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Simplicity: what Confucius would say to today's ad industry

30 Apr 2019  |  Duff Borer 
Simplicity: what Confucius would say to today's ad industry

Media fragmentation has complicated the advertising market, writes Duff Borer - and with it the media planner's line of sight, from initial business problem to campaign execution

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."

It’s c 490 BC and in North East China, Confucius is influencing the world to come with his philosophy, teachings and nicely turned quotes. This one in particular seems to have become the leitmotif for today’s marketing and advertising community.

It is probably true to say that creating complexity is part of the human condition, and why Confucius’ quote still rings so true today. From dealing with over burdensome public service bureaucracy to packing too much stuff before going on holiday, our lives are beset with complications.

But it’s also why the brands that remove complexity from existing models are poised to do so well. Examples such as Uber and bundled telecoms services are well known but also Monzo and Revolut who are making banking so easy, are making the big established banks sit up and take serious notice.

It is a truth universally acknowledged within advertising and marketing that the best media strategies, creative executions or communication plans are born from simple ideas and rigorous consumer understanding. But to what extent has media fragmentation had in complicating things, leading to the obscuring of the planner’s clear line of sight, The Golden Thread, from initial business problem to campaign execution? We have to ask ourselves, is it a coincidence that an increasingly complex media landscape has Adland bemoaning its lot?

Planners are used to briefs asking for multiple objectives achieved through one campaign and an insistence on channels that offer precise attribution but give little by way of advertising effectiveness. By the same token, clients are under increasing pressure to show a return on investment and lean on channels that are minutely measurable simply because they are just that.

But is digital itself the problem here?

Part of the answer lies in taking a step back and asking whether individual channels, digital or otherwise are getting to the heart of the brief, playing to the core consumer insight and solving the business problem. It was Robin Wight in the mid ‘90s who said one should, ‘interrogate the product until it confesses to its strengths’. The saying about Einstein spending 95 per cent of his time thinking about the problem still rings true and asking the right questions to get to the nub is key to achieving simplicity. Cutting through the crap. Avoiding the red herrings.

All good planners (and clients) know what good looks like but often intense digital crossfire makes it increasingly hard to see the wood from the trees. It is almost as if the paradox of choice together with an obsession with outputs has taken much of the common sense out of the planning process.

The media owner community has their part to play too. For every pitch that is relevant, creatively challenging and plays faithfully to the initial campaign insight, there will be those that try to get on the schedule at any cost - a bit like the rider-less horse in The Grand National, trained to jump fences in a race they can never win.

Media channels are delivery systems for great thinking. Whether offline or online they rely on the initial human insight to ring true before bringing the campaign to life.

Heidelberg Printers knew their audience would only consider their product by impressing them with the latest technology. Producing 3,500 individually printed covers for the pre-eminent trade title’s subscriber base was a superb demonstration not only of both consumer understanding but also product capability.

Digital channels offer even more extraordinary opportunities to create the point of difference that lies at the heart of persuasive advertising. As each technological advancement takes hold, advertisers should be swift to exploit the opportunities they afford. With the advent of social media, the ‘follow to #unfollow’ campaign on Twitter encouraging kids not to join South America gangs was simplicity itself.

And as for the latest virtual reality technology, the recent campaign for Abu Dhabi Tourist Board is another great example of combining a simple core piece of consumer insight - tourists see Abu Dhabi as a stopover not a destination - with technically ground-breaking delivery. A series of fully immersive, virtual reality 360-degree videos, filmed by drones on location give the viewer an almost visceral experience of The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque or The Mangrove National Park and so Abu Dhabi as a destination.

So just because we live and work in an increasingly atomised digital landscape doesn’t mean we need to be overwhelmed. If Confucius is right, we just need people across advertising and marketing to take a step back. From insight to delivery.


Duff Borer is business director, Spark Foundry UK

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