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Advertising and you – Part 3 of 4

OK so what can we do about it?

It’s a Big Question

It’s very easy to look back and analyse. The opinions voiced in my last two articles were based on a historical view of the advertising industry and, whilst it may be interesting to look back, on its own it doesn’t really help with the immediate problem.

But it does inform a solution. First, let’s run through a few basics:

Who are we talking to?

  • In this context, middle class, middle income to affluent, aspirational consumers between 18 and 60. When we talk about “the public” or “the audience” this is primarily, but not exclusively, whom we’re describing

What advertising mechanism are we looking at?

  • Raising brand/product awareness to new consumers

  • Getting the consumer to purchase and engage asap (this is not simply brand awareness raising – call to action is a key component)

What is the problem?

As we have seen, advertising opportunities are drying up. Big brands can still advertise because they can afford the media around big sporting/music/cultural events, and they can afford to sponsor them, so their name is visible every 15 seconds. They can buy the market and lock out their competitors (e.g. Heineken 0% & Formula 1).

These are the only real occasions that the audience will watch traditional broadcast TV because the audience is now paying for subscription television/music/gaming packages rather than engaging with advertiser supported media.

When you subscribe to Disney +, you have access to Disney (The Muppets, Winnie the Pooh, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Lucas Film (Star Wars franchise, Indiana Jones), Marvel (Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men, Deadpool), Pixar (Toy Story etc), Fox (The Simpsons, Family Guy, 20th Century Fox Films), and ESPN. And that’s just on one platform.

If you don’t fancy that, you’ve got Apple TV + (with $1,000,000,000 development war chest), Netflix and Amazon Prime. Plus many other subscription content channels that are springing up as the audience increases demand.

All of which are advert free!

It’s true that the audience may decide they don’t want any of that content, and what they really want to do is watch ITV or Dave. But… they probably won’t.

Because of these changes, social media channels are becoming inundated with brands large and small. The adverts are generally poor quality, partly because the algorithms changed and good adverts aren’t allowed to spread organically as they once did, and partly because marketing department budgets are being forced downwards by finance directors with an eye on the bottom line and not the brand. So the lowest bidder tends to win the work.

But, and this is key, when you pay for 20,000 sets of eyeballs you get 20,000 sets of eyeballs or even fewer. That’s it.

It is starting to resemble the world of direct mail marketing more and more. (Everyone on the list gets one, almost everyone hates it, most of it gets ignored, over 99% of it goes in the bin, a tiny percentage take note).

The solution that brands are being given to overcome this?

Branded content. For example, a chef doing fifty recipes with your brand as a key ingredient. Or a journey across Britain in an electric car to make people think positively about a power company.

This solution relies on one key and very disturbing supposition:

You behave as though your potential consumers are stupid.

Why would we say that?

Because advertisers and marketing departments seem to expect people, with instant and almost universal access to the finest choice and variety of content in all human history, to make the choice to watch infomercials.

Thinly veiled, desperate sounding pitches on how you should buy this coffee because it can go in cocktails! Or Chillis! Or Crème Brulee! And this is just one example.

Seriously? When the finest recipes for cocktails, or chilli, or crème brulee from the greatest practitioners of those respective industries are available. For free. On the same platform.

Why would anyone possibly believe that your potential consumer would do that?

The only explanation is that the people selling the idea believe that the audience is less intelligent, less savvy, and less aware than they are. That the consumer is, in fact, stupid.

The answer? - Asymmetric Consumer Engagement – ACE

Why Asymmetric?

Historically, there has been an unspoken contract between the advertiser and the consumer. The consumer wants content, but good quality content is expensive to produce and distribute. The advertiser wants the consumer’s time and attention (and money), but the consumer does not like the idea of being ‘sold to’.

So, there is a two-way (symmetrical) contract. The advertiser will pay for the content and delivery to the consumer and, in exchange, the consumer will ‘allow’ the advertiser to interrupt the content with communications about their brand and products.

When content was printed matter, the intrusion was minimal. The consumer merely needed to turn a page to avoid the advert. So the advert had to be eye-catching and interesting. With television, the advert was more of an interruption but, because the delivered content was rich and of high quality (please note I am omitting reality TV from this point!) the consumer was prepared to watch the advert and, if they really wanted to avoid it, they could always go and make a cup of tea in the break.

So again, the adverts themselves had to be creative and interesting, the beginning of the “Creative Revolution”, if they were to be effective.

As the internet took over as the most promising channel for brand communications, the digital revolutionaries plunged headlong into advertising, thinking the same principle applied. For while it was almost true. But, as we have seen, not for long.

The ACE approach changes this. Our approach is based on one, single philosophy:

“Respect your audience”

This sounds like the standard marketing/advertising buzzword bingo has been an industry staple for years. But this isn’t a fluffy public relations exercise.

It’s a promise, but more importantly, it’s a warning.

It could just as easily be reversed:

“Don’t respect you audience and suffer the consequences”.

So, how do we make it work for you. How does it make money for you?

By overcoming another preconceived notion that is endemic in the industry.

The industry understands intellectually that the audience can avoid advertising messaging. We all know that people can access the best content by paying and thus avoiding the adverts.

But in practice, the advertising industry has never understood this in reality. Advertisers still act as though the audience doesn’t have a choice.

Which is, eventually what will kill advertising.

Arrogance and an inability to adapt. There are too many historic examples of this. The British motorcycle industry, Blockbuster, Kodak and Yahoo all failed to see the ways in which attitudes and expectations were changing and spot the upstarts that would eventually take over their markets.

What can you do?

Accept that the audience won’t see your message even if it’s attached to a third party’s great content.


We need to create content the audience actively chooses to watch, and share, and revisit, and put the sales messaging inside it.

How is it done?

By understanding one simple fact.

The content doesn’t need to be about you. It doesn’t need to be about your product. It doesn’t need to be in the same area. It just needs to appeal to the demographic who will buy your product, and it needs the messaging to help them do it.

What does this do?

It unlocks everything. It removes the restrictions on your content. It means that the content is the hook, and because you control it, you can focus the content to your exact audience, depending on your engagement strategy and needs. It can change and evolve as your marketing strategy changes and evolves, because unlike traditional sponsored media, you control the content. You own the content the audience are coming to see.

It is an advert. But an advert for a new world.

If it reaches your exact audience. If it makes them engage. If they seek it out and share it themselves. If it gets press coverage that you don’t have to pay for, simply because people want to write about it. If it sells your product. It is an advert.

Who said your content had to be about you to sell your product?

Based on the understanding that in the new reality, it is the customer who is in control. Unless you have the budget of Diageo, or Ford, or Coca Cola, you must accept that the Consumer has all the power. Therefore, you must work in a completely different way if you are ever going to try and get a fraction of that power back.

You have been warned.

For more information please contact me

David Acton

+44 (0) 1780 322 101

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