Nobody likes ads.
What we like are funny videos, emotional and dramatic stories, unreal stunts, art that makes us think, information that’s relevant to our current situation, helpful advice, useful tools, etc... things that interest us. As Howard Gossage, the famous adman, said over fifty years ago, “nobody reads ads, they read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”
Back in Howard’s day, people didn’t like ads any more than they do now, except back then, there was no escaping them. They were simply placed on the path you were taking to get to the things you actually wanted–news, entertainment, sports, etc. Very few of these ads were things we wanted. Don’t get me wrong, some were. These were the great ones. The ones people shared and talked about. But most were simply unavoidable interruptions. That was just the way it was, and that was that.
Then technology changed everything. First, there was cable TV. Then the military or Al Gore or somebody invented the internet. Before long, we had more entertainment, more news and more information of every kind coming at us than ever before. Not only do we have more, you could easily argue that we have too much. We have never been bombarded with more messages, communication, and conversations than we are today. As Andrew Essex says in his book “The End of Advertising” the world has infobesity.
The result is, we don’t have time for crappy, irrelevant content anymore. If it isn’t interesting, it isn’t simply in the way. Now, it’s in the way, annoying, and in some cases even destructive to the brand. Most ads today are like a fly or gnat buzzing around your head. Even worse, because with some ads you have to wait five seconds until you can shoo it away.
Not only did technology give us more content, it also gave us more control. Now we can watch what we want when we want it, we can also skip over the ads we hate and even block them altogether–digital pesticide for those annoying ads that are in the way of the content we want.
Today, ads have to fight a battle on two fronts. On one hand, ads have to compete for people’s time and attention with all the other content out there, a massive amount that grows every day. On the other hand, since technology has given us the power to escape them, ads have to find other ways into people’s lives, preferably without annoying them.
You would think that this is bad news to brand communications folks (“advertising people” for those of you over 40). Actually, it is just the opposite.
For any creative marketer, there has never been a better time than now. Creativity has become a business imperative. If you aren’t interesting, forget it, nobody has the time for you. Creatives all over the world are rejoicing. Competing with all that content makes our work harder, but good creatives are up for the challenge; they even relish it. But before we get too excited and run off to generate ideas, there is something we need to remember: people don’t like ads.
If you were going to someone’s house for dinner, you’d probably bring something, right? It doesn’t have to be anything big, but it’s appreciated if it is thoughtful and relevant to the host. Brands need to approach people the same way. Their ads are uninvited and unwelcome guests crashing the party of people’s lives. Being gracious and generous is the best way in. And the best way to be gracious and generous is to be smart. That means knowing your host. What do they enjoy? How can you help them? What keeps them up at night? What inspires them? What gets their blood pumping?
The more you know, the better, more creative, more thoughtful, and more appreciated your gift (ad) will be. Maybe it’ll be a funny video, or an emotional and dramatic story, an unreal stunt, art that makes them think, information that’s relevant to their current situation, helpful advice, a useful tool, etc. It doesn’t matter as long as it is interesting to the person on the receiving end.
At HD, our philosophy is simple: Give. And be thoughtful and interesting about it. Doing those two things produces surprising results. And that’s the beautiful thing about giving, it always gives you more in return.