Ask the person on the street what they think of advertising and their response will be somewhere between apathy and disdain. Ad execs frequently top polls of the least-trusted professionals, which in the current political climate, really speaks volumes.
Apathy is a horrible indictment on our industry. Does it mean the advertising we create is failing to entertain? Or are consumers just saturated and frustrated by ads? Either way, our job has become a hell of a lot harder.
Take Game of Thrones as an example. A recent episode was the most expensive TV episode of all time. Meanwhile, fans up and down the country monitored social media and messaged memes to each other.
It’s no wonder then, that every advertiser under the sun has developed some kind of Game of Thrones related ad campaign to try and muscle in on the attention.
And attention is the point. We are in an attention economy, and the more bidders on the scene, the higher the price. But as a result, we are creating advertising fatigue amongst the consumers we are trying to reach.
At the root of this problem is a focus from advertisers on reach over all other metrics; how many people saw the ad, clicked it (accidentally) or had half of it visible on the screen for two seconds. We’ve lost focus on what these metrics sit in service to, giving consumers value in return for engaging and acting.
This focus on reach alone has created a race to the bottom, that drives advertising to be its most mundane in front of the largest amount of people possible.
It’s also a knee jerk reaction to a complex problem – namely, that the way advertising works is still wedded to TV advertising. By this I mean it’s creatively subjective, slow to sign-off and produce, and there’s no test and learn at a meaningful scale.
What we should be doing instead is reading user behavior to inform a variety of content options that tie directly to business outcomes – then test and learn from those in the real world, so we only ever scale the creative that works, for brands and their audiences.
In doing this you might just be surprised by what people are actually after. Consumers are constantly telling us what they want, we’re just not listening. Maybe they don’t want a traditional approach. Maybe what they want is the antithesis of “advertising” as we know how to make it.
For example, two recent and popular activations include Red Dead Redemption buying every ad on the Imgur website so viewers could ‘enjoy an ad free day’, and The Citizens Advertising Takeover Service (CATS) replacing every tube ad in Clapham with pictures of cats.
Advertising centred around what consumers want and need challenges our traditions. Carlsberg and KFC’s campaigns centred around negative tweets have effectively set up more traditional messaging about their product launches for beer and fries specifically.
In this context, making a TVC and seeding the 30s cut across social falls far short of consumer expectations.
In short, it’s hard to deny our job has become harder – there’s more clutter and the bar has been raised by the media we interrupt.
But if we could turn up the volume on content, consider how we create and place our message, then test and learn what people actually want to see, advertising could legitimately stand shoulder to shoulder with the content around it and, just maybe, give people what they’re asking for.