When I talk to creatives at other agencies or watch Super Bowl ads each year or read industry news, I can’t help but admit a very difficult truth. In many respects, the advertising industry is in a sorry state right now. In our rush to generate the most opens for emails, the most clicks on websites or the most likes on social media, the era of “the big idea” is perilously close to taking a dirt nap. The forever kind. And that’s not good for business.
Starting back in the days of “Mad Men,” advertising evolved from the “hard sell” method to more imaginative, conceptual and entertaining communications. Ads were strategically developed to build brand perceptions, and they were executed creatively to engage audiences. We talked about them with our friends and family, and the good ones are still burned into our consciousness today. The Coke ad on the hilltop. The fast talker from the FedEx spot. Apple’s “1984.” Calgon’s “Take me away.” Alka Seltzer’s “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz.” And on and on and on.
Today, you’d be hard-pressed to think of really memorable, modern advertising. For me, the only work that comes to mind from recent years is from GEICO. The TV spots about the cavemen or even this odd little nugget.
With so little good and smart and creative work in the market, I’m left with the worry that big data might be strangling the life out of the big idea. By always fixating on conversions and data, we advertising professionals and our marketing counterparts on the client side are forgetting to use our imaginations. Simply because we can track the actions of our audience, we’ve fooled ourselves into believing we must always have something to track. Excuse the industry jargon, but that’s a bunch of hooey.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a time and place for analytics and optimization. They’re valuable tools for affirming audience behavior, and they should be integrated within a larger strategy. The most effective marketers have always produced image advertising to push their brand message into the market while they also created complimentary sales support materials to move audiences toward a purchase. In today’s digital environment, that means using modern technology to produce evermore-compelling creative while relying on data for when you’d reasonably expect a reaction from the audience, creative pieces that were formerly known as direct response. Think point-of-purchase kiosks, self-guided sales demos, websites and e-commerce. These and others are natural fits for data applications like analytics and optimization. And of course, the proliferation of data is priceless for media placement and market research.
Just don’t let computers become your creative directors. Brands don’t build long-term equity, goodwill or loyalty through conversions. That’s what imaginative, image-based communications do. And the hard, cold reality is you still can’t measure or track that kind of thing with a click or a conversion.
“Mad Men” wrapping up its long and successful run struck me as appropriate timing. That chapter in our social consciousness is finished. I hope the kind of advertising they fictitiously created still has a place in this world. But even the show itself foreshadowed the modern-day struggle of creatives vs. data when the agency got a computer in Season 7.
I know one thing for certain. This single-minded fixation on data may drive creatives a little bit nuts at times, just hopefully not Michael Ginsberg crazy.