I'm sure we've all been there, (and if you haven’t it’s probably time to stop spending all your parents’ money) your first day at a new job. You’re terrified, you have no idea what you’re doing and you really wish you hadn't lied about that thing on your CV. Nevertheless, you’re determined to impress everyone you meet by being overly friendly and learning everything at the speed of light. But then a nightmare occurs: before you even have a chance to ask someone how long your lunch break is, the boss gabbles a load of instructions at you then leaves you to complete the task…COMPLETELY ALONE.
Even the thought of this situation is enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most capable of new employees, and it is this empathy which drives the success of this advertisement. The commercial shows a young German coastguard, seemingly at his first day on the job. It displays him briefly being shown how to operate the technology by a senior colleague and then being left to his own devices. However, soon afterwards, a “mayday” signal comes through from a ship with the English captain proclaiming, “We are sinking!”. The coastguard’s English doesn't quite hit the mark and he replies with “What are you thinking about?!”.
The commercial comes from Berlitz, a company offering language courses. It plays on the familiarity that viewers feel towards the naïve coastguard himself and also for the situation, as research has shown that we are more likely to comply with people and situations which are familiar to us (Monahan et al, 2000). Furthermore, we tend to like those who are similar to us (Burger et al, 2004), and in empathising with the poor coastguard’s situation, we make an association between liking the coastguard and liking who he represents: Berlitz.
By ending the advert with a respected Beethoven symphony and Berlitz’s company logo, the advertisers are, in a sense, warning their audience that this awful situation could happen to them if they don’t enrol on one of their language courses. They are effectively using guilt to sell their products (Pratkanis, 2007) by playing on the audience’s ability to envision the regret they would feel that they hadn't perfected their language skills, if they were in a similar situation (Tochkov, 2009).
However, I believe that the key to the advert’s success is that it is funny. Although the situation shown in the advert could have serious consequences, the language mistake which the coastguard makes is very humorous and it is this humour which makes the advertisement memorable to its’ viewers (Hansen, et al 2009). This is great for Berlitz, who are a relatively unknown provider of language courses compared to their rivals such as Rosetta Stone. So 10/10 for the marketing department for creating a commercial which went viral on YouTube and catapulted Berlitz to the forefront of consumers’ attention.
Burger, J. M. 2009. Replicating Milgram: Would people still obey today?. American Psychologist, 64 (1).
Hansen, J., Strick, M., Van Baaren, R. B., Hooghuis, M. and Wigboldus, D. H. 2009. Exploring memory for product names advertised with humour. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 8 (2-3).
Monahan, J. L., Murphy, S. T. and Zajonc, R. B. 2000. Subliminal mere exposure: Specific, general, and diffuse effects. Psychological Science, 11 (6).
Pratkanis, A. 2007. Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. The science of social influence: Advances and future progress.
Tochkov, K. 2009. The effects of anticipated regret on risk preferences of social and problem gamblers. Judgment and Decision Making, 4 (3).