An open, possibly annoying, letter to Thinkbox

29 May 2018  |  John Lowery 
An open, possibly annoying, letter to Thinkbox

Congratulations on the magisterial Thinkbox ‘TV Advertising’s Killer Charts’ presentation. It is almost Dawkins-esque in its use of facts to hammer home the unfashionable point that TV effectiveness and efficiency outstrip those of other media. I sincerely hope that the snake oil purveyors have got around to reading it.

Apropos of which, I wonder whether there might now be a class action lawsuit filed by those poor folks who’ve been sold banner ads that deliver a negative ROI. (It could be dubbed ‘The Sir John Hegarty Action’, after his observation that, “You have more chance of being struck twice by lightning than you do of clicking on a banner ad.”)

Returning to the subject of charts, I am, however, sadly the bearer of a different kind of exhibit. It’s drawn from Kantar TGI data and it shows the level of agreement with the statement ‘Nearly all TV advertising annoys me’.

Of course, there are several possible interpretations of these data but one can be elicited by the simple act of turning on the television and watching an hour or two of prime-time.

In the last year, I’ve encountered the Marmite ‘DNA Project’ and Audi ‘Clowns’ commercials. Both of them are really annoying. Not because they aren’t fantastic, they are. Instead, they’re annoying because they’re so rare that they remind me of the days when we’d turn on the TV and see: Volvo ‘Twister’, Sony ‘Balls’, Guinness ‘Surfer’, Levi’s ‘Watch Pocket’, Stella Artois ‘Good Samaritan’, Intercity ‘Relax’, Dunlop ‘Unexpected’, Volkswagen ‘Changes’, Weetabix ‘Robin Hood’, Nike ‘Park Life’, Tango ‘Orangeman’, Reebok ‘Field of Dreams’, Carling ‘Dambusters’, Guardian ‘Points of View’, Lynx ‘Ideal Woman’, Audi ‘Yuppie’… Older readers can add to this list.

I’m going to make an assumption now. It goes like this...

The less annoying TV advertising is, the more likely it is to be effective. Still with me? Then imagine how much more effective TV advertising could be if the annoyance levels were still below 20%.

So, now that Tess Alps has been enthroned, might she use her status to constitute and chair a high-level panel inquiry; including agencies, clients, production companies and researchers; with the objective of improving the enjoyment of the advertising that appears on our beloved TV.

Yours, on bended knee,

John Lowery


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gordoneuchler, head of planning, bbdo on 30 May 2018
“in all professions and in art it takes decades abd centuries to build a body of excellent timeless work.
and i think john’s examples are exactly that. and each year a few are added to this.
i sometimes wonder whether it could make sense to take this timeless work and put it on the stage that tv is. rather than trying to develop some new work that most likely will annoy people.
and what the effectiveness of putting on the classics would be?”
JohnLowery, n/a, n/a on 30 May 2018
“First, to Nigel Clarkson’s point: I wish it were the case that the rose-tinted specs had been donned but the general public, who represent the sample of the TGI, is not looking back. People are responding to a question about the here and now.

Second, to Simeon Adam’s point about irascibility: that was one of my hypotheses but in stumbling upon the ‘Annoying Chart’ above, I looked at a whole load of TGI Lifestyle statements. Very few of them showed such a dramatic shift. (Although if someone from Kantar is tuning in, I’d love them to check that.)

There was, however, one other Lifestyle statement that shouted out to me: 'On TV I enjoy the adverts as much as the programmes'.

In 1984 agreement stood at about 25.5%. It then rose reasonably steadily to 30.5% in 1991. It now stands at about 13.3%.

I find that awfully depressing.

It’s the job of the advertising industry to try to match the quality of the programmes. A job that has become even more pressing in an era when people can skip at the press of a button.

We have to do something about this and, if Tess does want to stand as PM (although as a fellow traveller, I’d rather it was as president) I’ll vote for her.

John Lowery”
TessAlps, Chair, Thinkbox on 29 May 2018
“Hi John,

Lindsey and the Thinkboxers put a huge amount of effort into persuading brands to make better ads. Hence the bi-monthly Thinkboxes, the research we supported from the IPA and the Gunn Report showing that creatively awarded ads are many, many times more effective than other effectiveness award winners, and our film series on 3 Great Ads I had nothing to do with.

We’ve been trying to understand why there are fewer gob-smacking ads around. Stu Outhwaite, from Creature, has one theory and you can hear him at The Big Think on June 6th (attend or stream). But short-termism is definitely a culprit; why invest in building deep emotional connections if you’re only measuring the instant response? There’s no reason why we can’t change this and many of the ‘proven’ media, from the Radiocentre to Newsworks, have joined us in commissioning work to prove the value of brand-building for the long-term. We’re missing out on £3bn of profit according to Jon Kershaw.

Re the ‘throned’ bit. Dominic said many very kind things that I wish were true but, as a Republican, being ‘Queen’ is not one of them!

You can get up now, John.

LindseyClay, CEO, Thinkbox on 29 May 2018
“Hello John,

This is a noble cause. Who could object to wanting to have even more enjoyable TV advertising? Not us. Likeability is a key component of effectiveness and advertisers who do not focus on great creativity are missing a trick as more creative/enjoyable ads can be around ten times more efficient.

An odd/interesting thing to note is that even if more TV advertising is felt to be annoying, it has been getting more effective over time. Even annoying TV ads work it seems and that could have encouraged some complacency. It would perhaps be better if they didn’t work as that would force creative standards higher across the board and keep them up there.

I’m glad you like our Killer Charts. Some people find them annoying, funnily enough.

PeterSouter, Chairman, TBWA on 29 May 2018
“Can’t argue with the angry logic here. Selling is an art, not a science. Persuasion is about creativity not algorithms. Long live John Lowery.”


17 Jan 2019 

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