There are many things I hate advertising for.
A lot of it is lazy, a lot of it is specious, a lot of it insults the intelligence of the people it’s supposed to be talking to.
Some of it lies, a lot of it misrepresents.
A lot of it is pollution.
But if you look at it really closely, the most irritating fact of all is that 95% of it is a massive waste of money.
There is no point in advertising that is not talked about.
But the great majority of advertising is ignored.
Making some advertising and not wanting to be talked about is like fighting for peace or f*cking for virginity or drinking 8 pints of cider to sober up.
Advertising is, potentially, one of the most interesting things around. As individuals, we’re all engaged in a mass of commercial exchanges every day. All of those decisions can be influenced by great advertising. That makes it interesting.
Advertising is where art meets business. That makes it interesting.
Advertising is all around us, more prevalent than street lighting or emergency services or rubbish. That makes it interesting.
But IS it interesting ?
Come on, you know the answer to that.
How many ads do people really talk about ?
I don’t mean talk about in research groups. Research groups are a fake, a w*nk, a giant waste of time.
This is how Mark Fenske, a legendary American creative, describes research groups:
“The decision to run one ad rather than another is made by 15 people who don’t work for the client or the agency but were found wandering about in a shopping mall one afternoon and who, when approached by people with clipboards, did not possess even enough sense to walk the other way but instead were persuaded in less than a minute to follow an unknown person down a hallway into a dark room after being promised a bowl of M&Ms and maybe enough money to buy a tank of gas. They will not be aware they are making a decision, will not know which of their remarks made the decision & which not, but their unconsidered & unconnected sayings, pauses, burps and look-abouts will be collected into a voice more powerful than the weight of the agency’s argument or the common sense of anyone involved.”
Love that about the burps.
So – research isn’t going to help you produce talked-about advertising. And there are a whole host of other problems which contribute to the overall problem, too. And the overall problem is that most advertising is a waste of time and, more importantly, a waste of money.
When someone does an ad for a shampoo on a bus-side that nobody looks at, that’s more than just a shame. That’s wasting money.
It’s actually a criminal waste of money, when you consider the millions of pounds spent in the industry.
It’s also, and this is very germane, wasting one of the most precious resources in the world. Creativity.
Britain is renowned for its creativity all round the world. Say what you like about London, but creativity flourishes there. There are people creating extraordinary things in London – from video experiences to radical iPhone apps. From music to street theatre to sculpture.
And yet Advertising, where art meets business, is a giant wasteland of missed opportunities.
Why doesn’t the creativity get used ?
Why is the advertising world so f*cking frightened ?
I think the answer lies in learning how to take risks. Let’s take an example.
Years ago, my agency HHCL was asked to re-launch a soft drink that had great distribution but which nobody loved.
We came up with an ad that showed a fat orange man slapping a Tango drinker round the face.
But, if we’d have been REALLY smart, we wouldn’t have run it.
Because, if we’d been REALLY smart, someone would have spotted what was wrong with our ad.
They’d have said – “Wait a minute. This is copyable violence. What happens if two kids do this to each other in a playground, one damages the other’s eardrum, the kid goes to hospital, then the drink is on the front page of the Sun, which is demanding that the advertising gets banned.”
All of that happened. Every phrase and sub-clause of that sentence happened.
The worst thing that could have happened, happened.
And you know what ? It was OK.
Of course, we didn’t want a kid to get hurt. But kids fight each other every day in playgrounds up and down the country, and when you do something that enters popular culture, you take certain risks.
We handled the negative PR by putting out another version where the fat orange guy kissed the drinker. Not as funny as the slap, but still funny. And, crucially, not as likely to lead to hospital admissions.
Three weeks after the problematic ad first ran, sales of Tango had gone from 1 million cans a day to one and a third million cans a day. They couldn’t sell it fast enough.
People loved the advertising and they wanted to drink the advertising.
But you have to take a risk.
I’m sorry. There is no other way.
You don’t create talked-about ANYTHING by doing it the same as everybody else.
Films, groups, TV shows that get talked about – they all share one thing. They break the rules. They’re new. They’re different.
What’s the most talked-about and commercially successful film of the last year ?
Actually, not just last year. Not just the last 10 years.
Avatar, which was so revolutionary that cinemas all over the world had to get completely new equipment to show it.
Usually, with creativity, the reason not to do it – is the reason to do it.
Because people say “you can’t do that” and they’re engaged.
Most advertising fails to engage with people because it doesn’t dare to be different, it fails to make any proper return on investment, then the client or the agency gets fired, or both, and vast sums of money are p*ssed away.
If you take risks, what’s the worst that can happen ? If you get it wrong, you apologise and do something else.
It’s only an ad.
Make another one.
But if you get it right, you sit back and watch as the money and the awards and the applause come rolling in.
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