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What Is It About eBay's Ads?


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October 23, 2005

What Is It About eBay's Ads?

Rob Hof

eBay has just launched another TV and print ad campaign, which you can view at a dedicated site, whatis-it.com. Once again, I just don't get it. The ads show the creation of and subsequent craze over "it," which is literally the letters "i" and "t" in eBay colors and font. Only at the end of the ad does the point come: "Whatever it is, you can get it on eBay."

Maybe these ads will go over better than the last few campaigns, none of which even eBay folks now believe were as effective as they'd have hoped. I kinda liked the message of the last one, "The Power of All of Us," but those ads apparently didn't grab the public. The campaign before that had regular folks singing and dancing, and I think the one before that involved a dog burying some toy in a yard.

The thing is, everyone already knows eBay as a brand is kinda cute, even lovable. No need to keep harping on that. In fact, it may be something of a minor liability by now, because the big missing link for eBay in an increasingly competitive online marketplace is that many people don't realize you can get a whole lot more than collectible figurines, old baseball cards, and the like on eBay. Why wait until the very end of the ad to make that point?

If the current ads were uproariously funny, you could forgive waiting for the real message. But to my eye, they're more perplexing than anything else. One ad even has a vaguely creepy pitchman talking about how "it" can hold more than 2,500 songs and cook meat. So regardless of what you think the ad is leading toward, you kind of assume it's a product, not an idea. If the point eBay wants to make--as CEO Meg Whitman noted at the recent earnings conference call--is that people should shop first at eBay to find anything they want, why not just say so? Spend those precious 30 seconds or so showing all the things you can actually get, from brand-new Manolos to the latest iPod.

Ads, of course, are a mysterious art, so who knows? Maybe these will do their job. I don't think so, but I don't have decades of marketing experience like eBay's execs do. So what do you think? Maybe you love the ads, maybe you hate them, maybe you're not sure. Whatever, let me know in Comments, below.

02:53 PM

eBay

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I think the ads are great! Just like eBay, they're surprising, fun and interesting. They absolutely get across the point that eBay has everything under the sun. Whatever IT is, you can get IT on eBay: from the hot new item ... to the hard-to-find collectible ... to the brand new product at a great price. And unlike so many other ads out there these days, they kind of make fun of the whole marketing thing.

eBay's never been the straight and narrow company that just said hey we've got product to sell. That would be too predictable and boring. And that's why so many people love eBay. Unlike many other clinical and convenient sites or stores, you don't just have a transactional relationship with eBay, you really love it and the community.

My two cents - I love the new campaign!

Posted by: Maria at October 23, 2005 06:02 PM

eBay seems to have so much disposable income these days that maybe they can afford to run ridiculous ads like this. It reminded me too much of the IBM ads for 'Help Desk' where the help desk seems to do everything - same concept at least. "It" certainly didn't make me want to visit the eBay site.

Posted by: Mike at October 23, 2005 08:18 PM

I like IT. People in my office were passing it around last week.

Posted by: cami at October 23, 2005 08:22 PM

The IT campaign epitomizes spoiled-rotten consumer hedonism. Each vignette features a happy character getting "it" without any work - not even the effort of paying for "it." They accurately reflect the last generation of eBay buyers, who bid on things they don't intend to purchase; wear a dress to one party and return it on Monday; and tell sellers to ship cheaper but faster or "it" will be returned broken. The eBay empire is corrupt and crumbling.

Posted by: Dave at October 23, 2005 10:15 PM

The darn buttons on their website don't work in Firefox! You have to click like crazy to get them to register. Nor can I use the controls for the videos. Otherwise it's great. ;)

Posted by: Visions at October 24, 2005 12:43 AM

I love it.

It shows that you can get anything on eBay.

I believe most already know the eBay brand but they probably buy in a particular area. The AD shows that eBay has everything.

Posted by: Vedi at October 24, 2005 01:47 AM

I thought "IT" meant information technology. It wasn't until now that I realized they meant "it" which means, whatever you could want. eBay is awesome. I figure they should harp on the their ultra efficient marketplace, bringing together thousands. You know the "world's marketplace". I like Walmart, "always". They have one message and stick to it.

Posted by: natural_number at October 24, 2005 04:34 AM

I have have bought stuff off eBay before. I usually shop there for old camera supplies and posters. After seeing the spots I bought a nano off eBay. I don't consider myself one of Pavlov's lemmings- to mix metaphors- that dimly responds to anything I see on TV. But before I saw these ads, I wouldn't have thought to go there for it.

Posted by: Peter at October 24, 2005 08:59 AM

Rob, you obviously don't have IT. I agree with cami. IT rocks.

Posted by: Marcus at October 24, 2005 09:23 AM

The campaign is great. Rob, you're a fossil.

Posted by: Janet at October 24, 2005 11:05 AM

I saw one of the ads on TV the other night. It's pretty blah - nothing I wouldn't zap on Tivo.

Whoever came up with this ad campaign must not be a fan of rock and roll. When I hear "What-is-it", my mind immediately fills in the rest of the verse:

What is it?

It’s it

What is it? ...

You want it all but you can’t have it

It’s in your face but you can’t grab it

Is that really the message eBay wants to get across?

Posted by: di at October 24, 2005 12:22 PM

Who sings that song????....It is now stuck in my head and bugging the heck out of me. HELP!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: sandy at October 25, 2005 04:56 AM

Sorry, I should have credited the band.

The song is Epic, by Faith No More.

Posted by: di at October 25, 2005 12:40 PM

I agree with you, Rob. I don't like the new ads and think they could have done better. But then, I liked the goofy songs in the old ads. I was writing about this on my "bidbits" blog, then decided to google to see if anyone agreed w/ me about the ads, and came across your column. Good stuff! - Julia

Posted by: Julia Wilkinson at October 26, 2005 08:06 PM

Awesome, incredible campaign! Something fresh and finally more eBaysian than what they had come up with in the past. I love "IT"!

Posted by: Robbie at October 28, 2005 01:20 AM

I love this ad! Saw the one on the main site on tv the other day and had a good laugh. I think it is brilliant.

CodeMonkey

Posted by: CodeMonkey at October 28, 2005 05:24 AM

Do you think I can download the ad? 'Cause I wanna keep this ad, it's great.

Posted by: Cyrus at October 31, 2005 06:27 PM

This is the best campaign they have run. I hope it runs for years.

Posted by: Roger at November 3, 2005 01:22 PM

What's the song in the new ad? The one where they're all walking around with their new "it". At some point the song goes "homecoming queen..." that's all i know.

Posted by: mike at November 20, 2005 07:06 PM

It would be Daydream Believer (or something) by the Monkees. I looked it up.

Posted by: Jozsef at November 22, 2005 06:15 PM

I have to say I think this ad campaign stinks.

Proof in the pudding? It has done nothing to increase sales on the site or attrack new buyers. I gave "IT" a chance. The only think "IT" did was increase sales of things shaped like "IT".

People need to see real items not it shaped things.

QVC, and HSC have sold billions in merchandise putting real items in front of people faces. The ad appeals to people already familiar with eBay.

I have done polls and questioned people in eBay classes taught by my wife. Most people havent the foggiest clue as to what they are getting at. Some people even confuse "IT" with the Segway commercial which I believe used the same website.

I was hoping I would be wrong on this one, but the numbers dont lie.

What it doesnt do?

1) Have kids or teens look at the screen and yell to their parents they want them to buy them what they see. This is a huge part of holiday spending. Kids , teens see things and they want them. The "mommy I have to have it" factor doesnt work here. Show a teen an "IT" and you get a blank stare. Show a teenage girl a page with 1,000 pairs of Hollister jeans for sale that she can see pics of and she will be yelling at her parents to go to the site with her. Show an 8 year old a Cabbage Patch doll and you will have tons of people rushing to buy them, it just works that way. You dont preach to the choir, you advertise to the people that push the buying decisions.

2) It appeals to the same crowd that already uses eBay who find it cute and interesting. eBay needs new buyers.

Show my friend the mechanic a Camaro Z-28 that someone bought on eBay or a car part and that will spur his interest. Show him an "IT" shaped car, no juice.

The right kind of commercials showing products both new and old would bring droves of people in to buy actual things.

In coming to these conclusions I took numerous polls. One on our eBay seller group which was 70% negative. Asked two classes out of 40 people only 2 remembered the ad, and one thought it was for something else. I asked friends, was out for lunch when the ad came on and judged reactions.

They can talk about how great it is all they want, but the bottom line is results and that just isnt happening.

This is my opinion and who knows maybe the ad will morph over time to be more successful, which of course is what I hope happens.

Curiously, I received much the same reaction to last years campaign which turned out to be a flop leading to the new ad team.

Posted by: Sellerguy at December 13, 2005 09:32 AM

I LOVE IT! EVEN WROTE TO EBAY TO TELL THEM! I am sad for all of you out there who have never even heard of the Monkees. That's the beauty of the commercial, the song catches your attention and as you race to the TV singing and dancing at the top of your lungs you watch intently trying to figure out what the heck they are advertising. Now I'm looking to download the song onto my cell phone. Can someone help me find it?

Posted by: Monkees Fan at January 13, 2006 11:43 AM

On iTunes:

The Best of the Monkees

http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?playlistId=4512505&s=143441&i=4512412

Posted by: CF at January 21, 2006 01:58 PM

The commercial is great. The song addictive. The people in the ad engaging. Lots of everyday things happening and it's all about IT. I think they could sell IT items all over Ebay if they existed.

Posted by: Jim at January 21, 2006 07:30 PM

i don't think Rob Hof gets the piont of the adds. and it's not a "Maybe", Rob. you Don't have decades of marketing experience.

Posted by: non of your business at February 6, 2006 10:29 PM

the ads are brilliant. they wait until the end of the ad to present the tag line in order to hold the viewer's attention throughout the ad. duh. what's the point of watching if you arleady know what they want to communicate first off? the ads get your attention, are clever, memorable, and reach every target in ebay's mass market. i agree with above. rob- maybe you dont have decades of marketing experience AND you are an idiot.

Posted by: julia at March 4, 2006 05:19 PM

I guess now that we are into this ad campaign for a bit, and some people have been called "idiots" where all the business is that this ad was supposed to generate? Ad listings are down, sell through about the same so auction sales are down not up. No droves of buyers coming to the site.

Where's the beef?

I am a huge eBay supporter and would love to see something that works.

Sure the ads are enjoyable for some, and I love the song myself, but does it bring in buyers, do people come to the site to buy?

Posted by: Sellerguy at June 6, 2006 09:13 AM


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