What it says on the tin
An overlooked aspect of advertising is the fact that every piece of communication comes with baggage. And not just the baggage of a brand’s previous work, but that of all ads ever made combined. And that’s a lot of dirty undies.
Here’s what I mean by that:
Human beings make sense of a chaotic existence by putting things into categories. These categories make our lives easier, but they’re also the basis for our biases and prejudices and the reason why we generalise, stereotype, jump to conclusions and make assumptions. We can avoid this by engaging our conscious minds (for example so we don’t judge other people based on appearances), but we’re lazy and this comes with high energy costs, we engage it sparingly.
And that means letting it rest during something as trivial as the ad-break. So far, fair enough.
People judge the ads they see based on the “Advertising” category their minds have constructed from all the ads they’ve ever seen. And that’s bad news for us, because collectively, these ads have a lot to answer for, such as:
Treating people like idiots
Interrupting favourite shows
Yelling and screaming
Copying each other endlessly
Repeated themselves infinitely
So unfortunately this is the filter through which people view and perceive your ad.
Your ad is being punished by what came before it. It’s unfair, but a reality we have no choice but to deal with.
Your latest masterpiece is just another ad, like the Rivers ad that came before it, or the Coles ad that that preceded it. As a result, people have trained themselves to either shut off during the commercial break, or to be extremely skeptical and critical of anything they see and hear. So the more ads people are exposed to the higher the bar is raised for noticing, believing or caring about what you have to say.
It doesn’t mean ads can’t break through the clutter, it just means our ads have to work harder at it than they currently do.
Marketers live in marketing world – a parallel universe of market research, consumer pen-portraits and semantic trickery – and not in the real world where their ads will be viewed by people for whom your product is high on the list of things they couldn’t care less about.
Decades of exposure advertising have made people extremely sophisticated and advertising-literal. I’d even say more so than many professionals. That’s because the marketing world views everything through one-way mirrors of their lab-environment, while their customers in the real world lack the agendas and formal training that clouds their vision. They recognise spin and bullshit when they see it.
Marketers somehow thinks their own spin is different from the rest of it. That does not suggest the clear vision required to communicate effectively.
In marketing world, the universe revolves around a company’s own latest ad, into which an infinite number of man hours have gone. Money has been spent, compromises made and pride invested into something which in the real world is perceived as just another damn ad.
Different rules apply in the real world, and marketers have to adapt.
Here, just because you say something’s true doesn’t make it so. Just because your ad use different language, visuals or music than your competitors, doesn’t mean people perceive your brand as any different. Just because you say the product is better, doesn’t mean people will believe it. Just because it’s the first time you say or do something doesn’t mean people haven’t seen it a thousand times before.
Sure, your ad may be entertaining, but it’s a blip on the radar, unless it says something of substance, unless it’s about more than pushing a product according to the conventions of the ad-category. Talk about something people care about and they will listen. Tap into culture and take a stand. One not everyone will agree with. Be a leader. Then people will listen, engage with you, and down the track, maybe even like or respect you (not love mind you, you’re not their mother).
It means brands must be bold and brave. And that means bold and brave by the standards of the real world, not the wimpy, watered-out versions of marketing world. Until then your ad will be nothing more than just another stupid ad.