A damn good smoke
I was chatting to George Bryant of Brooklyn Brothers recently.
We were talking about how people in this industry keep thinking they can just go back to how things used to be, as though nothing has really changed.
It reminds me of the title of that Editors track, “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors”.
It’s like “Phew, I think we got away with that, let’s just carry on as though nothing has happened”.
But of course something absolutely fundamental has changed. The former “consumers” have taken over the media, and they’re not going to slide back into their passive little boxes just because Simon Cowell, for instance, has found a way to keep them amused for a while.
People might be watching all sorts of TV, but that isn’t now (and actually never has been) an indicator that people are engaging with the commercial messages sandwiched into them.
Of course it suits the ad industry to keep peddling this myth – and I’ve personally enjoyed being a part of that peddling process – but it’s one that Google will probably kill off over the next few years.
The problem is quite simple. The old model is interruptive and imprecise and that might work if the ads were really entertaining.
But 90% of advertising is a pain in the arse.
Just think about how advertising has traditionally communicated with its audience. There’s a particular tone of voice, which is either patronising and boring … or invasive and anxiety-provoking.
Neither of which, let’s be honest, is hugely attractive.
Try it out on your friends.
This tone of voice, which uses weasels and half-lies and “stuff we can get away with”, is about as attractive as having a conversation with a slightly shifty former schoolteacher who always told you that you weren’t good enough and who’s now asking you for money.
It’s also like having a conversation with a lunatic, because it’s so random. I’m constantly being urged to buy products like nappies or crop tops or dog-food, for which I have absolutely no need.
As Glyn Britton put it to me recently (quoting a cartoonist whose name I can’t remember) – if people talked to other people the way ads talked to them, they’d get punched in the mouth.
There are any number of commercials I could cite as examples of this – the difficult thing would be finding one that avoided it – but the particular example I had lined up to shoot down I’d rather not use right now because I’ve just been asked to help pitch for the account.
(And if you want further proof of why most of what we do, doesn’t work very well – look at the fact that accounts move on average every 4 years. A decade ago, the average was 7 years.)
So, what’s the answer ?
As Siobhan Freegard of Netmums puts it, clients need to get “out of the boardroom and into the chatrooms”.
I.e. stop hiding behind all the marketing clap-trap and useless research which has passed for science in the last 30 years, and start using the medium which might actually save the industry.
(The Editors track, incidentally, comes from an album titled “An End Has a Start” … )
Because, in the meantime, Google are employing former brain surgeons and rocket scientists to make their advertising model work harder.
A model that far more closely fits the way people consume their media.
In a book called “I’m Feeling Lucky”, Douglas Edwards writes about one of Google’s key employees who “had a PhD in aerospace robotics, and notions of his own about how the ads system should develop”.
Another employee “led an effort to build one of the biggest machine-learning systems in the world – just to improve ad targeting”.
The former Facebook engineer Jeff Hammerbacher has said “the best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads”.
There will still be TV ads for a while yet.
And I’m still up for making them entertaining, if you are.
But we’ve got a bit of a battle on our hands.
Anyone fancy a cigar ?
* Hears Hamlet theme tune start up *