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Adland meets reality - what could possibly go wrong?

By Ian Bates, Founder and creative partner

Firehaus

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The Drum Network article

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June 20, 2019 | 5 min read

What would happen if a super-keen adland exec booked his first trip to Cannes, but ended up in Cann, the small village in Dorset, UK? Swapping high-flying ad types for normal people, yachts for bus-stops, and rosé for cider - what could go wrong?

Firehaus explore when ad exec Drew Shortstraw ends up at the wrong Cannes.

Firehaus explore when ad exec Drew Shortstraw ends up at the wrong Cannes.

It’s maybe a little too unbelievable to be true, but upon recently discovering sleepy Cann, we couldn’t miss the opportunity for a bit of quick-turnaround, light-hearted, low-tech video fun. It’s not a pretty sight.

Tongue-firmly-in-cheek it may be, but underneath the ramblings of Drew Shortstraw there’s a serious point to be made. It’s not just another pop at the Cannes Lions, but rather highlighting the significant gap between the experiences of the people populating our industry and the daily lives of the ‘normal people’ we are usually making ads for. There is a huge disconnect and it’s impacting our ability to make great communications.

Advertising people are, pretty obviously to anyone that meets us, not normal people. Not a problem in itself, but where we go wrong is letting this discolour our view of everyone else. A study in Australia showed we not only massively over-index with digital platforms ourselves, we then believe the general population engages more than us, when the truth is they do so far, far less.

The industry doesn’t know normal people because they don’t spend time with normal people. And this ‘advertising world’ doesn’t just stop there, we’ve noticed it at universities and colleges while reviewing student work. There’s a new generation of marketers and advertisers ready to take up the reins.

“But,” I hear you say, “we need our adland scene; to be creative, to know what’s cutting-edge, to be on top of new tech, haven’t you ever heard of the scenius?”

Well, if that’s the case, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Recent analysis of US marketers indicates that they think over 50% of their colleagues aren’t being creative enough, and you don’t need us to tell you there’s a bit of an existential crisis going on in adland.

Normal people are saying they’re stalked and bombarded. Consumer research continually reveals growing feelings of apathy for advertising and an increasing use of ad blockers. When asked, only 14% of a panel of consumers thought they were ‘mostly quite realistically portrayed by advertising’. Digging under the headlines you can see this isn’t a distaste for advertising per se, but bad advertising, of which there is undoubtedly more.

Our ivory towers don’t seem to be helping us as much as we might think.

The planner safaris from Ogilvy and other agencies have had enough of a going over before, but they’re still useful illustrations of how the industry deals with this stuff. Create a process, productise it and go and talk to the trade press as if it’s a great PR opp. It’s not, it’s a sign of a problem. If we need to force people who make advertising to get out there in the real world, there’s something seriously wrong.

Perhaps getting out of the adland every once in awhile isn’t enough. The industry needs to hire outside its norms, spread itself outside of its traditional strongholds, and realise that continually engaging with the everyday lives of normal people isn’t the death of creativity, but could just be the refreshing shot in the arm the industry needs.

At Firehaus we operate outside of the adland bubble, and our diverse crew ensure we always bring new thinking to every brand challenge. We work with brands and agencies to unleash the power of creativity through brand ideas, training and consultancy. Get in touch to ignite the full potential of your brand.

Ian Bates is the founder and creative partner at Firehaus.

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