“That’s ridiculous, it's nonsense, that’s not advertising!” When I heard a peer of mine say that, I was stumped and I didn’t know how to respond. It wasn’t because I didn’t know what they were trying to say, it was because I was genuinely shocked. The item in question was an online video for a brand that had garnered over 10 million views. My peer's reaction seemed odd. Wouldn’t the client be happy with this? Ten million people seemed to think it was pretty interesting.
Perhaps there’s a bigger question here: what is the definition of marketing and advertising?
Marketing - Def. (dictionary.com)
The act or practice of calling public attention to one's product, service, need, etc.
As an advertising professional, I’ve always believed that our job is to generate attention for brands and cut through audience indifference. Sometimes that attention is for a new product. Sometimes it’s to position an existing product in a new way. Other times it’s to draw attention to a brand's purpose so it can create preference for itself.
Regardless of the purpose, the objective of any marketing is to cut through people's aversion to advertising, to be genuinely interesting and thought-provoking. The question then, is not what kind of ad should we create but how can we create something that provides an antidote to overcome this inherent indifference. This is where the art of creative comes into play. Creative combines human truths, we call them insights, and available stimuli into compelling ways to create attention-grabbing ideas.
One of the reasons I’m still so excited about the work I do is because innovation is a constant source of creative opportunity, with new things being invented daily—the latest new VR headset, self-driving cars, that new social platform craze, artificial intelligence you can talk to, wearable devices, 360-degree video, paint that acts like a solar cell.
We have the opportunity to redefine, on a constant basis, what the definition of advertising is. Not only is it incumbent on us to do so, it’s the opportunity we desperately need to take to stay relevant.
The landscape for possibilities opens up tremendously when you break from a tradition. All of the following can be considered advertising:
- A provocative three minute online film that stops people in their feeds and makes them cry and question, that’s phenomenal advertising.
- A stunt performed publicly and filmed to be broadcast online that shared between friends, that’s good advertising.
- An innovative new prototype concept from a brand that creates mass hysteria at the thought, that’s inspiring advertising.
- A photo filter that brands millions of selfies for a day on a popular social platform, that’s amazing advertising.
- Or bringing an famous artist back to life using machine learning and algorithms, that’s surprising advertising.
In a world where we are constantly campaigning for all kinds of equality, why aren’t we campaigning for our own creative equality?
All advertising should be given the chance to grab attention, if it does, it’s good advertising, if it doesn’t it’s not.
Clients should take time to explore the benefits of this new breed of attention-grabbing work. And as agencies we need to get better at providing clients with the reassurance, through research, rigour, and data, that it’s worth it.
It’s worth mentioning that to exist in this space, both agency and client need to have a healthy appetite for discomfort. The most attention-grabbing advertising is always going to be something new, and increasingly that new thing is the use of technology to tell new stories.
We are in a golden age where technology and innovation are constantly presenting new ways to tell brand stories that overcome indifference to the advertising to make it genuinely interesting.
If I owned a brand and an agency said "what do you want, attention for your brand or respect from other advertising agencies and your peers?”, I know which one I’d choose.
Whatever form it takes, create advertising that grabs people’s attention and overcomes their indifference. That’s good marketing.
Jay Morgan is group digital creative director at J. Walter Thompson Sydney