Advertising as we know it is DEAD

As an undergraduate of my university’s advertising program, every year, I’d have some sort of Super Bowl function that was centered around watching the commercials. After all, as an ad student, this was kind of a big deal and would be absolutely relevant to the next week of classes.

We would laugh at, be upset with, and critique most of the million dollar spots. Even though I was more interested in designing and directing print ads, I figured it couldn’t hurt to contribute to an upcoming topic and knock back a few brews.

Either way, once the final quarter ended and the winners celebrated by dumping Gatorade on their coach, I always felt unsatisfied. I know football isn’t my sport of choice, but most times the commercials were lackluster (and the half-time shows have been the pits). Most times I found myself making excuses for the commercials; “oh, that’s great for their target audience” or “oh, it was only a 15 second spot.”

Then it hit me one day after discussing the commercials with my baby-boomer mom. We were just talking about a pretty terrible commercial when she responded, “Yea, y’know commercials just ain’t what they used to be.”

While she probably said it flippantly, today, she is absolutely right—advertising as we know it just isn’t the same, and it’s truly on it’s last breath. Here’s my take on why…

 

Technology is changing

It may just be me and my peers but we rarely watch television. I mean, we get into the big events, but we aren’t that into a specific series, and if we are fans of a series we’ll catch it “On Demand” or on Hulu with a fraction of the commercials. Perhaps we’re too busy to care.

It’s not a huge deal because people are still obviously watching some shows and most networks are finding new ways to monetize their company. However, the issue is not the show or the network, it’s the viewer and their growing immunity to these commercial breaks.

I recall in some science class, we talked about how farmers use pesticides to try and kill the insects that were eating up their crops. Through evolution and adaptation, the bugs were becoming more and more able to resist the pesticides—they had gotten used to them. Farmers would make stronger pesticides, but the bugs kept multiplying and leaving offspring that were getting stronger and more immune to the chemicals.

Now, I’m no scientist, but I’d say the general population has reached a point where we are almost immune to commercials. I mean, half the time, we get up and do something else anyway. And most of these commercials are using the same tactics anyway (which we’ll get into a little later). We know all too well that it’s coming so we attempt to avoid it. And while I’m targeting television, it doesn’t work too hot across other media either. Internet banner ads and text ads are losing a bit of their sting as well.

Why? Technology is changing. People are spending less time on the couch and more time at the desk. Social media is the new trend and folks don’t want to be just sold to, they want to be interacted with (and we’ll also get into this point later). People want a good reason to go out and purchase a company’s product or service over your competition, and the fact that a company can give you a good laugh doesn’t necessarily give a company an edge. Companies have to make sure their audience frequents whatever media they’re looking into and why their audience is there. Slapping a commercial together and hoping someone will hear it or see it just won’t do.

 

It’s all the same

Now once again, this could be my own solid issue, but if I seriously see another company try to sell me something by using dry humor, I’m going to go nuts. I haven’t seen a good commercial in a while—one that both makes sense and is effective. It’s almost like everyone figured out being funny was cool and they just went with it. Little do companies know, that past that good chuckle, half of us still aren’t running to your places of business and buying two of whatever it is you’re advertising.

Humor is good and works in some situations but I think companies mix up a response to an ad with the effectiveness of an ad. Most ads try to draw us in with a story line, sprinkle on some humor, and then BAM—the product shot. For example, I think this Sonic commercial is absolutely hilarious—probably because I’m catching the subtle innuendos here, but hilarious nonetheless. I just wonder what it has to do with hot dogs. While I’m a fan of Sonic, the commercial doesn’t do much for me other than make me laugh.

What I’m trying to say is, advertising has straight up lost its creativity. Even if the hook isn’t the go-to humor, you’ve got sex in ads that never really need it, ads that are solely product glamor shots, or something that’s already been done a million times. And because of that, the general population is not amused (remember that immunity thing we talked about?). It’s one thing to recognize an ad or company because it’s funny, but it’s another thing to remember the company because the commercial actually stuck and drew something out of you.

 

The dagger is branding

Companies, especially new ones, just do not understand the importance of branding. It isn’t just picking a logo and colors, and it is no longer the ability to just inundate our media with commercials for products and services. Most want to put together an ad campaign and hope that we’ll watch TV at that time and giggle so hard that we’ll buy something from them. Hell, sometimes it works, but what a company needs to be sustainable is customer loyalty.

And this is where branding (specifically cult branding) comes into play. Customers today really desire a connection; there’s got to be a reason to use your product other than it works. We want to feel like the company understands us, our needs, and our lifestyle so much so that it feels like they cater directly to us. The way a company brands themselves and positions themselves in someone’s mind truly determines how a customer will react to them. Companies have to figure out what makes themselves and their audience unique and how to cater to those people, and create a brand out of that.

When you think about cult brands, it’s easiest for us designers to relate to Apple products. Steve Jobs does a great job at really romanticizing many of the Apple product features, but notice he never brands his products as a feature-benefit type of deal. He tells you how great and unique this product is and how it’s going to not just change your life, but change the way the world does this kind of product. So you don’t just have the ability to purchase and own a neat cell phone, but you’ve got the opportunity to be the first to have this cutting edge technology, to stand out amongst your friends, and frankly, be better than them. And their regular advertisements are more like party flyers and announcements than commercials. You get to see the product in action, how it contributes to your life, and figure our where to go check it out. But that’s not where it stops. Mac has events, conferences, pretty exceptional customer service, and much more. Owning Apple products is less about owning a phone or a tablet or a computer, and more about owning a lifestyle.

Regardless of how you feel about Apple’s products specifically, all companies could take some notes on their techniques.

 

So, when’s the funeral?

Advertising as we know it (TV commercials, radio, commercials, print, and some web) is no longer going to cut it, especially by itself.

Campaigns are going to have to draw customers into a brand and lifestyle or something greater than just a product or service. I will say, it’s a bit easier for older companies—they’ll get repeat customers just because of their age and reputation, but the newer companies are really going to have to take some time and figure out what makes them new and unique and cater to that small niche so that it can grow.

I remember our first family computer back in the 90s was a Macintosh and folks laughed at us—now, 20 years later, Apple practically rules the technology world and folks laugh at you when you don’t have a Mac. Advertising as a cut-and-dry proposition is dead and gone. Clearly, putting in extra time and effort now is a requirement, much like it was in the early days of advertising.

 

What do you think is going to be the next wave of EFFECTIVE advertising? Are you tired of the funny commercials, or is it just me?

  • http://www.facebook.com/vitorhugosilva Vitor Hugo Silva

    I was just waiting, almost making a countdown to see when the ‘Apple-Steve Jobs-Mac-iPhone-bomb’ would be dropped. And I was right. Come on everybody, let’s all praise the almighty Apple! ‘Cause I really paid a lot of money for this crap, might as well get some approval from other people for having it…

  • http://twitter.com/just4TheALofit TheAL

    “I remember our first family computer back in the 90s was a Macintosh and folks laughed at us—now, 20 years later, Apple practically rules the technology world and folks laugh at you when you don’t have a Mac.” Not entirely far-fetched, as Apple’s popularity has risen exponentially. But image and actually use, in terms of factual numbers, are two different things. The belief that Apple rules the tech world in ways beyond sheer image is still far enough from being true. Otherwise, good read.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1027885454 Karan Desai

    And now I close this window. If my colleagues from the company I work for reads this, god knows what they might do to themselves.

  • Anonymous

    The reason for humor, is to keep people drawn to the commercial otherwise they will change the channel.  There is two categories of commercials: One category deals with strictly branding, the other strictly with promotion.
    I think the reason why advertising on TV continues to be of the same sort, is because it still pays off. If you as a viewer ever become immune to certain advertising techniques, they will invent new more effective pesticides to get you…but they will still get you.

    • http://twitter.com/kgainez Kendra Gaines

      Eh I don’t know if I agree with your point about humor. Most of it is corny and uninteresting. They try too hard and you can usually tell within the first 5 seconds what’s going to happen. Or maybe I’m just a genius that knows the way lol.

      • Anonymous

        I dont disagree with you, but the reason why they still continue the humor trend, corny or lame, is because it probably works on most people.  Most jokes, for instance, like Mama or blond joke,  are lame, but they are very funny for the average person. Why do you think such corny lame movies as Napoleon Dynamite was so popular? Very good humor, is also not easy to get. It requires a certain brain power to process understand and say “I get it”.

  • http://www.climaxmedia.com/ Climax Media

    Not sure if I completely agree with ALL of this article. Advertising hasn’t lost it’s creativity, it’s just that the people who are in charge of making commercials usually suck and are overpaid. They’re great with whiteboards and basecamp but have no personable traits.

    • http://twitter.com/kgainez Kendra Gaines

      Twas my point. Thank you.

      • http://www.climaxmedia.com/ Climax Media

        I know you know what’s up :)

  • http://tolmanbryant.com bryant16

    I think it’s interesting that you bring up the Sonic commercial. Because, you remember it. And while you might not be running out to get a hot dog, or anything else from them, maybe one day when you are out driving around and are hungry, you’ll see a Sonic and either consciously or subconsciously you will turn in and get something to eat. So while it’s not sending you running for the door, that ad did work on you.

    • http://twitter.com/kgainez Kendra Gaines

      Yes and No. I’m actually already a fan of Sonic so when I see something from them I already pay attention. And Sonic’s food is amazing commercial or no.

  • http://twitter.com/cjmcclean Chris McClean

    I feel like, after reading your article, that you forget that ads are also a part of branding. While you may not go rush out to buy that product, your mind is now primed to think of their brand when you ARE shopping. As far as I can tell, the purpose of most advertising these days is not to get you to run out the door to BUY IT NOW, but rather to build mindshare around a brand.

    Also, why the Apple worship in your close? The only markets Apple “rules” are tablets and PMPs. Sure they might command a lot of mindshare and have high profit margins, but that does not make them segment leader. Apple does not command the smartphone market (Android has most of the market), nor laptops, nor desktops, nor servers, nor cloud. The only reason they seem omnipresent is excellent marketing and tech speculation.

    • http://www.climaxmedia.com/ Climax Media

      Agreed! Android smartphones sales were 2 to 1 vs iPhone in summer 2011… Ahem… Just saying :) Apple is definitely NOT the be all and end all… it just seems that way to Apple users lol..

  • http://twitter.com/cjmcclean Chris McClean

    I feel like, after reading your article, that you forget that ads are also a part of branding. While you may not go rush out to buy that product, your mind is now primed to think of their brand when you ARE shopping. As far as I can tell, the purpose of most advertising these days is not to get you to run out the door to BUY IT NOW, but rather to build mindshare around a brand.

    Also, why the Apple worship in your close? The only markets Apple “rules” are tablets and PMPs. Sure they might command a lot of mindshare and have high profit margins, but that does not make them segment leader. Apple does not command the smartphone market (Android has most of the market), nor laptops, nor desktops, nor servers, nor cloud. The only reason they seem omnipresent is excellent marketing and tech speculation.

  • http://twitter.com/kgainez Kendra Gaines

    I think my point was missed. I’m far from an Apple worshipper–I have a mac and I hate it actually. But to the millions of other folks who want to be different, and cutting edge, they are going out and buying Macs. BUYING Macs and iPhones because some way or another Steve Jobs and his minions got folks to believe Apples are above everything else, when in reality they kind of aren’t that great (and that right there, is a personal opinion)
    What kind of car do you drive? Is it a luxury vehicle? Is it REALLY that different from a more affordable vehicle? It’s the same kind of idea. It’s about branding and it’s about positioning.Advertisements yes are a part of branding, but I’m saying these traditional attempts at advertisements are dead. Viral videos are hot new ways of advertisement. Communicating and interacting are new ways of advertisement. But print ads, tv commercials and such are dead and dying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/midbrain Nathan Dana

    I think you raise some valid points, but none of it seems to be backed up with real figures. You claim TV advertising doesn’t work because your small group doesn’t watch it? What do the REAL numbers show? As far as I know, TV numbers are still on the increase despite consuming more and more of everything else. If you want to help blogs like this gain a better reputation for quality, make sure your articles are more than just how you feel.

    • http://twitter.com/kgainez Kendra Gaines

      Hey, we got you thinking, thought…right? :)

  • http://www.dessign.net Dessign

    Great article Kendra,
    I don’t think that Advertisement is dead because its boring or not what it used to be.
    I think advertisement is dead because everyone is texting :) They drive they text, they walk they text, they watch TV they text, I am not paying attention to your ads because I am texting..sorry

    • http://www.facebook.com/fredsmith123 Fred Smith

      Methinks thou doth pro-text too much…

    • http://twitter.com/kgainez Kendra Gaines

      LOL good point!

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I disagree with this article. More people are watching tv than EVER before. That includes cable shows on HBO, etc. There are commercials everywhere, including the Discovery Channel, for cripes sake. I remember when Discovery was a no commercial channel that played nothing but educational programs. Now there’s a bunch of other junk on there. Advertising is becoming more prevalent not less.

  • http://twitter.com/mental_pixel Mental Pixel

    I disagree with the idea that humor is not effective in ads. Well, it is ineffective if it doesn’t say anything about the product or service and if it doesnt hit your marketing goals. The idea of a great print ad or commercial is to show a products benefit(s) in a way that has never been done before. That originality or twist showing benefits or whatever your goal is, is what the consumer will remember. It should be very simple with the least moving parts and maximum effect. Most ads or commercials are crap. The ideas are dull and have been done 1000 times before and that is why they have no effect. The media doesnt matter, its in the execution. Its the idea that matters. Where you put that idea is up to you as the ad pro.
    That being said I think Facebook, Google, a way of putting a face on a business or product is a huge plus in retention of your customers. But you do have to get them to pay attention.

  • http://www.webdesigncreare.co.uk Irina

    Advertising doesn’t
    work for me. I don’t have a tv, have no idea why people like macs (mine is
    rubbish) most adverts I see make me want NOT
    to buy.

    I totally agree with
    the article, however, there isn’t any factual information. I suppose advertising
    still works for many people. Otherwise, they wouldn’t advertise, would they?

  • Anonymous

    mistake comment

  • safebox safebox

    “Kendra Gaines is a freelance designer from Virginia, USA”… nuff said …..

    • http://twitter.com/kgainez Kendra Gaines

      Tells you exactly what my perspective is, huh?

  • http://twitter.com/kgainez Kendra Gaines

    exactamundo!

  • http://twitter.com/kgainez Kendra Gaines

    Oh I don’t mind the ‘poor response’. We here really enjoy it! Everyone has an opinion and it should be voiced! I love a good debate.