What, Why and The Boomerang Curve?
As we have seen, in its “golden age”, advertising was a significant part of popular culture, far more than it is today. New advertising campaigns were frequently discussed and even praised in popular media. It wasn’t unusual for morning coffee-break conversations to be about the latest commercials as much as the programmes seen on television the night before.
JR Hartley became a household name as well as the subject of numerous comedy sketches, whilst Michael Winner calmed everybody down with his insurance advert appearances. At the more artistic end of the spectrum, Sony’s bouncing balls commercial combined incredibly high production values with a haunting soundtrack. Then Honda broke the mould with their TV advert “Cog”, a mechanical ballet that led the viewer through a slow and beautifully crafted choreography of interacting car parts to reach the finished product.
Because it really is worth seeing again!
To the viewer, the product increasingly appeared to be secondary to the artistry of the advert.
The phenomenon that transformed advertising to this mass-culture status was the “Creative Revolution”. In the decade from 1960-1970, the storytelling power of 30-second TV commercials matured into an art form in its own right.
The “Swinging Sixties” wrought many social changes. Growing youth culture, sexual revolution, increased wealth and freedom from the post war restrictions of the 1950s. Advertising agencies began to use high quality art direction and copy to create adverts that gave the warm feeling of shared confidences, rather than a straightforward promotional message.
This Creative Revolution was a vivid departure from traditional print, radio, and early television advertising that focused on fact-based arguments, why your brand was better than its competition. Instead it used an intuitive understanding of what goes on inside the mind of the consumer – the realisation that establishing an emotional connection between brand and consumer could be far more effective than a hard sell or a competitive positioning argument.
This philosophy continued up to the millennium. Its influence remained strong and advertising produced by the leading agencies followed the trend that began in the 60s.
But there was a change coming. In the early 2000s, the Internet began to increase its share of consumers’ media time. As technology made access easier and cheaper, audiences began to change their viewing and their buying habits dramatically.
Companies followed the audience and today, over 50% of advertising spending is on digital media.
But consumer response to advertising on digital media is very different from that on television for a number of reasons.
Research shows that up to two-thirds of consumers find on-line adverts annoying. Even more condemning is the fact over 30 percent of consumers (and in increasing numbers) have installed adblocker programs to shield themselves from advertising.
Is it because they now view advertising on a smartphone, computer, or other digital device as opposed to a TV?
Or maybe ads just don’t connect with the consumer anymore, because of the dumbing down of creativity in advertising?
When budgets were enormous, advertising attracted and indeed relied on some of the finest creative minds on the planet. Many of these creatives went on to produce and direct blockbuster movies, including such notables as Alfred Hitchcock and Ridley Scott. (This migration also worked in reverse, with directors like Martin Scorcese turning their attentions to advertising film making)
Some adverts became hailed as works of art in their own right. Famous artists, as an example Andy Warhol, turned to the iconography of advertising in some of their most celebrated work.
In the “Golden Age”, standards had to be high in order to retain the attention of the audience because the delivery channels were limited, and competition was strong within all the major brands
Now anyone with a smartphone or a hand-held camera can call themselves a film maker. The fact that production costs are so low has resulted in a tidal wave of low-quality creative flooding the social media feeds that dominate our lives.
So, we have a two-fold issue. A massive fall in the quality of messaging paralleled by a massive increase in volume.
Consumers’ turn-off from advertising is mental and physical exhaustion from too much media exposure. Research by eMarketer estimates that in 2019 the average consumer was engaged over nine hours each day on digital media and TV.
With greater media exposure comes more commercials. In 1970s, most consumers saw commercials while watching three hours of primetime television. With digital media and more time of exposure, industry sources estimate that today’s consumer’s daily total is 5,000 to 12,000 advertisements
We also suggest that digital technology has changed the relationship between the consumer and media.
If “the medium is the message” then new media technology changed how consumers experience advertising and, perhaps more importantly, how they respond to it.
The smartphone is the primary media source for 40 percent of UK adults and 60 percent of those under thirty. Research reports that 76 times a day the average user initiates and receives calls and texts, watches videos, uses apps, and conducts searches. While doing this, they click, type, swipe, and tap on their phones 2,617 times!
Smartphone technology has dramatically altered consumers’ media experience. Think about watching an advertisement on the small screen of a smartphone. It is a very different experience from sitting on the couch and watching television.
So, where does this lead us?
The Boomerang Curve
A lot has happened that affects how consumers feel about advertising: a change in media behavior because of technology, overstimulation from near-constant exposure to media, and inundation by advertising messages at levels far beyond possible awareness and processing.
But there is a much more important factor that marketers and advertisers have not considered in their efforts to create advertising on digital media that consumers like.
The technology has changed, but the mind of the consumer has remained the same. Today’s edition of the human mind likes engaging stories that are full of emotion - just like its predecessor did in 1970. Herein lies the problem and the underlying reason for the Boomerang Curve’s application to current marketing channels.
If we look at the way in which novel digital advertising strategies over the past 20 years have appeared, grown and then almost vanished again, we see a correlation.
In the early days of a new idea or channel, because uptake is typically restricted to early adopters, the strategy can be highly cost effective.
As the approach gains traction and early adopters are clearly seeing results, the (generally more conservative) marketing departments of the large companies jump on board. Budgets swell and with them competition for space within the channel. Prices increase and the channel becomes flooded to the point at which its effectiveness begins to wane.
Fig 3 We then see the channel is dominated by companies with the biggest budgets, but consumers are beginning to resist (ad blockers and pop-up blockers for example)
Fig 4 Because the approach is now high-profile, large numbers of ‘agencies’ start pushing the concept to the smaller brands, but this is verging on mis-selling. As an example, consider how, a few years ago, your inbox was flooded with emails promising you ‘first page listing on Google for $50 per month’.
Eventually both the audience and the brands become disillusioned and the channel settles down to a low level of utilisation and effectiveness.
What does this mean today?
The massive uptake in the use of social media channels for advertising is rapidly moving social media along the Boomerang Curve. For example, approximately every fourth Instagram post and one in five Facebook posts is an advert. Because it is easy and inexpensive to create short video clips and photographs using readily available technology, the market is becoming flooded with small companies offering ‘social media management’. This has the effect of driving creative costs down because the agencies are in such a crowded marketplace. The knock-on effect is that quality also falls away and the adverts become dull and unimaginative. Consumers are less engaged, and we see the channel pushed further and further along the Boomerang Curve.
What was a highly effective and engaging way of communicating with your customers is becoming an increasingly irritating interruption in their media consumption.At the same time, even though “creative” spend is low, the media channels are able to continue to increase their rates because of increasing demand from the bigger names.Your costs go up and effectiveness falls.
Each medium must find its narrative voice and learn to tell a story through its technology.
Before advertisers can use digital media to its full potential, you first must learn how to use it to tell stories that consumers like.
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David Acton +44 (0) 1780 322 101