As long as I’ve been in advertising, I’ve been fighting to dispel a marketing myth. This fight is not predicated on a lifelong calling or noble mission. It’s not born out of a desire to make other people more money (that just happens to be a fortunate side effect). It’s based entirely on the simple fact that I dislike bad advertising.
I find it offensive that anyone would abuse the opportunity to engage with someone on a mainstream platform, with uninteresting crap. You’d think that this would be a commonly held view, but it’s not. The myth is too powerful.
The myth, you see, perpetuates the belief that people actually give a shit about advertising. That they grind their teeth in traffic, rushing home to their TVs to watch the latest offering in a long line of boring and predictable clutter. You’d think that at some point, after 60 years or so of experimentation, the advertising field would have made a few adjustments. You’d think that they would have noticed the positive correlation between engaging and entertaining advertising, and great results.
But in fact, in the digital era, it’s actually become worse. Now they don’t just expect us to watch bad ads, we have to ‘participate’ in them. If I had a YouTube view for every time I heard someone say, “people want a dialogue with your brand”, I’d be a viral phenomenon. But that’s absolute nonsense. The fact that the digital era has opened up more pervasive and intrusive communication channels doesn’t mean people are any more likely to engage with brands. They may dialogue about your brand, when they are sharing your content, praising or complaining about it. But that’s about the best you can hope for. I mean, do I care enough about my toilet cleaner to download the germ buster app and play the germ buster game? You have got to be shitting me.
Add to this the fact that people are now able to actively filter out advertising and you’d think that I’d be worried about the future of my job, but it’s quite the opposite. The fact that people are less and less inclined to engage with advertising doesn’t scare me, it excites me. People will always engage with what interests them and sometimes that happens to be advertising. And the more people are able to filter out advertising the more interesting it will need to be. Until eventually, if you aren’t interesting, your message won’t be seen.
Then the myth will finally be busted.
There’s no more brutal evidence of this than the YouTube advert. “You can skip this ad in 5 seconds… 4, 3, 2, 1.” I love that! I love the fact that they’ll give you five seconds to get someone interested. If you don’t hook them, they’ll skip your ad. So, in fact, advertising agencies need to think of themselves not as makers of adverts, but as makers of content. Content that people want to watch and content that can be amplified across all media. I remember some years ago, when the digital marketing rise was at its steepest and the predictors of TV advertising’s demise were at their loudest, a TV ad won the Cannes Festival of Creativity Film Grand Prix. It was for Old Spice Body Wash. Old Spice was an aging brand with an aging target market and declining sales. The 30-second spot amassed 40 million online views (and 107% increase in sales) within 30 days of the campaign launch. It was a great piece of content that spawned a subsequent string of highly successful Old Spice viral campaigns that have now become boardroom folklore. Have a look; I defy you to stop watching after five seconds.
But it’s not that easy to become a viral phenomenon. One of my pet hates is when clients or agencies say, “Let’s make some viral content”. There’s no such thing as ‘viral content’. You start with the content and if hundreds of thousands of people share that content, then it’s viral. They also assume that making this not-yet-viral content is going to be cheap. You just make a dodgy video and stick it on the Interweb and send it to everyone in your email database and the job is done. But it’s quite the opposite. If you want to create shareable content, you need to invest more time and money making sure it stands a chance of breaking through.
A great example of this, and one of my favourite pieces of content, is a two-minute animated short film created by Chipotle Mexican food franchise in North America. It was launched exclusively online and in cinemas simply telling the story of Chipotle’s mission to ‘Cultivate a Better World’ by ending factory farming. The soundtrack, a Coldplay track covered by Willie Nelson, was played on the radio and sold on iTunes, with the proceeds going to Chipotle’s Cultivate Foundation. It had millions of views online before it aired on television for the first time during the Grammy Awards, directly after Coldplay’s live performance.
The next day McDonalds announced that it was putting and end to one of its inhumane fast food practices. You can’t help but give a shit about that. DM
Brett stumbled into a career as an advertising copywriter while fleeing a career in law. After 8 years in the business he was appointed Executive Creative Director of Draftfcb, the largest advertising agency in South Africa. Under his leadership, Draftfcb won more awards than ever before in its 80-year history, including South Africas first ever Cannes Grand Prix in 2006. After a two-year sojourn he rejoined Draftfcb as Chief Creative Officer for South Africa in 2009. In 2011, Draftfcb Johannesburg won both Financial Mails and Finweeks Agency of the Year and The Sunday Times Branding Agency of the Year in 2012. But its all basically an elaborate ruse to support his writing habit.
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