I've decided to start a new series of posts where I ask random people some questions about marketing and advertising.
There is no science to this.
I'm doing it as I'm interested in widening the scope of my thinking - of our thinking - beyond people like us. People who get the industry. People who work in it. People who know the agencies behind the ads.
That's because we're a niche.
And people who don't know about marketing and advertising, people who don't care about marketing and advertising, are massively the minority.
So next time we're sat there debating how we can prove the case for a social media campaign, or when we're slapping ourselves on the back for the amazing new technological first that means someone can download a jpg to their phone (if they've downloaded the app first) then we can put our self-congratulations into context.
I'm going to post the answers verbatim so we can get a true reflection of the interest or indifference to the subject. So, without further ado - here's my first Q&A.
Number One: Adam Sweeney
Your age: 25
Your location: London
What you do for a living: Information Analyst (Social Research)
How you know me – if you do: Via twitter
Q1: What do you think about advertising?
A1: Advertising has a pretty bad rep for nefariously introducing desires in people that they didn’t already have; bolstering status anxiety, making us want high-cholesterol foods and cigarettes, being at the root of all sorts of social ills, etc etc.
But people in the advertising industry are constantly trying to find out how to get people to like something, to want to buy it…and coming up with no conclusive answers (although doing a damn good job of it).
Perhaps in former times advertising was seen as a way to frighten, cajole or even downright deceive people in order to create commercial compliance. But things have moved on, and advertising isn’t anything new.
Propaganda is a form of advertising, and that’s been going since before the printing press. In addition, great advertising contributes to culture – linguistically, visually, and in the more subtle way of finding a synergy between the people who view it and the time they live in.
On the other hand, bad advertising is a nuisance that makes consumers aware of the price-tag on the world.
Q2: Which ads have you liked recently? Why?
A2: a.) A digital ad for a wine brand. It occurred in the right-hand column of a site.
The picture depicted a wine glass slightly trembling on a kitchen worktop to the pulse of muffled party music. The ad invited you to turn up the volume and see what happened.
I rarely interact with digital ads like this – but the motion in this continuously caught my eye (falling as it does in peripheral vision which is more sensitive to motion – one of the reasons I enjoyed it’s cleverness). As you increase the volume, the glass shook more and more – until eventually, the music was loudest and the wine glass toppled over, not only spilling on the work surface but all over your webpage. It was a bit of a “wow” moment at the boundaries that this thing crossed. Unfortunately I don’t think it can have been terribly effective, as I can’t remember the wine brand – in fact, it might have been for a cleaning fluid.
b.) The Cadbury’s ads from last year were purely brilliant. So much has been said about them already - I won’t say any more.
Q3: Can you remember any ads from the past? Which?
A3: I remember the Milky Way advert with the two racing cars. I must have been very young when this was on, but I enjoyed the animation (still true today!) and the song – without getting the highly-dubious “health” message whatsoever.
Q4: In a sentence, and without googling!, describe what you think a brand is.
A4: Brands: difficult to pin down without reference to the marketing and advertising that constructs them, but: a brand is a mass personality, which interacts on a huge scale and typically has some species of commercial interest. Under this definition, unique communities, nations and political movements are brands (which indeed I think they should be).
Q5: Which brands are you loyal to, or passionate about now? Why?
A5: a. The BBC. I take advantage of so many of their services, appreciate so much of their work both past and present, and pay so little for them it seems absurd. The value derived from the BBC is preposterous – from broadcasts during the war, to innovating on digital content, to R4’s Today programme. I am loyal.
b. Sainsbury’s. Why? They were my supermarket whilst a student, so by geographical positioning had more of my loyalty than any other supermarket. They have a range of products such that I can treat myself to something expensive without breaking the bank, but also buy extremely cheaply if needs be. They aren’t quite the bullying bastards of Tesco, nor the toffee-nosed Waitrose. And they’re available everywhere.
c. Nigel Slater. All these are about food aren’t they?
d. Carluccio’s (another food one). Their dedication to food is inherently obvious, and the delicate, strong design in everything from the restaurant layout to the menus to the food packaging makes everything about them delightful.
e. Zara. They make some of the suavest yet durable clothes I’ve ever owned and they’re somehow priced affordably.
Q6: When was the last time you took advantage of an offer? Who and why?
A6: Predictably, Pizza Express. It’s a special offer that doesn’t seem that special but somehow is just rare enough to still be exciting.
Q7: Do you think advertising and marketing is good for society?
A7: a. I don’t think any advertising or marketing is inherently bad for society. It’s part of the broader form of communication via culture which occurs ANYWHERE that humans exist in numbers greater than 1. It’s easy to see how a well-run anti-smoking campaign is not bad. It’s perhaps more difficult to see how the ads from former times glamourising cigarettes and emphasizing their health benefits are good. But those ads were often at the mercy of knowledge, not some mendacious need to deceive and sicken the population.
b. Therefore, marketing and advertising in themselves are not-bad. But are they good? To my mind the cultural contributions are small fry compared to the technological innovations that have really taken off in the last few years. These things have been revolutionary in the way we live our lives and media and advertising have been instrumental in their sudden development. And what else? Great adverts make our lives more interesting and exciting – although this is only a small percentage. And campaigns which invest in doing good things for people and consumers alike are inherently doing good things.
c. Their positive economic impact cannot be argued with. But morally, socially speaking - I think on the whole they are a benefit, though it’s easy for many advertisers to cross below the benchmark of socially positive work.
Q8: Do you think advertising helps sway your opinion on whether to buy something or not?
A8: I don’t think it does, but it almost certainly does. In fact that’s the symptom of outstanding brand, ads and marketing combined – when you don’t perceive a choice in selecting a particular brand.
Q9: If you worked in advertising, how would you do things differently?
A9: a. Context. Web banners are useless ass are facebook ads. Why? They lack context. Think of the spatial aspect of a webpage. Ads are just noise - occasionally well-targeted noise (ironically, the ones that are less well-targeted are often more interesting by virtue of their unprompted presence). Banners – I can probably count the number of times I’ve clicked-through on one hand. Advertisers might consider not spreading their ads all over, and instead invest in contextualizing a particular webpage – not sponsorship, or corporate sites as such, but just taking some control and innovative space within the internet.
b. This works for outdoor ads just as well – look today at a story in the metro about the zombie movie ad placed net to a funeral home. The industry needs to start paying attention to how much context affects people’s perceptions.
Q10: Would you like to ask the advertising industry any questions?
A10: a. There are many examples of great adverts, yet so many of them continue to be poor, annoying or downright missable. Why is this?
b. Is the advertising industry maturing / developing a more sensitive approach?
c. Is digital spinning out of control? Does advertising know what’s coming next?