Recently, in a thought-provoking post on why the PR industry, advertising and the mainstream and hybrid media need to work in a much more integrated way, Richard Edelman made this deceptively simple observation, “Ads are inherently more effective when you have something to say.”
And therein lies the crux. In a world where it’s never been harder to get people’s attention, too many brands have nothing in their DNA and in their messages that brings a smile to the faces of consumers. They exist. But there is no Long Idea. There is nothing iconic. There are no delicious insights. As a result, their marketing is often just information and, hard as it is for many brand managers to hear this, pure-play marketing information is flatline from an excitement point of view.
Presence, top of mind, awareness – whatever you want to call it – is a far cry from being interesting. Impressions mean nothing if brands fail to impress.
Before anyone says it, this is not about budget. It’s really about having the imagination and the tenacity to develop brands that are fascinating. And so many brands aren’t. It’s about knowing what Brian Clark refers to as “your particular future”. And so many brands don’t. They’re built on an also-ran premise, designed to a mediocre aesthetic and delivered in an also-ran way. As David Ogilvy himself said in Confessions of An Advertising Man, “You cannot bore people into buying”.
Hugh MacLeod has gone further, quoting this statement that he attributes to Andy Sernovitz: “Advertising is the cost of being boring”. In other words, MacLeod explains, advertising is what happens when you have to pay to interrupt people with messages that no-one would volunteer to listen to. It’s what you have to do when you have no other way of trying to catch consumers’ eyes.
Even the world’s biggest advertisers are seeing that media alone doesn’t get them the results they now need. As Mark Parker observes in this article on why Nike has made some big shifts in its marketing approach, “Connecting used to be, ‘Here’s some product, and here’s some advertising. We hope you like it’ … Connecting today is a dialogue.” And that dialogue is changing the breadth and the nature of brand connection to the point where Nike have completely revamped their communications approach. Once, the biggest audience Nike had on any given day was when 200 million tuned into the Super Bowl. Now, across all its sites and social media communities, it can hit that figure any day.
That in turn raises an issue that in my view has gone unattended to for too long – the obligation of advertising channels to lift engagement and be part of the conversations. If, as Richard Edelman says, the communication industries and the media need to work in a much more integrated way, then channels need to take more responsibility for the overall experience they deliver, not just what plays “between the breaks”. Because right now, the sheer volumes of messages and the lack of quality control in those breaks may amount to easy money but, in the longer term, is gradually disconnecting the channels themselves from the very viewers they depend on.
Photo of “Dinner’s served”, taken by Pawel Loj, sourced from Flickr