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Visual Vampires

Did you see the Brandweek story about Visual Vampires?

Visual vampires are images shown in advertising that divert attention away from the advertised product. Think … Wendy’s Red WigRobert Goulet/Emerald NutsParis Hilton/Carl’s Jr.. (Think 100% Creationist WOM where companies engage in outrageously gimmicky attention-grabbing antics to capture our attention.)

The study Brandweek cites is from The PreTesting Company. Here’s further explanation:

Wendy’s red wig-clad ads are hard to miss. However, new research shows that the characters in pony-tailed toupees greatly overshadow the products featured in the same ads.

“It is a visual vampire. There is high engagement, but when they show the food it drops like a rock,” said Lee Weinblatt, CEO of PreTesting, Tenafly, N.J.

The majority (68%) of viewers of the Wendy’s ad were riveted when the wig was on screen, but when hamburgers were shown it fell to 24%. The baseline for fast food commercials is 50% as consumers expect to be entertained. Other TV ads dominated by visual vampires: Subway (Jon Lovitz), Chrysler (Dr. Z) and Burger King (Coq Roq).” READ MORE

Hmm … so is there a marketing garlic we can use to ward off these Visual Vampires? Could be. It’s something I refer to as the WHAT YOU DO vs. WHAT YOU DID test.

When people talk about your brand, do they talk about the products/services the company does or do they talk about the advertising it did? If people are talking about the products/services you do, then you’ve successful repelled the Visual Vampire. However, if all people can talk about is the offbeat creativity in your ads, then the Visual Vampire has probably been allowed to run amock.

For example, I know no one talking about the food Wendy’s does. Instead, its all about the edgy red wig advertising the company did. Same goes for the Emerald Nuts spots we saw at the Super Bowl this year. No one was talking about how great Emerald Nuts taste, they were only talking about how creepy it was to have Robert Goulet acting a fool in the spot.

As a marketer, I much prefer people talking about what a company does and not what it did. Reckon the only way to truly repel Visual Vampires is to follow the Sethology of spending marketing dollars to make products/services more remarkable and not to make kookier commercials.


  • Josh says:

    Would “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” be a Visual Vampire?Would Ronald McDonald?Would the Starbucks’ Reindeer?

  • Josh … what’s your take here?In some ways, Ronald McDonald could have been viewed as a visual vampire but not now. At some point advertising characters become icons and do not detract from the message. The “Hey Kool-Aid” character is more iconic than vampire-ish.The “Mac vs. PC” spots do a great job in telling and showing the difference between the PC-lifestyle and Mac-lifestyle. I find nothing visual vampire-ish about it, only visually and mentally interesting.Starbucks Reindeer … huh?

  • Kenyatta says:

    I agree with John.What about the Travelocity ads?

  • This reminds me of the new OfficMax ad, (is it an ad, or a viral video?, not sure how to classify it). It is hysterical and fun, but it doesn’t relate whatsoever to the company. And does the Burger King creepy king ads, or subservient chicken video fit into the visual vampire category? Do viral videos and advertising serve different purposes? Now when I think of OfficeMax (all those many times I think of OfficeMax ;), I may attribute a little personality to them. Maybe. The paper supply business is pretty boring. I don’t think Staples Easy button advertising is making it more interesting either.On the other hand, career builder’s Monk E-mails ( are hysterical also, but at least they relate to the working environment that career builder is positioned for.

  • I think another reason why visual vampires are introduced is that it gives viewers a reason to not reach out for the remote control when an ad comes and also something that gets the ads some mindspace.If the ad catches on or if the advertising company so desires, they can always create a series of theme based ads, weave the visual vampire into the ads such that they appear more benign and finally over time an association gets created between the product and the vampire which becomes an icon