In the Nth Round, Dodge's Robot Loses Its Punch

No neutral corner for the viewer:
No neutral corner for the viewer: "Street," Dodge's oft-aired Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot ad. (Daimlerchrysler Corp.)
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 13, 2007

Viewers who have been watching postseason college and pro football games undoubtedly have seen a new commercial for the Dodge Ram pickup truck featuring towering, animated versions of those iconic baby boomer toys, the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.

And seen it and seen it and seen it again.

The ad, called "Street," has been playing in heavy rotation during sports programming since it debuted on Christmas day. How heavy? During Monday's Bowl Championship Series finale between Ohio State and Florida, the spot ran five times -- including four times within a 19-minute stretch of the second quarter.

Basic advertising theory suggests that consumers don't really absorb an ad's message until they've been exposed to it multiple times. That's why everyone, from politicians to car manufacturers, runs the same ads again and again. The proliferating number of TV channels has only compounded the phenomenon: To try to stand out amid so many shouting voices, advertisers keep increasing the number of times their ads appear.

But if some reaction to "Street's" many airings is any indication, another bit of consumer psychology might be at work, too: The law of diminishing returns.

"I get it. The Dodge Ram is tougher than the Rock 'Em sockem [sic] robots. It was cute once. Not cute the 87th time," reads a typical reaction to the commercial on Internet sites devoted to advertising and auto marketing.

"OMG!" reads another about the commercial, in which the big blue robot takes on the Dodge Ram and loses its head after pounding futilely on the truck's grille. "They played that stupid commercial about 7-8 times before halftime of the OSU vs. Florida game."

And another: "For the love of Moses Malone can Dodge please pull the rest of the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robot ads. We get it. Your new Dodge Ram trucks are tough. But enough is enough."

Actually, Dodge begs to disagree.

"It's supposed to be impactful, and repetition isn't a bad thing," says James Kenyon, a company spokesman. "Running the ads [so close together] creates a kind of intensity that we wouldn't get" if the commercial were spread throughout the game. Besides, he says, not everyone stayed in front of the set for all four airings.

"Apparently it's working," he says. "The fact is, people noticed we ran it several times."

As it happens, that was a bit of serendipity. Dodge purchased three 30-second spots for the ad during the second quarter (and one before the game). But when the second quarter ran long, Fox filled some of the time by broadcasting the ad a fourth time. "Would we have turned that down had we known in advance that Fox was going to do that? No," Kenyon says.

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