New advertising is old advertising at heart

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Going by what I see in trade magazines, there are frequent attempts to find a new definition to advertising of today. Story telling, Content Marketing, True Vertexing (I kid you not!) are all possible candidates. I guess planning meetings involve strategies for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and more, aside from the mandatory YouTube video. There is an attempt to convey that everything we know about advertising doesn’t hold true anymore. Conference chatter and expert opinion reiterate this. This is partly due to the ‘shiny new toys’ syndrome which results blindly adopting a new platform or tech without really bothering about the need or the brand fit.

There are a few voices which suggest that advertising & marketing fundamentals have not changed in decades and will not for decades more. The reason: human instinct is the same now or 100 years ago. Our desires, needs, wants, egos have remained the same – only its manifestations have evolved, keeping pace with the times.

Technology and new media have facilitated an evolution in the marketing message and how it is delivered. So it would be silly to say nothing has changed. However, to suggest that the old ways are not relevant anymore is totally untrue. Central to the ‘new advertising’ principle is that brands get talked about for doing remarkable things (as opposed to saying how great they were through an endearing ad earlier). The ‘remarkable’ thing could very well be a regular ad (remember ‘The Force’ from Volkswagen?) which gets shared & talked about. Or it could be any of the new fangled events, stunts, activations, apps and more. The critical thing being that a brand’s ‘action’ has the potential to be talked about.

In this context, I believe ‘brand conversations’ are a lot of BS. No one in their right minds would want to engage in a conversation with a shampoo or hair colour brand. If the brand puts out some content of some value, then there could be some involvement from the consumer towards that content. I would say that the most important aspiration for a brand today would be ‘to be of value’. The value could then be entertainment or utility.

How is ‘new advertising’ different from advertising as we know it? While some would have us believe that it has changed fundamentally, I believe that it has remained the same with just different delivery platforms and tools. Whether it was the 1930s or 1990s, the first test of an ad was to get noticed. And then hold that attention with a relevant, rewarding message. The ‘reward’ could be in the form of useful information, entertainment or saying something familiar in a refreshingly new manner. That is all there is to it.

We often hear pundits say that the ‘consumer is in charge’ in today’s marketing environment. I don’t think so. Do we consumers have the power to change a product offering – say of a telecom provider? No, we just live with whatever is the service quality but make sure our unhappiness is known in media – as the platforms & tools are available. To that extent, the consumer only has the power to comment on a brand offering – that’s it. The ‘offering’ could be the service or product itself, the packaging, communication, design and so on.

Some of the fundamental ‘guiding principles’ of marketing & advertising have remained the same over the years too. They have just evolved to adapt to the new media scenario and the platforms they offer.

Marketing is the delivery of customer satisfaction at a profit, said, Prof P V Balakrishnan, University of Washington. How has it evolved today? The central thought remains the same – it has only become tougher to satisfy consumers who no longer accepts poor quality silently. While a good or bad experience may have been shared among friends in the past too, the 24×7 always-on platforms simply offer visibility now. It also means that just because one is catering to a relatively inexpensive price band, that consumer can be palmed off with poor production quality. Look at the rise of Xiaomis and OnePlus’ of the world – their products and digital interfaces (websites, videos) look classy.

Good advertising goes beyond merely creating name recognition – it creates affinity. What has changed now? Today, good advertising can create vocal,visible brand advocates, not just affinity. When folks share a brand’s video on Facebook with positive comments, they become brand advocates for that moment. Aside from that today’s platforms offer scope for evangelism – we’ve all seen that with products from Apple, Google, Samsung, Xiaomi, Pebble, OnePlus and more (especially entertainment brands).

Human nature has not changed in a million years and will not in another million. As Bill Bernbach said: ‘It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own’. No wonder we see advertising tapping into such desires, wants and needs for decades now with just the language, tone of voice and executional tools keeping pace with the times.

Brand communication with strong, universal insights transcend cultures and make for long running campaigns. The best example which has transcended both traditional and ‘new media’ is perhaps Snickers. ‘You are not yourself when you are hungry’ is a universal insight and it has been expressed so well on traditional TV, print, outdoor and social media.

There is a 'shiny new toy' syndrome in marketing & advertising circles leading to a check list approach with brand presence on every new platform - from Twitter to apps to Vine without considering their merit & relevance for the brand. In today's post, I will touch upon a few timeless 'guidelines' of good advertising and how they have executed then and now.

Focus on a product feature and tell a compelling story

The days of genuine USP are long gone but it makes for compelling viewing if there is focus on a single-minded benefit. It is always tempting to list out all the features of a product but it helps to dramatise a benefit if it is single-minded. A simple 60-secinder which did that decades ago:

Today, we have Volvo demonstrating the featuresof their vehicles through a series of 'Live tests' - made for the YouTube generation.

Be of some value.

Being of value has moved on from simply announcing or claiming to be of use, to be entertaining taking advantage of a platform’s unique features or offering a service of real use. But this is not a new discovery. Remember Michelin Guides? Started by Michelin tyres, it is the oldest European hotel and restaurant reference guide, which awards 'Michelin stars' for excellence to a select few establishments. Not only was it of genuine benefit to consumers, there was some link back to the category of tyres. The Bournvita Quiz Contest, Limca Book of Records are couple of other examples. Today this approach manifests in brands being of some value in myriad ways - from apps to smart use of media. Here are a few examples:

IBM - Smart ads For Smarter Cities

IBM Smart ads For Smarter Cities

L’Oréal Makeup Genius App

Audi - Swedish Snow Rescuers

Sometimes 'being of value' could be mere entertainment. A boring category like correction fluid saw some fantastic work in the form of Tipp-Ex Hunter And Bear's 2012 Birthday Party. 'The Man Your Man Could Smell Like' and the social media campaigns around the brand were pure entertainment. A brand can be of value when it sorts out customer service issues on Twitter or offers beauty tips or recipes on social media. There are many ways a brand can be of value nowadays.

Good advertising evokes an emotional reaction.

There are countless ads which have brought tears to our eyes. I have watched this ad a million times and it always makes me teary eyed. Today, we have several brands telling emotional, compelling stories - simply as long format films or as brand gestures. The principle at work is the same.

Communication must meet a business objective.

While a lot of the advertising is simply done to 'create awareness' (especially in FMCG) a lot of the time, they are used to address specific marketing or business problems. What has changed is simply the medium and use of a ‘language’ familiar to the audience. Fastback's recent advertising was specifically meant to address the business issue arising from fakes. The films created were not regular ads but seemed more like Vine videos familiar to that target audience.

Stories with a ‘twist in the tale’ stand a better chance of audience involvement.

Whether it was a simple 35-second film or a YouTube video, the principle is the same - engage the audience and deliver a twist in the end.

Every medium has its advantages. Exploit them.

While most of the radio spots are dumbed down conversations between two characters, the memorable ones exploit the medium to their advantage. Ditto with outdoor - which is essentially a fleeting medium. In today's context, it manifests in using a platform's characteristics to your advantage - be it on Instagram or Periscope.

Advertising today is about using relevant media, feeding off each other to be of some value, taking advantage of the unique nature of a platform. Doesn't that sound pretty much like how it always was?

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