What Is It About eBay's Ads?

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
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.

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