Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Hating ads. With good reason

Depending on which set of industry lies you care to read, a lot of people—especially young people—are using ad blockers. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in a report from 2016 says 26% of desktop users use blockers. (The IAB would have a vested interest in depressing that percentage.) Forbes reports 47% of consumers are blocking ads. 

Most distressing to advertisers in our current “banana republic economy” where fewer and fewer people have money for consumer goods, Deloitte reports “In all countries studied, consumers who have higher incomes, are employed, and have more education are also more likely—by 200-400 percent—to be heavy ad blockers than are less-educated people who are not working and have lower incomes.” My conclusion might be too simplistic, but that says to me that the few people who have disposable income are more impervious to ads than people without money. In other words, the bulk of the people seeing our work don’t have the money to buy what our clients are selling.

There are basically two ways you can create advertising for brands.

1.    You can take the approach that seems to be favored by Gary Vaynerchuk, who says things like, “Volume of content inevitably makes your content more relevant to the people consuming it.”


2.    You can take the approach long-favored by Phil Dusenberry, late of BBDO. Dusenberry had a different goal for advertising. He believed for it to succeed and stand out, it should be better than the very shows that surround it.

Often when people ask me about advertising, I bring up meeting someone at a bar or a social occasion. To my mind, there are a lot of parallels.

If I wanted to meet someone and followed Mr. Vaynerchuk’s process, I would send 37 notes to them, tweet about them, repeatedly try to buy them drinks, find their phone number and text them over and again. I might even post a youtube video or four dozen, spitting with enthusiasm about how much I want to meet that person.

Following these brand practices on an interpersonal level would probably get me slapped, pepper-sprayed or hit with a restraining order.

I think most people wish most brands were hit with restraining orders, especially Gary Vaynerchuk who believe that the way to one’s heart is annoyance and drivel.

If I followed Mr. Dusenberry’s precept, I’d convincingly present myself as better, smarter, funnier, more handsome, a better provider, etc. I might not say much, but what I would say would be interesting and important to the person I’m saying it to. John Wayne, the chicken-hawk actor, put it this way: “Talk low. Talk slow. And don’t say too much.” I'm no fan of John Wayne, but that isn't bad advice.

The Dusenberry approach promulgates a simple goal for advertising. Rise above your surroundings and your competitors. In the end, that’s just common courtesy really. Advertising interrupts. And if you’re going to interrupt something—and you don’t want people to hate you for it—you have to give them something of value. Something rewarding, special, informative, important, interesting, funny, valuable.

It seems to me that our once-vaunted industry is taking a Vaynerchukian approach to this issue rather than a Dusenberrian approach.

In fact, every time I do watch TV, I am struck by the abject stupidity of the ads I see and their relentless repetition.

There’s this horrifying thing:

 As for pharmaceutical advertising, I wonder if some drug company should develop a drug that helps people who are cosigned to perform in pharmaceutical commercials. They could call it Hackactron—ask your doctor if your acting is bad enough to appear in commercials like this:

Or this:

Or this:

The headline was blunt “The Advertising Industry Has a Problem: People Hate Ads”. And the nub of the piece can be summed up with these quotations:

“People hate advertising,” said Joanna Coles, the former chief content officer of Hearst Magazines, during a session at the Advertising Week conference last month in New York. “And it’s all advertisers’ fault.”

Seated next to her, nodding in agreement, was Marc Pritchard, the chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble, one of the largest advertisers in the world. Ads, he said, are often irrelevant and sometimes “just silly, ridiculous or stupid.”

“We tried to change the advertising ecosystem by doing more ads, and all that did was create more noise,” he said.

I’m not buying that people hate ads.

People hate ads that are “silly, ridiculous or stupid.” They hate ads that lie. They hate ads they promise things they don’t deliver. They hate ads that sling mud. They hate ads that run too often.

To bastardize a line from Howard Gossage, “People don’t hate ads. They hate things that insult them. And often that’s an ad.”

People don’t hate this:

They don’t hate this:

 They don’t hate these:

What people hate is crap. Especially lying crap. 

Crap more and more agencies are forced to produced because more and more clients think the best way to create a :30 is to put :47-worth of information in it. They think the best way to convince people to spend money on a product is with a commercial that looks cheap. They think that the best way to stand out is to blend in. They think even though they produce commercials that are cheap and crass and ugly, people will like them anyway.

Oh, and don't forget showing uniformly young people without a smidge of body fat. People who grin like stock photos and high-five or dance when someone brings out Tostino pizza rolls.

I fundamentally don’t believe that people today hate ads anymore than they ever did. People have always hated being interrupted, insulted, bored, lied to, screamed at, talked down to.

Here’s a thought.

Let’s walk down to Penn Station in New York and take a survey. You’ll likely conclude people hate train stations.

But consider architecture that doesn’t smell of urine. Architecture that doesn’t belittle and insult people. Architecture that raises and ennobles.

As Vincent Scully, the architectural historian once said, "We used to come into New York City like gods. Now we come into New York like rats."

That's our choice in advertising, too. Treat people as godlike, with respect, consideration and kindness. 

Or treat them like rats.


No comments: