We all know, because we are frequently told, that we are each exposed to 3,000 advertising messages every day. Or 2,500. Or 20,000. Depending on who’s trying to scare you.
It’s a figure agencies often use to explain to their clients how incredibly difficult it is to get attention in the modern world. As a prelude to showing the most outrageous idea the agency can come up with, designed to cut through all those other messages. Followed by the most outrageous bill the agency dares to present.
The truth, I think, is far more shocking. And far more difficult for any agency or client to deal with.
I suspect that for perhaps half the population, the number of messages each person is exposed to every day is zero. Nought. None.
This is not just because we are all so inured to advertising that we don’t even notice it any more. Nor is it because our brains are wired for selective attention. Both are true. But something else has happened over recent years, the combined effect of which is to make complete ad-avoidance a real possibility.
This is how you do it.
First, never watch live TV. There's an incentive here, too: you don't have to pay the licence fee. Students know this very well. And if you're not watching live, there are no ads, or you can fast-forward past them.
Second, read the news online. If you do it on a tablet, you can use the reader option to remove all ads, and make it easier to read. If you subscribe to a tablet edition, you'll never see them anyway.
Third, use Spotify premium for all your music. No ads, excellent sound quality, and no inane DJs either. The only live radio you need listen to is the BBC.
Fourth, set your browser to expunge all pop-ups.
Fifth, turn up your email spam filters to the maximum.
Sixth, never open any envelopes with pictures or headlines on them.
And finally, don't use social media.
You may notice that with the exception of the last, none of these involve any form of denial of the wonders of modern technology. The opposite, in fact – they make use of it to put you in control of the information you want to attend to.
As for social media, we are all very excited by the fact that half the world is on it. But half the world is not. Possibly the wealthier half.
What can advertisers and agencies do to reach people who have so many ways to hide?
Content was supposed to be the answer. Create a lot of interesting stuff and put it on your website, and people would come, and even better, they'd help promote it. But how would they find it in the first place? And why would they come back? We've seen the results. Websites full of all manner of films and exciting content, some related to the brand, some not at all. Great claims made for its effectiveness by sudden 'experts'. Followed by a lot of shuffling of feet and avoidance of eye-contact when results were asked for.
Living, as we do, in a time when just about every book, film, piece of music, performance, sporting event, comedic moment with pets, perversion and quackery is a mere click away, and free, it's hard to believe adding more content, and branding it, will solve the problem of ad-avoidance.
Look at the list of ways you can avoid advertising, and an answer is obvious. The one thing you can't edit out or fast forward is the real world. At least until Google Glass gets on everyone's faces, and provides a way to pixelate the scenery. For now, outdoor advertising is the one form you can't avoid.
So making the most of the oldest form of advertising available is a good answer. But it's not the best answer. Ask yourself why people want to avoid ads. Answer: because they don't like them. The solution is obvious.
Make ads people like.
You can with only a little effort avoid most ads. And most ads deserve to be avoided. But everyone can remember a favourite ad. It won't have been the one that ticked all the marketing department's boxes. It may not have listed all the product benefits. The logo certainly won't have been as big as the client wanted. But it had charm, wit, or emotion, and it connected.
Over many years in this business, I've heard all kinds of questions asked about creative work, and comments made, and reasons offered for its greatness or otherwise. But seldom, or perhaps never, is the one simple question asked and answered: will people like this?
Make ads people like. As easy and as difficult as that.