"Over the top" is a phrase heard most often in theatrical circles. But marketing campaigns often go over the top too. And why not? Marketing is a kind of performance, after all, and in performance going over the top isn't always a bad thing. An exaggerated turn in an otherwise tasteful or modest production may be off-putting and unlikable. But where appropriate, it's amusing and effective. Drag queens delight audiences by exaggerating the iconic traits of legendary performers of the past. Heavy metal and rock bands, from Kiss to Twisted Sister to Gwar, make excess and kitsch their stock in trade. By good-humoredly "offending" what's commonly considered to be good taste, they have a pleasing and memorable effect.
Call it the joy of being manipulated. When you're pulling people's strings in such an obvious way that they feel like they're in on the joke, you've made a connection, whether you're channeling Barbra Streisand or selling lottery tickets. The New York State Lottery has a commercial out now that features cute bunnies dressed in adorable little outfits on miniature candy-colored amusement park rides, accompanied by a fluffy-sweet little song. Every time the commercial comes on my wife drops whatever she's doing and stares at the screen like an idiot. It's a marvelous example of success through excess:
Finnish heavy metal band Lordi won a Eurovision contest through excess. True, they had a catchy song too – but videos like this haven't hurt them at all:
Finally, American TV watchers are all too familiar with Pizza Hut's penchant for finding ever more creative ways to do excessive things with pizza dough. The chain's interest in baking things right into the crust got silly enough that it became fodder for a Mad TV parody:
Of course, a memorable marketing campaign doesn't guarantee a big sales boost. The flip side of feeling like you're in on a joke is feeling smart enough not to be seriously manipulated. Having a good product remains key. Further, a commercial's very inventiveness can outshine the product it's meant to promote, especially if the product isn't that remarkable. But all things being equal, the old adage rings true: there's no such thing as bad publicity. And going over the top can be a great way to be so bad you're good.