How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better

sell sell bookI remember a tweet, or was it a linked-in comment, from Tom Godwin who works for  Havas, who wrote the often stolen meme –

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”

You must have seen that by now, anyway, he said that he’d rather pay £20 for a short to the point book, than £10 for one that drags on repeating the same point – or something like that, you get the idea.

So here it is, a short, brilliant, no bullshit book by the ad agency Sell! Sell! called ‘How to make Better Advertising and Advertising Better‘.  Buy it here.

Admission declared, I do know Andy and Vic, they even thanked me in the book, I have to say “no thank-you ” because I only really-really-really got into being excited about advertising because of meeting Andy and Vic circa 2008/9, up to then I was somewhat faking it. And they also encouraged me to start a blog.

Their introduction gets straight to the point,  ‘The business is in a mess. Advertising and marketing people seem to have turned full circle to  point where they’re out of touch with the customer and reality. It’s almost as if the creative revolution of the 1960s never happened.

When you look at the advertising that’s out in the real world, it is largely vacuous, patronising wallpaper that takes people for idiots. campaigns are becoming more and more similar, when they should be more distinctive.

Agencies treat consumers like morons, with facile look at these cute kittens advertising that doesn’t have any relevance to what consumers wants or needs. Some harbour delusions that normal people ‘love’ brands or care about them as much as they do.

Steve Harrison  author of  ‘Changing The World is the only work fit for Men’ said  “Vic and Andy have come up with a foolproof way to help you discover if you are a good agency. Ask yourself: Dare I give this book to my clients?”

Bob Hoffman the ad contrarian said “The ad industry is in an unprecedented state of confusion. While the assertions and pomposity grow majestically, the advertising itself diminished rapidly.  Sadly there is no button we can push that will erase all the arrogance and self-delusion.  Fortunately we have this book. It might be just the reset button we all need.

The book takes on some very topical issues about how marketers (and other professions it has to be said) see  people today, or what they call consumers.  And the newest gig in town is  Behavioural Economics  (BE) or re-branded psychology.

Marketers realised if they talked about psychology they’d be derided by other professions but Behaviour Economic we’re all ears.  As Byron Sharp author of ‘How Brands Grow” says here ” Today, there is much interest in subconscious decision-making, as there should be, because buying rarely involves a great deal of conscious deliberation.

Unfortunately, along with this sensible interest in ‘fast buying’ and ‘low attention’ comes the silly notion of strong psychological effects. We all learned years ago that the claims of subliminal advertising were faked, and that such effects are trivial at best. Yet today I hear people making claims that sound an awful lot like the old myth of strong subliminal effects.

Neuroscience is fashionably dragged in as support: ‘Oh, look, this part of the brain lights up when people see a brand they know well and buy – this proves that brand preference is due to brands forging strong subconscious emotional bonds.

Sharp goes on to flush out their straw man argument of rational consumers “but did anyone ever believe that consumers were rational utility-maximisers with perfect information, zero search costs and limitless time? Economists moved on decades ago from this early model, and it’s a straw man argument to pretend they haven’t.”

I wrote about my fears of the rise in neuro bollocks for Marketing Magazine a while back, my point is really about the misanthropic view behind much of it but also that great creative work was being done with so little knowledge of our neurology or having read the never-ending theories on human psychology that fail any scientific scrutiny.

In fact, which is Sell! Sell!’s point, probably create better work. I remember an era when people looked forward to the TV ads – could you imagine?

It’s worth noting that up to 75% of psychological studies on human behaviour fail to get the same results when repeated, see here. The point is it all seems so bloody scientific but it’s not, it is the height of scientism.

And when marketeers do say they use neuroscience in their brand building like the KFC Marketing Director David Timm here in Marketing Magazine this is what we get,

Driving a more emotionally led style of advertising is a “different approach” to marketing for the brand that has been informed by neurostudies in consumer behaviour.

The assumptions that have traditionally informed brands about consumer choices have changed, Timm says, and marketers now know people “are not rational and do not make rational decisions” but make “emotional decisions that are “context dependent“. KFC is aiming to create that context. ”

He continues “It’s not that we have any more [analytical] rigour; it’s just a different lens,” he says. The studies helped KFC recognise it was creating a “very strong product message” but not complementing it with a strong brand message.

This is the problem of marketers today – it’s like the problem of dualism separating mind from body, marketers keep trying to separate brand from product. Forgetting that a brand is largely created by selling the product. People become familiar with it by buying it. People like what they are familiar with and so on.

And then Mister KFC goes on to this, wow, it looks like KFC knows how the human brain works, the most complex thing in the known universe. “Marketing as a whole is undergoing transformation. We now know through neuroscience how people’s brains work and what affects their decision-making. So what we’re trying to do is take the new knowledge and say- this is how we put it together, this is how a brain actually works – and this is how we should be marketing.”

The results in short were the following, updated state of the art stores that looked smarter and more modern with soft play areas in some locations and an updated menu that include burritos,muffins and  pulled chicken that’s not fried.  “Flashes of the brand’s trademark bold red are visible throughout the design of the store, but the colours are softer and more neutral. The walls are adorned with arty pictures of ingredients and flavours and a digital display shows order numbers, much like an Argos.”

Thanks goodness for neuroscience eh?

Anyone else reckon they might have been able to crack that one.  Anyone else figure out that KFC might be under huge competitive pressure from the growth in food chains.

Anyone else figure out that clean modernised stores might appeal to people without putting them into fMRI scanners?  I wonder if neuroscience recommend the shift of tag line from ‘finger licking good’ to ‘so good‘ – a marketing mistake if ever I saw one. Did the words ‘so good’ light up the amygdala more than ‘finger licking good‘?

Sell! Sell!’s book tips its hat rightly more than once to Byron Sharp and his point that it is key for a brand is to be distinctive and make consumers familiar with it via getting them to buy / use it.

The goal of a brand is to be both ‘physically and emotionally available‘ and to refresh people’s memories about the brand. Because consumer loyalty, despite what brand experts tell us is very weak. People don’t actually care as much about brands unlike the marketers who run them do.

However, what I really appreciated most about the book is actually very unfashionable today, that is it defends people and their ability to reason. It also defends people of character, the mavericks, the fun that should be in running an agency, creativity and the progressive idea that brands do and should go out of their way to be better in some way. It decries that advertising today refuses to mention those reasons or differences because they simply don’t have faith in people.

Which is all wrapped up in the misanthropic psychology of today that people make decisions solely emotionally.  That is a person can never reason why they did something they are simply post-rationalising and in fact humans are little more than zombies or genetic meat bags.  If advertising refers to the popular psychology of today then it is no surprise we have patronising and vacuous advertising fit for morons and we know what David Ogilvy said about that.

In fact advertising more often  today makes advertising for itself and for awards than for consumers. That’s at best.  Many people it seems don’t even want to be in advertising, seeing it as beneath them, they rather be in art, but as Martin Weigel from W&K rightly says Fuck Art Lets Advertise see here.

Even Sir Martin Sorrell CEO of WPP, said last week “we’re not in the advertising business anymore…” full story here, as they chase the big data and digital marketing dollar.

Andy and Vic are right the business is in a mess. Buy their challenging book here.

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