Sunday, February 22, 2015

Forget 'Is It An Art Or A Science' - Is Advertising Actually More Like A Religion?


The quickest way to ruin a meeting, it's been said, is to ask everyone around the table how they think advertising works.

Because no two individuals would agree.

And frankly, this is an embarrassment.

Can you imagine plumbers sitting around, arguing about 'how plumbing works'? Lawyers may disagree on the facts of a case, but they all have a very clear understanding of what the law is. Knife-makers agree how knives work. And bakers all know how bread is made.

Almost unbelievably, some of our theories directly contradict each other. For example, some argue it is essential that advertising has impact - if you don't 'cut through the clutter', your message won't be heard. But others argue that the brain works mostly by Low Involvement Processing - we process marketing messages at least as much when we are paying little attention to them as we do when we consciously take them on board, so cut-through is irrelevant.

I was intrigued, therefore, as to whether 'the answer' would appear in the book that uber-strategist Paul Feldwick has just published called 'The Anatomy of Humbug'.


 
It's billed as "a book that isn't about how advertising works, but about how people think advertising works."

My copy hasn't arrived yet, but I have to say that the interviews Mr Feldwick has done to promote the book - while fascinating - have left me seriously depressed.

I suppose I've long cleaved to the hope that although we may disagree right now about how advertising works, there will be an answer 'one day'.

Mr Feldwick seems to imply not.

While according to one reviewer "he sidles very close to answering the fundamental question" he eventually concludes "there isn't an answer" and admits that "the book supports multiple points of view."

Most worryingly of all, he talks about the need to 'respect other people's beliefs'.

And that, my friends, is not the language of science, or of art... but of religion.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Was Oreo's Super Bowl Tweet A Waste Of Time?


 

If you follow the social media scepticism of Bob Hoffman over at The Ad Contrarian, you might want to watch the above video.

But if you haven't got time to watch it, here are the highlights:

Mark Ritson, an English guy who is professor of marketing at Melbourne Business School, calculates that the famous Oreo Super Bowl tweet ("You can still dunk in the dark") - which according to one online publication "won the Super Bowl" - was in fact seen by only 64,300 people. Compared with the over 100 million who saw the TV ads.


Next point. For most big brands, only 2-3% of their customers have liked them on Facebook. "If social media is supposed to be a conversation, it's a bloody quiet conversation," says Ritson. "97.5% of their customers aren't listening."

He cites the case of Australian bank NAB, who have six people in their social media team, but in the previous week, only 276 people had engaged with the brand via Facebook. Out of a total customer base of 12 million. When properly rounded, that's an engagement rate of 0%.

Those are the facts. So what do we do about them?

This is where I part company with Ritson.

He reckons brands "aren't welcome" on social media, and that for most marketers, "social media is mostly a waste of time." He suggests the NAB social media team switch to other duties.

I don't see it the same way.

What if the early television advertisers had been told that people wanted to watch the programmes, not ads, and that they should give up?

Let's say that a brand's current Facebook strategy is not working. The solution is not to quit. The correct response is to find a way to make it work.

Globally, Facebook has 1.35 billion monthly active users. And Twitter has 284 million.

WE HAVE TO MAKE THIS WORK.

Get on it, people.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Do Ideas Have Different 'Shapes'?



This is one of my favourite ads of all time. It was created by Ben Nott and Adam Hunt at Saatchi & Saatchi London.

(Incidentally, Adam now runs an Asian tapas restaurant in Bondi called Mamasan; it's great and you should totally go there if you're in the neighbourhood. But I digress).

One of the interesting features of the ad is that it has a very distinct 'shape'.

The first three-quarters of the message, while somewhat visually engaging, and somewhat semantically intriguing, are basically pretty straight. The payoff - and what a payoff it is - comes at the end.

So you might say that the 'shape' of the ad is something like this:

(I haven't marked them, but I'm hoping it's clear that the x axis represents Time, and the y axis Reward for the Viewer).

It's very hard to imagine this idea being structured any differently. The first three-quarters has to be quite dry and scientific, and the payoff (as with many jokes) has to come at the end.

So does that mean the idea is intrinsically that shape?

Let's look at another one. The famous Sony 'Balls' ad is kinda entertaining all the way through. There's not really a boring intro part, or a boring 'product bit' at the end, and there's no particular climax at any point either. Something like this?  



Then there's a type of ad I like to call the 'Stepper'. This year's Snickers Super Bowl ad works like that. There's entertainment from the beginning, and it just keeps ramping up, with each gag topping the last.


Sometimes there is information that you just have to get across. The 'Climate Name Change' social idea by agency Barton F. Graf 9000 starts out with a lot of serious factology, before unleashing the humour of its central conceit. And once again, I'd argue that this is the only way this idea can work. Giving a shape something like this:


Finally, there's a type of idea that works almost the opposite to that. Entertainment first, and then product message. Example: Little Caesars 'Arm Cast'.

Personally, I reckon that no one shape of idea is actually better than any other. Success comes from recognising what shape your idea is, and executing it in that style.

But what do you think? Any validity to my shape theory? And do you have a favourite shape, or is there one that you hate?


Sunday, February 01, 2015

Death, Destruction, and Negativity: Why This Year's Super Bowl Ads Are So Good


It seems like what was once a daring media strategy - to release your Super Bowl ad before the Super Bowl actually airs - has become the new normal.

So I've seen most of this year's ads already.

It's a good crop - big spectacle, big emotion.

And I don't think it's a coincidence that many of the best ones show death, destruction and negativity. 

For example, in this great ad - I won't reveal the brand name, because spoilers - catastrophe strikes the entire planet.

This year's Budweiser 'dog and horse' epic - albeit not as good as last year's - contains a scene in which the pup is menaced by a drooling wolf.

In the GrubHub ad, a flying burrito smacks people in the face. Fairly comical, but also undeniably violent.

Even in the Bud Light ad - which basically consists of a guy whooping and hollering like he's just won a car in a game show - there is a moment where he (metaphorically) dies.

I've written before about the power of negative thinking, so I don't want to repeat myself.

Suffice to say that judicious use of negativity helps give a brand depth and relatability, as well as providing a great springboard for engaging creative.

In other words, it's the difference between this...



...and this.

 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dear Introverts: You're Shit-Out-Of-Luck, Aren't You?


I love that quote; it's flattering to us ad types, isn't it?

But recently I've been wondering whether it has an unwanted flip-side.

I know a ton of advertising creatives, and I agree with Banksy that the vast majority of us are bright, creative and ambitious. And that's good.

But are we too much of a type? Are we failing to attract the "slow and self-obsessed" who could make a valuable contribution, but are put off by... something?

There's quite a lot going on in Banksy's quote, but I guess part of it is about people who think quick and shallow versus people who think deep and slow.

We mostly get the former. An advertising agency is a tyranny of quick-wittedness. Nearly all the people at the top are the quick-witted type. But do they sometimes get there at the expense of others who might be better than them, but just have a different personality? 

I suspect Banksy is also making an observation about a personality difference that is horribly over-simplified, but which at least has the advantage of being well-known and easily understandable: introverts and extroverts.

You'd have to agree that the vast majority of people in advertising are extroverts.

Our industry prizes those who are energetic, articulate, confident, and sociable. And I'm not just talking about Account Handlers, but Creatives too. Especially if you're to reach CD level, you nowadays simply have to be energetic, articulate, confident etc.

I worry this is a problem. We might be discarding, or at least failing to properly promote, some fantastically talented Creatives just because they don't slap people on the back, or crack jokes.

There's a best-selling book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which makes the point that most modern institutions are geared toward extroversion, which means introverts are underrated, under-used and even demonised.

And nowhere is the issue more acute - I'd guess - than in ad agencies.

So come on, introverts, let's hear from you. Anonymously, obviously. Do you find it difficult, being an introvert in advertising? Do you think extroverts have an unfair advantage? And do you ever take your headphones off?


Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Book About Poison Gas

 
I have a book out and it would be remiss of me - as an ad guy - not to plug my own product.

So I will.

100 Ideas That Changed Advertising is really a history book, charting the development of advertising from the earliest posters (perfectly preserved advertising messages have been found on the walls of Pompeii) to today's online media behemoths like Facebook and YouTube.

I took history A-Level at school, I enjoy history, and I believe we can learn a lot from it.

So what can we learn from the history of advertising?

The main thing I learned, in writing it, is that the history of advertising is a history of innovation - not only that, but of remarkably rapid innovation.

For example, the first cinema in the United States - Vitascope Hall, in New Orleans - opened in 1896. Filmed ads were being produced as early as 1897.

The first commercially licensed radio station in America went on air in 1920. In 1922, the first radio advertising was broadcast.

Twitter launched in 2006, and by 2010 was running advertising.

There are a couple of useful take-aways, I'd suggest, from this trend.

First, don't be afraid to innovate.

In 1921, a group of investors declined to put money into radio, notoriously predicting that “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” Right.

When the first TV ad aired, on July 1st 1941, there were only 7,500 TV sets in New York City. The ad was for Bulova watches and showed a watch-face superimposed over a map of the U.S., while a voiceover claimed that “America runs on Bulova time.” The whole medium must have seemed incredibly shonky, compared to the sophistication of print advertising at that time. People must have wondered if it would ever take off. Well, it did.
 
Similarly, people questioned whether YouTube would ever make money from advertising, since few believed there would ever be a wide audience for videos of other people's cats. I know.

So what's today's frontier? Mobile? Probably. Don't be afraid to go there. 

As I worked through the chronology of our industry to write the book, I started to feel that advertising is like a gas; it seeps in everywhere. Whatever new medium is invented that captures a modicum of human attention, someone will find a way to put an ad there.

And that led to my second take-away. In contrast to the ever-evolving media and technology landscape, there is one thing that hasn't changed, and will never change - the nature of our responsibilities, as advocates for the brands who buy this space.

Another gas metaphor captures it with pungent brilliance. It was American ad-man George Lois who said of successful advertising: "I think advertising should be like poison gas. It should grip you by the throat, it should bowl you over, it should knock you on your ass.” 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Is Advertising Really A Business, Or Is It Actually Just A Giant Game?


This is the time of year when the predictions for the future of advertising are published.

Words like integration, big data, and real-time marketing are bandied about, and it all sounds horribly serious.

Yes, advertising is a business - a serious and important one, with high stakes.

But to do it well, we may actually be better off treating it as a game.

As evidence, I'm citing a sci-fi novel called Time Out Of Joint by Philip K. Dick.

The protagonist of this tale is highly skilled at an extremely serious activity - predicting where Lunar rebels will target missile attacks.

But the authorities use drugs and a stage-set to convince him that he is living in suburban America in 1959, a cosy existence where his only job is to enter a local newspaper competition called "Where Will The Little Green Man Be Next?"... which in reality, is predicting the missile strikes.

The key point for our purposes is that the protagonist is more effective at a serious job when he treats it as a game.

I firmly believe it's the same for ad Creatives.

My heart always sinks when the suits come in and explain that this is a really important project, and we mustn't screw it up. Or if the Client gives a speech about "how much is riding on this."

That kind of talk stifles creative people.

Because ironically, serious business success (in a creative business) is best achieved by treating it as a game.

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct," said Carl Jung.

I love that.
 
Oh, by the way, I have a book out.

It's called 100 Ideas That Changed Advertising. Available in Australia, the UK, USA, and no doubt other countries that have internet or bookshops. Call to action: buy it now!