This is what we must change about advertising

20 Dec 2018  |  Bob Wootton 
This is what we must change about advertising

All Bob Wootton wants for Christmas is for everyone in adland to start doing their jobs properly

It’s that wonderful, wonderful time of the year. A time of lists, predictions or reflections. But rather than join the long and eminent list of such contributors, instead I thought I’d make a single suggestion for 2019.

“Only one, Bob?”, I hear you say, "that’s not like you."

Well, it is a big one. Not very radical but pretty dramatic in scope, something universal which could be actioned immediately.

My suggestion is that everybody reverts to doing what they’re supposed to do - and does it properly.

Simple, eh? But maybe a bit patronising, insulting even?

Well perhaps, though I’m not alleging widespread incompetence here. Rather, I would encourage everyone to reflect on how well the current modus operandi serves us and our customers and then challenge it.

Because the answer is not very well, and that’s being kind. There’s a lot to play for.

Let me expand with some examples, with suggestions.

We’ve known for many years about media plans that are distorted in order to enable agencies or their holding groups to meet volume trading commitments.

It’s excused because it helps meet price commitments or trigger kickbacks that enable the agency to operate at no visible margin, but it doesn’t have the advertiser client’s true need for effective marketing in mind.

So let’s have media planners unfettered simply to do their job, which is reverting to writing the very best plan for their clients.

Whilst with media agencies, let’s have media buyers buying the best schedules again, and not progressively diverting ever more spend out of prime and into cost-reducing day parts and channels.

Let’s see the return of professional pride in real media well-bought.

Many leading creatives bemoan the death of appetite for the big idea. Mediatel Year Ahead 2019 panellist Tracy De Groose, now at Newsworks, called time on the big idea while leading Carat. I diverged at the time and disagree just as fervently today.

I’ve always believed in a central, unifying idea as a multiplier, but with today’s proliferation of outlets, I see it as essential. Else, marcomms is just a shower of apparently unrelated messages.

I believe a key reason for consumers’ loss of trust in and fondness for advertising is that so much of it is now created and distributed formulaically and without care. So let’s return to mindful creative work and ad placement.

Part of that means not placing things simply because they’re cheap or because “the data says so”. So let’s reconsider and avoid toxic, typically online, environments. Let’s adopt zero tolerance of dodgy online inventory, whether it be real but unviewable or utterly fraudulent and thus non-existent.

For the foreseeable, advertising will still be about reaching and convincing people.

So let’s turn our backs on the addiction to the new and shiny and return to using things whose appearance is verified, whose audiences are well-metricated and are proven to work. Like, dare I say, telly.

Let’s spend less time entering too many awards and more doing better work for clients. After all, everyone is always banging on about how there’s no time or money.

Let’s stop submitting entries for super-clever ideas which result in elaborate tie-ups with media ‘partners’ that about six people see. Having judged many awards in my time, I remember when I started not to recognise any of the work described in the entry papers.

So much for fame - or was I just no longer in the hallowed 16-34 demographic?

Let’s see more agencies standing up to ridiculous client demands, be they absurd and insulting price demands from procurement, or disorganized marketers imposing unreasonable turnarounds - especially over weekends and public holidays, like the one most of us are hoping to enjoy shortly.

And let’s see the client leaders taking the initiative to curtail such behaviours. Even if you’re not bothered by the resentment it creates, you know that it drives towards crap work too.

Let’s be better employers by respecting our peoples’ need for a decent work/life balance and eschewing meeting, spreadsheet and presenteeism cultures that grind them down.

Stamina is necessary in this business but it should not be the most important personal characteristic. Reference the worrying rise in stress-related illness and growing amount of excellent work industry charity NABS finds itself doing.

As I draw to my conclusion, I reserve my greatest vehemence for the CRM industry.

I’ve written before about how so many can be gainfully employed in the destruction of brand value. Yet still they persist.

Take my business bank, which might have a black horse as its mascot. Customer service is via phone and every time you call, you learn that their operators are “very busy at the moment”. I’m running a small f***ing business myself and I’m not?

Not a day passes without a story, either in the media or anecdotal, about the antics of the airlines. Budget airlines seem to wear abysmal customer service as a badge of honour which displays their frugality, but the premium operators are little different.

If you ever try to arrange to sit next to family members or colleagues on a flight, or have lost a piece of luggage, you’ll understand.

Our utilities aren’t much better, though the broadband and mobile providers seem to have discovered depths that old world players like Gaz and Leccy never managed to plumb.

Many ‘modern’ online companies have convoluted and anonymous customer ‘handling’ too.

A “customer relationship” only has a point if it’s positive and leads to (further) business. Most current CRM is therefore a misnomer at best and often almost criminal.

So advertisers - let’s stop blethering on about ‘wonderful’ – aka shit - CRM processes and actually design them so they really are customer-centric.

To conclude, in 2019 I’d humbly suggest that many, many people in the marketing industry could just do their jobs, and do them properly. Imagine where that could get us.

Meanwhile, I wish you a very good and very happy Christmas and New Year with the ones you love.

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