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The End of Advertising

Brant Wansley

In our work with clients in building their brands, we recently received a shocking request: “Could you guys put together a television campaign for us?”

Now, let me assure you.  This is an intelligent client, a client on the leading edge of technology, a savvy entrepreneur well aware of the digital boom.  After gathering our wits, we uttered something like, “Well, yes, of course.  That’s what we do.”

That moment got me thinking about how the advertising business has changed, and how it has not.  That, and a recent book by the former CEO of Droga5, recognized by Cannes Lions as the Global Independent Agency of the Year for the third year in a row.  The book title:  The end of advertising.

Let me be upfront with you.  In our view, the trillion-dollar advertising industry has changed but many of its guiding principles still hold true.  Some signs of the upheaval:  increased fragmentation of media (online and off), proliferation of online advertising, a corresponding rise of ad blocking software.  Just this morning I spent fifteen minutes unsubscribing to email advertisements in which I had no interest.  Perhaps, you, too, receive unwanted junk mail?

Marketing budgets have shifted to favor “below the line” expenditures like websites, digital campaigns and social media.  But, advertising support for newspapers has drastically declined and television advertising has suffered as well.  Which of the thousands of channels and options like Netflix or YouTube will reach the target?  It’s no wonder the request for television advertising surprised us.

The slow growth economy has impacted the industry with a drive for efficiency and expansion of in-house resources.   Purchasing departments have entered the fray with the ubiquitous request for proposal process.  As a result, cost has become a major driver for selection of resources, often to the detriment of the product.

  Yet, with all the change afoot in the ad business, several guiding principles remain, even “old school” thinking:

·       Clearly define your target audience and appeal to their needs and motivations.  In the words of a 26-year old millennial quoted in the New York Times recently, “Advertising that doesn’t interest me is a waste of my time.”

·       Simplify your message to an Essential Idea.  In a time-pressed world, the consumer will not work to unravel a complicated proposition.  Connect your message to emotion.  It’s the emotional things we remember that guide decision making.

·       Tell stories about your brand-- those stories people want to seek out, not screen out.  Alan Alda in his recent book, If I understood you, would I have this look on my face?, attests to the effectiveness of stories, even suggesting a formula for revealing them:  question, suspense, turning point, resolution.  We advise our clients, “Let your stories tell the story.”

·       Emphasize the visual.  The old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words” holds true.  More than 60% of digital posts now include a video.

·       Consider the context.  Will your ad be welcome?  Brand sponsorship may be appreciated by many of today’s audiences.  With the country’s emphasis on revitalizing infrastructure, imagine an airport terminal remodel brought to you by a convention and visitors bureau.  

All in all, the role of brands to simplify, reassure and differentiate your product or service isn’t going to fade away.  But, marketers need to be vigilant:  Is your advertising relevant, interesting, useful?  Droga5’s Andrew Essex feels the Big Idea is that brands can make the world a better place by adding value to people’s lives.  And, we agree.  We invite you to consider some of our recent work on behalf of clients who are helping people find jobs, create new businesses, drive economic development, enhance food safety.  All good, even altruistic, reasons for advertising. 

The current age may be the end of advertising as we’ve known it, the end of slick and empty advertising.  But, socially conscious advertising, advertising that provides information about beneficial products or services, advertising that meets you in a place where it’s welcome, advertising that engages and adds some value to your life.  That kind of advertising will endure. And help you prosper.

Is This Any Way to Sell Hamburgers?

Brant Wansley

As a former McDonald’s executive, I’ve followed the company through its ups and downs over the years.  So, I was particularly struck by its newest ad campaign.

Instead of pitching the company’s products during a downturn in sales, the new advertising focuses on community involvement.  It demonstrates how McDonald’s franchises have used their roadside signs to support local and national events, both happy and tragic over the past 20 years—from 9/11 to the marathon bombing in Boston to the 30th wedding anniversary of a couple who've celebrated every year of marriage at a McDonald's.

Check out this TV spot that appeared on the Golden Globes:

Now, I must say audience reaction has been mixed.  There will always be those folks who love McDonald’s, those that hate McDonald’s.  And, the campaign does not address some of the chain’s most apparent issues like a bloated menu and questionable nutritional value.  But, significantly, the campaign has sparked a social media storm.  And, people are talking about McDonald’s again.  Whether this portrayal of community kindness will win over new customers remains to be seen.  But, the campaign itself may be a harbinger of things to come.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review charted the relationship between corporate performance and social and environmental responsibility.  Although clearly a long term strategy, this shared value approach has been embraced by several trendsetting companies — who are thriving because of it. 

At Adidas, CEO Herbert Hainer directed a massive push to slash the company’s carbon footprint with the increased use of recycled polyester and sustainably farmed cotton.  Alexander Cutler at Eaton, the power management company, took the lead in developing hybrid electric power control systems that conserve resources.  These brands speak to us in global terms — with respect and concern for all.  And, they win our allegiance by doing so. 

To borrow a phrase from a recent campaign our company created for UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, “Corporate profitability is sharing the stage with a broader purpose—like creating jobs, building communities and serving the underserved…Because like you, a company does not live by profit alone, it has to live with itself.”

If this new equation speaks to you, perhaps we should talk.  No matter how large or small your brand might be, we can help you uncover the emotional driver that will move your market, that will resonate with your customers and prospects. Companies that build their brands on enduring values and a higher purpose are building brands that stick in the hearts and minds of their customers. 

And that’s the best kind of branding of all.