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”.

Ah well.

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 *

  • Sarah A

    Excellent piece. And here’s the cartoon you mentioned: http://www.gapingvoid.com/ifyoutalkedtopeople.jpg

    The artist is called Hugh MacLeod.

  • Glyn Britton

    Steve, that cartoon is a @gapingvoid:twitter classic from 2006: http://gapingvoid.com/2006/05/09/if-you-talked-to-people/

  • TESS ALPS

    What if we behaved in real life like we do in social media?  http://bit.ly/kCOw0H (you'll like it, honestly)

    I debated whether to respond frankly, Steve.  I agree with quite a lot of what you’ve written (though not sure why poor old telly ads are always the ones that get it in the neck.  Have a go at shit banners for a change, eh?) 

    People love good ads and hate bad ones, whatever the medium.  We should all do everything we can to get more good ads made and fewer bad ones.  Some analytical genius might well be able to define what makes people click on ads, but that’s certainly not the same as being able to create them.  Are you seriously suggesting we can replace creativity with algorithms?

    Shall I go on a bit about addressable advertising?  If I get served another ‘relevant’ Facebook ad about how a 57 year old woman (yes, I’m 57) got rid of her wrinkles using clingfilm I have threatened to wrap the lovely Stephen Haines in it from head to toe.  If it really bugs you so much to see a nappy ad Steve, just stop watching Peppa Pig.  You don’t pay for anyone you’re not targeting in telly so it’s not ‘wastage’ but a lovely useful bonus.   But addressability is coming soon to linear TV for those advertisers who want to use it.

    I’m afraid the people ‘peddling myths’ are the ones who try to say that TV ads don’t work any more.  If an advertiser did leave the boardroom and enter the chatroom they would see that a lot of brand conversations are about their TV ads.  More importantly,  a brief read through the biggest business successes will soon disabuse you of the notion that TV would want to go ’back’ anywhere.

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