Monday, February 23, 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.

Monday, February 16, 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.


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.