it's time to get real

As my burly window cleaner, Paul–a lifelong lover of the commercial break–recently declared, “I’ve had it with ads.”  And I sense he is simply a reflection of the great British public. A Trinity Mirror study shows a gob-smacking 42% of Brits now distrust brands and 69% distrust their advertising. And those numbers are steadily growing. 

We appear to be losing our touch. 

Questions abound. Has the Stengel era of brand purpose really driven profit, or has it grown into an elaborate awards’ bid that now bemuses the average Jo Bloggs? Are we losing sight of the human beings at the heart of our marketing plans as we hide behind ever-phonier, myopic research methods that contort and paralyse the work we make? And are disembodied tech visions cancelling out the need for real people in our plans altogether? 

Our public is getting irritable. Trivago’s London Underground dump is now emblematic. Witness a passionless value proposition with no creative overlay and a relentless media plan that just won’t give up. Or consider All 4’s ‘Paid for By Advertising’. Maybe so, but why does that have to amount to endless repetitions of vapid sponsorships that hold the viewer angrily hostage during their favourite content? And where do you even start with all the promoted brand posts chasing you around your social feed?

What with Brexit misreads and all, we in the so-called 'liberal elite' could stand accused of being heavily at odds with at least half of our target audience at any given time. And that situation is worsening as we continue to Google plan at arm’s length, and bathe in warm sauvignon behind the research mirror. We sound clever, we justify our budgets, but where did the notion of an engaging two-way conversation go between brand and human? Our relationship with the real people we serve risks breaking down. 

A new focus on relatability is key. 

Ben Elton recently lamented the demise of the great British sitcom that so successfully captured the mood and spirit of the nation; identifying rich characterisation at large. It’s time to revisit this really big data, not just the atomised stuff; to re-familiarise ourselves with the national picture and face up to the fact that Britain is alive, morphing and crying out to be more insightfully served by its big brands. When did we lose our cultural vision? We used to create water cooler moments; ignite conversations; create the glue. Now it’s all about reach and impressions.

We should start listening again; really listening. Relearn the art of deep cultural observation in order to unearth those precious little titbits that help our brands resonate and that earn them the right to sit in people’s buzz feeds. We need to get back to surprising and delighting those huge swathes of the population we’re growing out of synch with as we nuzzle up to global NGOs and clever tech gurus. Stop focusing inwards, start focusing outwards.

Nothing is greater than a brand campaign that touches and ignites its audience. So, let’s show the masses the wonder of truly great marketing. The stuff with real spirit and grit. Let’s get back to creating simple, useful and, above all, enjoyable interruptions in their day: joyful USPs, joyfully done. Let’s create more Marmite gene tests, O2 ‘Oops’ and KFC ‘Whole Chickens’. Let’s applaud all those ‘Ridiculous Possibilities’ at TK Maxx. Let’s stop trying to be so damned clever and get back down to earth.

It’s time to get real.

First published by The Marketing Society, September 2017.