29/05/15

There isn’t too much advertising – there’s too little

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If adverts were in more relevant places, they’d be more effective, says Alex Smith, Planning Director at Sense…

We’re all familiar with the idea that the world is oversaturated with messages. Advertising seems to be everywhere, always trying to butt-in. “What,” we cry, “doesn’t have a brand tastelessly plastered over it these days?”

Well, actually, pretty much everything.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop as I write and looking around I see tables, chairs, plants, lights, crockery, windows, floorboards, toilets, people, clothes, tills, mirrors, and so on – none of which perform any kind of advertising purpose. They just basically are what they are.

The same thing is happening out on the street. Cars, doorways, rubbish bins, lampposts, trees, bike racks, street sweepers, benches – these are not advertising, they’re just things, doing their job. Useful things.

It seems that nothing that’s actually useful does an advertising job, only useless things like poster sites, flyers, guys wearing sandwich boards. Isn’t that a bit weird?

Now of course, people can try sticking ads onto stuff – any flat surface is fair game apparently – but that’s just creating a parasite, not actually converting that thing into advertising. What we should be looking at is the communication potential of the actual objects, and of the jobs that they’re fulfilling.

Success by association
Say that Kit-Kat was able to take responsibility for public seating across a city. More comfortable designs, consideration of locations with good views, convenience, sun aspect, better maintenance, etc – basically becoming the public bench lobby. This would chime quite nicely with its ‘take a break’ proposition, and hey presto a bunch of Kit-Kat ads cease to be, replaced by multi-tasking everyday objects, doing their functional job with a bit of subtle communication on top.

Every useful thing has built in associations and implications. If brands were to take responsibility for the things relevant to their message, they could create stealthy communications and provide a public service to boot, instead of just throwing up intrusive advertising road blocks as they tend to do now.

One of the closest practice to this currently sponsorship, like Barclays and its association with Boris Bikes. But this doesn’t really count, as there isn’t really a communication here – just another media buying opportunity on a load of bikes. If, however, Boris Bikes was driven in part by BUPA, or Tesla, or FedEx, or Virgin Active, and they were able to put their own spin on things, marrying the brand with the natural associations of the ‘thing’ (a bike network), and the purpose of the brand in question would create a different takeout; a different experience.

The simplest way to approach this opportunity for a brand is to think about your supposed purpose, and then look for objects and systems that intermesh with it. Pedigree is “committed to making the world better for dogs”. Perfect! So where is the brand’s presence in the dog park arena? Or poop picking facilities? Or posts to tie dogs up outside supermarkets? Or water bowls in cafes? Or even lampposts and fire hydrants? These are just as much their marketing opportunities as are poster spaces and time slots.

Object lesson
But would this type of ‘branded new world’ be a touch insidious, because in this alternate reality you’d effectively be living in the advertising. But then would that really be so bad?

Whotells in Barcelona rents out apartments for tourists that have been completely furnished by lifestyle brand Muji. This is a lovely example, working in exactly the right way, since simultaneously those rooms are impeccable, useful and cheap, while also accomplishing a powerful, but entirely unobtrusive advertising job. Muji does not need to stick a giant Muji poster on the wall for this to work. This tasteful, life enhancing piece of ‘advertising’ is archetypal of the way a world of ‘communicating objects’ should operate, whether they using your own products (as Muji have done), or appropriating new ones (as with the Kit-Kat bench flight of fancy).

A migration of ad spend away from media spaces and into objects is probably a lifetime away. Agency skill sets, established marketing patterns, legal restrictions, and a raft of other annoyances will see to that. However, the lessons can be applied in modest ways within certain safer marketing spaces, such as experiential, sponsorship, brand partnerships and product placement. Those in themselves represent a world of opportunity, and are a great place to start.

We all get excited by everyday quality and innovation. If a brand gets to say something about itself by delivering it to us, that’s fine with me.

This article was published in Admap

29/05/15

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