Advertising and a few good articles.
I thought about what I should write next and advertising & marketing is a big topic. I have shared my views through various social media posts and tweets but I have never really written an expanded in-depth article on those views. Even this inspired article is just a small part of it all. There are many views shared by experts and influential industry folks on what is wrong and what is right with the Advertising & Marketing industry and I’ve spent a few weeks reading various articles and gathering my thoughts on these issues.
At the core of all that can go wrong in Advertising and Marketing, there are similar and often agreed-upon perspectives that the root of which lies heavily on the client management and content creation processes. It appears that by my own observation that the creative aspects of advertising have been lost or all but forgotten - replaced with a near tunnel vision focus on marketing. But marketing alone can be quite bland without its compliments. Yes, appealing to a well-targeted group of people does not then require much to be sold, but there is something special about a bold creative that makes marketing even more valuable. When advertising remerges as a fundamental counterpart to the whole, the project and its impact become more attractive, memorable, and well, more impactful.
Somewhere between the planners, accountants, and clients teaming up, the creative process has, or is slowly being murdered. I not only blame managers but also the creative professionals themselves who either do not understand the importance of creativity in business and its value or simply do not defend the importance of creative processes. This does not mean every creative professional needs to be particularly business savvy. I am simply saying that we need to understand the purpose of creativity as a business component and why advertising must remain creatively expressive and emotional.
What tends to happen is; copywriters, artists, and designers are often taken for granted, but they are the directives once the objective is understood. Their job is to find ways of engaging a targeted audience and build informative and summarized awareness.
“Fishing the way fish want to be caught Simply put, if you don’t speak to your customers the way they want to be spoken to — at a particular time, about a particular product, in a particular medium — you will not succeed. No matter how great your media buy.” — Martin Bihl
Content creation for most is nothing short of a grizzly bear catching salmon. They stand there and wait for the fish to swim upstream — the grizzly doesn’t need a strategy for catching the salmon, or a new one anyway. It is wired in their DNA to go to the easiest point to catch their meal. Much like the hungry grizzly, advertising has devolved into latching on to social media trends — the creative sensibilities are often lost in lieu of fleeting relevance. Online ads reflect social media, not advertising in its creative sensibilities and so content creation has become an effortless wading in ankle-deep waters for the next naive fish.
Online ads don’t necessarily have a copywriter. For some reason, a lot of online advertising and marketing seems focused on saturating timelines with quick mediocrity, mundane and generic content, ignoring the foundation and principles which still apply. Digital marketing still needs to utilize the traditional principles of marketing and while the tools and vehicles may be different they must still aim to build awareness and intrigue customers by leveraging benefits. Some of the best digital marketers do this, which means using good advertising.
Good advertising starts with a good copy. It is the directive of everything. It’s a story embedded in creative writing, a result of critical thinking. This can be communicated in different ways, whether it be visual or sound, in some cases the actual copy. What happens in most online ads I’ve seen is content saturation, they grab things and stitch them together, albeit some are visually appealing, but there’s nothing substantial there.
From my experience, a request comes in to put out an ad to promote a person, brand, or thing and because digital or social media marketing is void of the advertising process, this quickly becomes a cute graphic repeated across all platforms and labeled as a ‘campaign’. With the right keywords and ad spend, it’s no different from printing a flyer and handing it out to every home in the city. The aim is to reach for eyeballs (views) and I find that to be a very shallow approach.
Nowadays advertising seems more focused on trying to tell visually captivating stories rather than utilizing clever awareness-based strategies. Yes, there are still some good ones out there but it’s not quite like it used to be. Those good ones are rare and are exceptions to the rule even possibly the new norm. They include the same formula - Cue music. Cue talent. Cue speech. Many may speak about storytelling and leveraging insights but they produce the same type of commercials as their counterparts with only a few nagging differences. I am often left confused about the sale.
“Christmas ads are season’s greetings with no definitive or creative product heroes. Pharmaceutical ads are mostly funerals, insurance in the majority, are accountants trying to be funny…” The tweet that inspired this article.
The best example I can think of to emphasize my point is a presentation by Dave Trott on advertising history told through 25 commercials.
Note: Dave Trott gives his view on what advertising is not — it is not pricing, or distribution, or training sales-staff. Not manufacturing, packaging, quality control, PR, investor relations, employee morale or even staff turnover.
Recently released is John Lewis’s 2021 Christmas commercial, a brand popular for its story-styled commercials around Christmas. My review of the commercial I saw titled ‘Unexpected Guest’ is that it’s a nice story, not an ad. A brand’s message or season greeting maybe but with less excitement and more solemnity as the aim. While John Lewis is familiar and well known, and I can appreciate not trying to shove products in our faces, I didn’t get the sale.
It felt a bit generic and didn’t hit as hard as it should. John Lewis’s ads in the past have been described as tear jerks. So much so, that other brands have attempted the same formula. The 2021 commercial on the other hand had no definitive product features. It felt more like a short story about a boy and his short friendship with a friendly alien. Perhaps their intent was less about how to sell the product and more on inducing the Christmas feeling. However, if someone saw the ad and didn’t know John Lewis they would ask what the ad was about.
That said, I can only view it as a nice story and kind of a sad one. It was trapped between a fantastical tale and a melodramatic checklist of all the right elements for a standard Christmas commercial. Good advertising is simple and fun but this commercial was trying to compete instead of introducing us to anything or reminding us of the John Lewis we know and love.
Simple, direct, and bold is what I look for in a great ad but build the story around a definitive selling point.
The job of advertising is to insight intrigue and build awareness. Marketing develops overall strategies to inform sale strategies. You need a good copy to inform the advertising. Don’t aim to compete with the best story because sometimes the story is too complicated. A simpler solution is always a good way to go, but it doesn’t have to be safe.
“Getting it right is marketing’s job, getting heard is advertising’s job.”
— Dave Trott
I am not so much criticizing the people — I am mostly criticizing the thinking and how much better some of these ads can be. Things start to break down when we have false expectations for specific functions.
“The first rule of production is to have an idea worth producing. The second rule of production is to always enforce the first.” — Lee Clow’s Beard
Start with understanding the difference between media buys or ad spots and advertising. Client management affords you the ability to buy spots, but if all you need to do is buy the right spaces then who needs creative communication? Marketing is what secures the spaces and develops the overall strategies but advertising is what gets people to want to know about the offer.
“Unless you begin with an interesting problem, it is unlikely you will end up with an interesting solution” — Bob Gill, artist, designer, teacher, writer, provocateur 1931–2021
I have always said that brand design and development perspectives were missing from advertising, especially in the industry today. When you have an understanding of a brand’s identity and its purpose — its business purpose — you will have a better understanding of the company’s vision and intent; this will allow for better copywriting. It is the missing bit that birthed “branding agencies”, the majority of which seem focused on visual deliverables. They often use selling points like logo design, storytelling, and visual identity design, but I cannot see how those things can be offered without a business strategy for a business problem.
“Agencies must re-establish themselves on the strategic playing field and add an upgraded ‘strategic brand and performance consulting’ capability to the front end of their resource offerings.” — The Agency Review
You are, by default, considered competition the second you enter a market segment. Everyone else in that space is your competitor, especially if you are a market leader. However, don’t try to compete; differentiate and hopefully with an innovative solution. The product still cleans, but does it clean differently? As a friend once said, “You can’t wrap a turd in Christmas paper and call it a good gift.” This is how I think about brand design, advertising, marketing and art and design as a whole.
“The client knows what they want. The agency knows what they need. It’s the account handler’s job to get the client to want what they need.” Risk: “If you’re a market leader this is not a problem, if you’re not it’s a waste of money.” — Dave Trott
I believe in the process and that the process must be supported and enforced, but that it be able to adapt without losing its core function. Sadly, advertising has lost power to the client.
“So what’s the problem? Change. Because unlike most tools, the two components that make up process — assets and goals — are constantly shifting at advertising agencies.” — Martin Bihl
So, we must understand the function of Advertising, Marketing, Brand, and the company, and we must understand who the right people are that need to be on each team in order to develop a seamless process between all areas aimed at the same goals. A defined process of client engagement and a framework that can be adapted to different problems — underlying constants that maintain the ability to accommodate variables — will allow for better client management and results, trust.
“If a client pays you enough and you are desperate enough — they can have you do the most horrible, ineffective advertising, and you’ll smile in their faces while doing it. That’s the ugly reality. Most of us are not brave enough to push back — our real prove this. That’s real.” — A Tweet thread from Derek Walker
I will always love advertising, brands, marketing. My criticisms are more of subjective observations. I have to appreciate the attempts at being different and unique. And I am probably among a small group of people who don’t skip ads or mute the TV. I like to see the good, the bad, and the ugly.