Most Advertising Is, Well…

Most advertising is completely and utterly ineffective, for a variety of reasons. By some accounts we see several hundred advertising messages each day. If you are an urban dweller, peruse the mobile Web and commute past a few dozen billboards or screens on your way to work, be observant. Its entirely plausible your exposure to daily advertising could go up to 1000 individual marketing messages and beyond. Some of these Ads of course entering our mind on an almost subliminal levelbut hey, who’s counting.

I wonder how many of these elaborately orchestrated brand bulletins vying for our attention actually manage to breach the rigid façade that is the human brain? When, and more importantly how, does a prospect become a loyal customer? These are questions many of my colleagues conceivably spend exhaustive amounts of time thinking about for our clients.

Thomas Smith’s Successful Advertising guide written over 126-years ago suggests most people need to see an Ad no less than 20-times before they consider buying what is being offered. All fine and dandy for good ‘ole 1885. But what if Smith were alive to witness the obnoxious media landscape of today. He might revise his seminal advertising manifesto to factor in our 100 fold increase in exposure to advertising messages each day—much of it noise we instinctively feel compelled to just ignore. And I think many of us have become pretty darn good at filtering out this growing noise.

Still, if Smith’s age old theory loosely holds true, a popular light beer (brand and brewing company will go nameless) that’s been popping up at a number of high profile sporting events I’ve attended recently should be easily closing this persuasion gap in my mind. But I’m afraid it’s not.
To say the presence of this nameless light beer brand has been a tad noticeable would be a severe understatement. It’s more like the physical, visual and audible saturation point of cognitive overload. Yet like many of us though, I feel perfectly fine to just tolerate the deluge of branded content on my senses and selectively filter-out the things I don’t find interesting. This includes our mediocre nameless light beer. So while our advertising exposure has risen 100x since Smith’s age, perhaps so too has our mental resilience to such messaging.

If we’re talking beer (advertising), well, I just love beer —great tasting, well-crafted beer that is. A marketer might call me a tough nut to crack. Funny though, I’ve been jokingly likened to the beer equivalent of a wine snob or connoisseur (if there is such a thing). Seriously. I cringe at the sight of a flat colourless light beer without a nice frothy head. I frown upon beer served in a bottle or, god forbid, aluminum-can rather than a correctly paired glass designed to accentuate the bouquet —a range of flavours and complexity most people arbitrarily censor out by way of inferior or nonexistent glassware. Maybe it’s my Belgian family roots.

In any case, this popular brand of nameless light beer has been rearing its trendy head at sporting events recently (no actual head when poured into a glass though). The marketers seem to be going to extraordinary lengths to convince the sporting crowd of this beer’s superior: taste? —titillatingly designed package and logo?  —product/lifestyle tie-ins? I’m not sure.

To myself and perhaps a sizable segment of the sports-enthusiast-beer-consuming population, no amount of advertising or creative storytelling will change the fact that this particular brand of light beer, while extremely fashionable and fun on the surface, tastes about as good as a glass of seawater mixed with upholstery cleaner. Not to mention this beer has the rather uncanny ability to invite headaches if consumed in moderate quantities—not due to alcohol content or excessive carbonation—but to the (I’m guessing) disproportionate number of additives and preservatives you probably can’t pronounce anyway.
Somehow, so the advertising strategy goes, this inferior tasting nameless light beer magically becomes good and desirable if prospects (like me) are exposed to a relentless barrage of visually intrusive advertisements.
Unfortunately it takes a hell of a lot more than a parade of scantily clad dancing girls or randomly stashed prizes inside specially marked cases of 24 to gain a loyal brand following.

In the digital age products have become increasingly transparent. Poor product experiences including, for instance, a mediocre tasting alcoholic beverage, invariably get discussed on Facebook, Twitter and Yelp whether brands approve or not. Social connectivity and open conversation invite gossip and a form of ‘note comparison’ and quality assurance among friends and strangers. Many brands seem ill-equipped to deal with such raw unfiltered feedback from these unsanctioned digital venues. Brands can no longer hide inferior quality behind shallow campaign slogans, unsubstantiated claims or skillfully doctored imagery and high-def visual effects. In the world of beer for instance, sites like and take a community based approach to presenting unbiased information, beer reviews and ratings. Many of the crappier brews don’t want you to frequent these sites because they’re being called-out in a very open public forum. In this regard the social Web effectively destroys the old smoke-and-mirrors image guises advertisers were able to exploit in decades past. Now it seems consumers are armed up to their armpits with high value knowledge. Let’s call it the incriminating ‘dirt’ on products; the skinny on quality; the consensus on taste, and so on. All made possible by the numerous peer-to-peer social networks and informational resources available throughout the glorious social Web.

We’re of course reminded of the Ad industry’s relative inability to interpret the ‘goings-on’ of the consumer’s mind and obfuscate the rather obvious in a recent post written by the Ad Contrarian:
“…ninety percent of consumer behavior is perfectly obvious. People buy most stuff because it tastes better, looks nicer, works better, or is cheaper or more convenient.”

At present, while I’d like to say the most important role in an advertising agency is the digital art director, it’s not. It’s probably the community manager. The one (or many) who effectively become brand ambassadors and the last line of defense when conversations in the social space turn sour.

Quality, not necessarily quantity, in terms of advertising strategy would seem to be a logical way to capture mind share in the digital age. Advertising that is creatively rich in its storytelling, but nevertheless honest, will ultimately win the hearts and minds of consumers. Big-spend Ad campaigns and superb creative will not compensate for poor product quality in the long run nor will they make a terrible beer taste any better. The most effective marketing mantra, certainly given the pervasiveness of social media, would then be authenticity —nothing more, nothing less.

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