Advertising Week is upon us. So it’s as good a time as any to take stock of our lot. What are the issues we face? What are the trends shaping our future?
But, before we start looking ahead, where have we come from? Our industry was built on ideas. Big, brilliant ideas that transformed businesses. Ideas that made you jealously wish that you had thought of them. Ideas that got people talking (and buying). Ideas like VW ‘lemon’ and Wonderbra ‘hello boys’.
It seems to me though, that these days we’re more concerned with being dedicated followers of fashion. Chasing the latest technology fad, delivery channel or advertising flavour of the week. Not so much the shock of the new. More for the sake of the new. As an industry, we’re in danger of looking like an out-of-touch dad trying to talk about a grime DJ to his daughter’s bewildered boyfriend.
This fetishisation of technology trends and channels over ideas isn’t doing us any favours. I read an article recently in which leading industry figures described how they’d recreate a classic ad – one that resulted in a sales uplift of 800 per cent. It was an opportunity to erase the ‘wish I’d thought of that’ jealousy. To take the tools we have today and build an unscalable tower of ideas. But there was one enormous glaring omission from their responses; the complete lack of a single idea. What we got instead were shopping lists of social media activity. As though a bunch of 11-year olds had been let loose in an app store. It read like the script of a Nathan Barley episode that never aired. Only this time written by contestants on The Apprentice in the episode where they make an advert.
Rather than effortlessly cool, it was unbelievably try-hard - and largely seemed to rely on people sharing campaign content. Worryingly this seemed far more important than the grubby old concept of coming up with an idea that actually got people to buy what was being advertised.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no technical Luddite. After all, technology gives us myriad new ways to reach, engage and target the right people more effectively. But isn’t it all a bit empty without an idea behind it? I know ideas can’t be found under that stack of flyers from the new barbecue place round the corner. I genuinely wish they could. But the idea has to come first. Once you’ve got one, a good idea will come to life in any channel. If that happens to be via the latest bit of tech, fine. The question to ask is, is this the best way to answer the brief or are we doing this because it’s the latest thing?
To me, this obsession with having our finger pressed firmly on the pulse can make us look pretty desperate. We risk losing sight of our real purpose: solving clients’ problems; achieving their goals; building their brands. An idea that delivers on the first of those points will always lead to more effective work than jumping on the bandwagon of a passing fad.
The trouble with bandwagons is they’re popular with herds, while it’s actually our job to make products stand out from the herd. To make people pay attention. To seduce them. To amaze them. To get them talking. To get them buying. Instead of making brands speak with a unique voice, fads make them say ‘me-too’. Sure, they’ve got a Snapchat filter, but nothing to say.
As the brilliant Bob Hoffman puts it: “Good ads appeal to us as consumers, while great ads appeal to us as human beings.” Or in other words, it’s one thing knowing where consumers hang out online, it’s another knowing how to get under their skin.
So if you’re wondering what the future holds, how about getting back to doing what we do best? Doing what made our industry great and revered. Having ideas that transform businesses. Ideas that make our colleagues and contemporaries bubble with jealousy. Ideas people talk about down the pub, while they’re waiting for their work PC to start up and, yes, online with their friends. The kind of ideas that still get talked about thirty years later. I wonder how many YouTube-influencer, choose your own ending, live-streamed events we’ll be doing that with?
Adam Reynolds is a senior copywriter at creative agency Intermarketing.