Advertising research has got much harder of late.
So says a researcher friend of mine.
As if it weren’t bad enough to have to schlep out to the suburbs three nights a week, and subsist on breakfast cereal for dinner, those pesky people just don’t want to talk about ads any more when you get there.
In fact it’s worse than that. They’re not just unwilling but also unable to talk about ads it would seem.
It used to be the case that you could warm up eight strangers gathered together in a ninth stranger’s living room by asking them to describe any ads they had seen and liked recently. Sit back, relax and watch the group bond for a few easy minutes.
Not any more apparently.
These days the hapless researcher is likely to be met by stony silence and bemusement. It’s an awkward tumbleweed moment.
Have we liked any ads recently? Sorry, we don’t understand the question.
The idea that people might have seen, liked and remembered any advertising does not compute.
Eight people can not recall a single remarkable piece of advertising between them.
It has happened to my friend in enough groups for it to become remarkable, a thing.
He now takes along some self-curated ads as extra stimulus material. Breaking the ice about advertising has become a laboured, prompted act rather than the effortless, spontaneous one it used to be.
Advertising’s credentials as a commercial art form are evidently not as strong as they once were.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to write a comprehensive essay on the ins and outs of why that might be.
But I will say that the industry is exercising too much restraint. Advertising, particularly television advertising, is caught between a rock and a hard place.
You only have to watch an evening or two of prime time television to know that the processes and quality control procedures by which TV commercials come to be are not fit for the purpose of producing work that people want to talk about. Exceptions to this rule, the Yeo Valleys of this world, are depressingly fewer and further between. Lowest common denominator briefs that avoid the parapet at all costs, coupled with stultifying, over-intellectual approval procedures, restrain creativity and deny television the opportunity to do the job that it does best.
Another form of restraint is the tendency to view advertising, especially good old fashioned telly advertising, as the wrong answer, even when it is palpably the right answer.
Our brand is in desperate need of a shot in the arm. We need to get people to sit up and take notice of us again. We need overnight positive reappraisal.
If ever a brand were crying out for TV advertising…
And yet, even when the money is available, marketers are reluctant to do the right thing.
We want an innovative solution*. We want a shareable† content strategy that engages‡ our audience and drivesº word of mouth through social networks.
There’s another kind of awkward tumbleweed moment when the seasoned marketing communications professional recommends television as the right tool for the job to the thrusting young brand manager with an unhealthy innovation fixation.
Television isn’t innovation. Television isn’t clever.
This attitude conveniently forgets that television is big. Bigger than any audience you’re going to earn in social spaces.
It’s neither big nor clever to walk away from the obvious solution just because it is obvious. But brands are doing just that.
If advertising is unfashionable in marketing circles, should we be surprised that its status is similarly diminished on the sofas of Slough, Salford and Sheffield?
* If you recommend TV we’ll view you as lazy even if you’re right.
† You mean shareworthy. Any old shit is shareable.
‡ WTF does that mean?
º They are people not sheep.