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November 12, 2010

Do we like our ads too much?

by Howard Fox Chartered Marketer

I like ads, I really do. They’re art. Sometimes the best even end up on display in museums. Adverts are attractive, often amusing, informative, a snapshot of our contemporary history. They are a source of pride for their creators. They look good in our portfolios, make great conversation around the braai and allow us to show our kids what we do for a living.

The fundamental question is: Do we like our ads too much?

Liberty Health Billboard

First off, I suspect that the answer to too many questions in marketing is “an advert”. It seems that too often creating an ad is the culmination of the marketing process. And there is of course the whole (sexy) ad industry waiting for the call. It’s trite, but let’s remember advertising is just a subset of one of the (apparently now indeterminable number of) marketing P’s Do we spend a similar amount of time and resource on the other fundamentals of marketing? How much time have you spent over at the “pricing agency” this month?

As a result of this focus on ads, are we as marketers overlooking less sexy but possibly more effective ways of building our brands? As the Chile mine crisis reached its emotional climax (with claims of higher viewership than the world cup), my marketing friends and colleagues were unanimous “You just can’t buy positive exposure like that”, they lamented, as they headed off to the ad agency. Not the PR Company mind you! Yes, non-paid-for commercial communication can be hugely powerful, yet remains (with apologies to my enormously professional colleagues within the PR and communication specialisations) the unpopular stepchild of our profession. Fundamentally are we being objective with how we allocate our marketing resource and effort?

Secondly, to the specifics of the ad itself: Seems we marketers think that a really good ad can fix any product, positioning or marketing weakness. It’s what I refer to as putting lipstick on the bulldog. It might fool a few, but fundamentally it remains a bulldog. How many times do we see brands or products where the only differentiation is the advertising? The weakness of such a “lipstick strategy” is that lipstick is freely available to our competitor’s at the nearest beauty retailer (read agency), even if the shade is slightly different.

I always liked the definition of an advert in law – namely: “an invitation to do business”. Which leads me to an illustrative (if cruel) analogy in this regard. Think back to school. When the pimply-faced, socially-awkward classmate handed out their mother’s beautifully crafted party invites, enthusiasm remained thin and attendance of the event was inevitably embarrassingly low. When the sexy number we were all secretly in love with, merely mentioned the time and location of a trendy sounding bash, there was an unseemly scrabble to attend.

My point is that it’s not always the elaborateness of the invitation (read advert) that is the answer. Perhaps the differentiated attractiveness of the party (read product) itself is more important. So fundamentally let’s make sure we as marketers invest sufficient time and resource on the party and not just the invite.

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