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Aim, Shoot; Wait, You're Not Ready!

I sometimes read posts from creative people, who decry the advent of data. They say it has ruined the industry, rendered creativity meaningless, ripped the emotion out of their work and turned control over to the analysts.

This, they claim, is why advertising has become irrelevant.

The reality is that advertising was already well on its way to becoming invisible all on its own. The data just helped us see how totally irrelevant and invisible most advertising has become. Do we not all record our favorite programs, watch them when we have the time and fast-forward through every commercial break? Of course we do. We also block, filter or flat out ignore the others ads we're bombarded with each day.

The bottom line is this: Ads simply don't offer us enough value in return for the time and energy we'd expend watching them. Study after study illustrates that people feel ads only deliver the brand's perspective; what the brand wants us to know instead of giving us the information we want and think we need. So we go it on our own and feel pretty confident in our ability to find the information we need to make the best purchase decisions, for us.

So reading the data isn't the problem. Failing to read the audience is what accelerated the shift away from a Marketing to a Narrative Economy where emotionally-driven stories from the brand that offer real value along with stories told by its customers and prospects, will have a far greater impact in its success than its advertising.

People want more than ads. They want to believe in the brands they support and trust these companies have souls. We want to believe they exist to make the world better in some way. We want to feel their commitment to our individual success through the passion of their employees and the content the brand delivers. But we also know that only happens when the brand's purpose is to serve us and that their commitment is real.

The sad truth is; too many Brand "owners" - including their ad agencies and other vendors - would rather say it than do it. I mean doing the work to actually hard and it's so much easier to make up BS and bombard their ridiculously broad "target" audiences with mediocre, transactionally driven if not poorly executed ideas. The goal is obvious enough; deliver that .05% sales increase vs. year and hold onto their jobs. Even sadder is that they'll most likely be long gone by the time anyone figures out the damage they've done to the brand.

To the creative community, I'd suggest the problem isn't the data or the analysts. The problem is the people leading the charge whose focus remains on their own, short-term success instead of the longer-term success of the brand.

That said, the agency creative community is facing a day of reckoning. If they can no longer interrupt their audiences they will have to lean on their strategic planners and rely on their own talents to attract, engage and inspire their audiences to act. They will have to know their audience in far greater depth and balance building the brand with encouraging transaction.

And as with most every transition, some will make it while many others will go work for their dads.

And this brings us to the meat. You can't tell deep, emotionally driven stories that capture the imagination and motivate an audience to act without characters of great dimension; heroes (brand) and villains (competitors). This will force brands to summon the courage to define themselves and the one, specify audience they commit to serve.

Brands will be forced to stake an authentic rather than opportunistic positioning and forget about trying to be every thing to every one. They will focus on a like-minded audience while hiring people who believe in their mission and passionately live the brand.

And as certain brands experience transformational growth, it will be because they learn what most innovative and iconic brands have long-understood; brand success follows that or its audience.

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