Advertising Doesn’t Have To Be Bad

You will be remembered for spitting on the boardroom table but who wants to be remembered for spitting on a boardroom table?   The advertising industry, and more specifically digital advertising, seems to be getting served a few bloody noses of late, which is no surprise and probably deserved as it keeps maturing as an effective medium for brand and consumer purposes.

When you think GDPR, the endless amount of irrelevant Facebook ads and an Instagram follower ad for some successful entrepreneur who now also wants social recognition, it’s no surprise that consumers are forcing brands and advertisers to reconsider how they go about their business.   This sentiment towards brands and advertisers isn’t something new to the advertising industry nor a perception held by a few but rather a familiar sentiment that is, and has previously, been shown towards the advertising industry.

Since 1976, Gallup has almost annually published a poll showcasing what are the most trusted and ethical professions in America. Advertising practitioners have always been a contender for the least trusted and ethical profession, battling it out with Members of Congress, Car Salespeople and Lobbyists.   There’s an antidote that goes along the lines of:   My family is a bit weird.   My father is serving a life sentence for murder. My mother ran away when we were kids. I have a brother in advertising and both my sisters are whores.

I’ve managed to stay relatively clean and as a consequence I’ve just met the woman of my dreams. I’ll do anything not to lose her and yet I don’t feel good lying to her. So I’m in a big dilemma and just don’t know what to do!   Do you think I can tell her about my brother who’s in advertising?   Be it as it may, when done right advertising has the ability to trigger emotion, entice action and drive product sales or even social change. Some ads actually get searched and looked for by consumers… So where and when did or does it go wrong?

There are some interesting parallels that exist between how advertising on television evolved from when it was – a new and exciting channel – to where it is now and comparing it to what is and has been happening within the online space.   During the 1950s as television really started hitting its stride, earning itself a place within the average family household and a seat around the dinner table, and as a result television became an easy hunting ground for advertisers; “In the 1950s, the national audience was in the palm of the ad industry’s hand. Anything that advertising said, people heard. TV was brand new, clutter didn’t exist, and pretty much anything that showed up in the strange, foggy little window was kinda cool” Luke Sullivan explains in Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.

He goes on to explain that that’s when the wave of clutter came as more brands jumped on the telly-wagon, driving their agenda and product at every chance that they could afford and what followed was “the wall” – being the “perceptual filter that consumers put up to protect themselves from this tsunami of product information”.

Fast forward a few decades later and consumers are still actively cutting out as much television clutter as possible, not only ads but television shows too, as consumers have been granted control of what they consume through on-demand viewing, forcing advertisers to reconsider how they use television.   In the last fifteen years or so, we’ve seen how online devices have been warmly welcomed into consumers’ homes and around their dinner tables. With, once more, a highly engaged audience that gains entertainment and social value from the channels.

As was the case with television, brands have flocked to online and social media spaces as online platforms created and enhanced their advertising marketplaces, monetising their engaged audiences as brands themselves were, and are, able to drive marketing and business objectives through online channels. And so the clutter came…   What has made the clutter within online spaces worse than what was experienced on television (barring any eTV ads between movies) is that television is expensive, from a media buying and content production perspective. Limiting the amount of publishers and the quality of content being published.   However, in the online space every Tom, Dick and dick is a content producer, editor, media buyer and audience builder.

Through online channels everyone and anyone is a publisher, often leaving it to individuals (with agendas and emotions) to use their discretion when it comes to the appropriateness, quality and quantity of content being published – the beauty of online advertising as an effective channel but also its downfall with the endless amount of poor content we get harassed with.   “The clutter” before “the wall”.

As the relationship between brands, advertisers and consumers keeps evolving in the online space, I’m very much of the opinion that advertising as a function isn’t the cause of frustration but rather the quality of the ads being produced, its relevance and the manner in which brands are forcing their agendas. When done correctly though, advertising is something that consumers enjoy and brands are remembered for.

It’s as if there is this floating scale between relevance and quality that needs to be considered in order for a message to have an effect; the less relevant, the better its quality needs to be i.e. show me a poor surfing video and I’ll probably still watch it but show me babies and nappies and you will need to make me feel something, at least until I have a baby.   Here are few examples of clever ads that demonstrate that advertising isn’t the problem but rather the quality of the ads being published, proving that you don’t have to spit on the boardroom table to be remembered:

References: Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. 5th Edition. Luke Sullivan.

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