Advertising’s coming of age

Ian Thomson
By Ian Thomson | 21 November 2014

Although Advertising, as we know it, has been around since the turn of last century - turbo-charged in the 1950s through post-war consumerism and the rise of TV – it’s still a relatively young industry. In the space of the last few decades, we’ve witnessed it evolve from simple and direct selling messaging to multi-platform, multi-sense brand experience.

So where is it at now? Well, to draw an analogy with the process of growing up, it seems that Adland is finally coming of age. From its birth in print, to cutting its teeth in radio, toddling into TV and its teenage sexual awakening online, advertising is now entering that wonderful third phase in life – adulthood.

And with departing adolescence, comes a whole new level of accountability.

Consumer awareness

Today’s consumer is much savvier to the way advertising works, and is less impressed and manipulated by the persuasion techniques used by advertisers of yesteryear. These days, you wouldn’t catch a Gen Y mum feeding cola to her offspring truly believing in a ‘lifetime of guaranteed happiness’. Well, according to The Soda Pop Board of America, our 1950s counterparts did. Hell, we even bought that crap about smoking improving our health.

The industry has had to redefine itself through authenticity and accountability, and not just its ability to come up with a persuasive argument. Today’s advertising is about uncovering the truth in a brand and developing consumer experiences based on integrity that emotionally connect and encourage loyalty.

Agency or entrepreneur?

So how do we best communicate with this new, savvy, and not so easily manipulated consumer? I was recently impressed by a presentation from M&C Saatchi’s group innovation director, Ben Cooper, surrounding an Optus project christened “Clever Buoy” – a telecommunications initiative that sends out warnings when sharks are near a beach.

You may ask what does a shark-warning device have to do with a telecommunications company? Well, when you identify the brand’s core value – using communications technology to improve peoples’ lives – this entrepreneurial solution becomes not only clear, but also brilliant.

Rather than simply devising a clever persuasive advertising message around a product or a fact, M&C Saatchi’s Cooper helped Optus develop a consumer-friendly technology that channeled its brand values into a service, which in itself became the advertising message – ultimately emotionally leading potential consumers to the brand through this egalitarian, positive messaging. And that’s the exciting new edge of the industry.

Content is key

Brand experience is now superseding simple brand messaging, which is why there are so many more opportunities for both graduates and those within the industry to work in the exciting new content creation space.

With so many platforms available for disseminating content, it takes a clever strategy and discerning media placement to push the creative content into the appropriate channels, maximising its reach and effectiveness.

That may be the most exciting part of the creative challenge, but it’s also the dilemma. What does it take for creative and clients to invest time and money in some of these hair-brained schemes, which may or may not meet their marketing objectives? What value do you place on brand image, compared to short-term sales objectives? These are questions to keep brand strategists on their toes, although you only have to look at campaigns like McCann’s Dumb Ways to Die to see how rewarding such experiments can be for both client and agency when they step outside their comfort zone.

Time to move on from ‘digital’

These days virtually all communication messaging is ‘digital’, so at what point do we grow out of using this term? Much more than just a website or portal, digital technology creates vehicles for delivering a message, and it’s so important to make sure it doesn’t become the focus of the idea itself. When everything around us is digital, how do we differentiate between the increasing dimension within this?

This takes me back to the essence of brand values and the authenticity needed in today’s industry. To create that genuine experience, the technology you use to communicate it should be invisible. As we move forward this needs to become increasingly the case. The medium needs to give way to the experience.

I’ve always been inspired by the red button campaign that launched the high-drama TNT TV channel in Belgium. This series of staged dramatic events was captured in digital format and broadcast over many digital and social media platforms. And yes I am sure there was a web-portal involved somewhere. So the production and dissemination mediums were all digital, but to the viewer, that was completely irrelevant. The power of the campaign came through the originality, entertaining quality and consumer engagement born from the creative idea.

This is a great example of how new media channels have created more avenues to reach an audience. We now have this experiential realm that has opened up a whole lot of new doors, some that may indeed lead to the next phase in advertising’s life cycle – but in the meantime, don’t lose the message in the medium.

Ian Thomson
Head of Advertising 
Macleay College

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