketing campaign, don’t use proton packs and green slime to scare little old librarians into enrolling. Don’t tell them that you can’t build skyscrapers or tractors without welders either. Instead show them how they can rid themselves of paper cuts and card catalogs once and for all – by becoming a welder.

My name is Jeff Ebbing, and I approved this message.

Jeff Ebbing is director of marketing and communications (a.k.a. the marketing guy) at Southeastern Community College in West Burlington, Iowa. He likes music, mustard and a good laugh.


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