56 Years Young

Well, wouldn’t you just know it.

I return from the Holidays to find we’re finally having a debate about ageism in advertising. And a damn serious one, too, by the looks of it.

It’s about bloody time. 

Naturally, in the two-cent saloon of public opinion I’ve got a dollar fifty to spend, so here’s my take on the various whys, whats, and wherefores. 

The concerted eradication of the lesser-spotted senior creative has been going unchallenged for more than a decade now. Aside from the glib cliché that “Advertising is a young person’s game,” the boilerplate excuse for this sorry state of affairs has been the digital revolution and the pernicious notion that anyone over 40 or, God forbid, 50, must be flummoxed by it all. The whole shebang is just too much for our ageing analog minds to grasp.

A handy piece of nonsense that I hope to bury over the next few paragraphs.

To be clear:

There is not a single thing about digital, social, mobile, or content that scares me, worries me, frightens me or otherwise gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I have a clear understanding of how it works and, unlike most of its acolytes, know with absolute certainty why it doesn’t most of the time.

And I’m pretty sure a vast slew of ad people of a certain vintage would agree with me.

The only thing that bewilders me about the digital circus is the wholesale acceptance of its supposed magical properties and the outright refusal to countenance anything that might gainsay it. That being said, here’s what’s really driving our ongoing preference for young over old.

First, there’s the optics. A creative department filled with young guns supporting beards, tats, and Bluetooth headsets, looks a whole lot more on-it and of-the-moment than one stacked to the rafters with receding hairlines, expanding girths and mandatory reading glasses. For those of us getting up in years, this is undoubtedly the cruelest consequence of the passage of time. 

Then there’s the money. Younger means cheaper. Why pay top dollar oldie prices when you can hire raw talent with bags of potential for half and get away with it? If the client doesn’t notice, who cares?

This double whammy has resulted in the gutting of an entire stratum of our business – the senior pro with 25+ years of experience under his or her belt.

There are so many reasons why this is a terrible idea.

Let’s start with the nature of the advertising audience: It’s getting older, more affluent and more influential. The oldies have disposable income out the wazoo. Might it not be a good idea to have some of their peers creating the ads for them?

Then there’s the obvious hypocrisy of creating diversity and inclusion campaigns for our clients while simultaneously turning a blind eye to ageist practices in our own back yard. An excellent opportunity to lead by example that’s, naturally, been missed.   

The third is the effect an absence of senior people has on the quality of the work we ultimately create. I’m sorry, folks, but it’s increasingly taking a nose-dive into the dirt.

Today’s twenty-somethings are sorely missing what I had when I was their age – namely, the presence of a couple of old farts who had seen most everything before and weren’t afraid to share a few secrets. Occasionally, this would manifest itself as an open piece of advice (“Yeah, I wouldn’t do that if I were you”); more often though it was learning through proximity: You can learn a lot from merely observing someone who knows what they’re doing,

No one doubts that times change and that the younger generation must inevitably replace the one that came before it. 

But experience never gets old, and we jettison those steeped in the ways of the business too readily at our peril.

Do so if you must, but don’t say it’s because the old guard is out of its depth, or doesn’t grasp the latest leaps forward.

We know all too well how the game works.

And better than you might think.

Nevertheless, I’m glad we’re at last having a meaningful conversation.

Long may it rage.

Let the change in attitudes begin.

Crap Ad Syndrome: 10 Tell-Tale Signs

Your new campaign/ad/video is ready. 

Dollars have been spent, media has been placed, and expectations are high. 

But will it work? 

Ah, the multi-million dollar question.

Who knows? Advertising is an unquantifiable beast at the best of times and a wholly subjective one to boot,

What I can tell you is that if your heroic effort has succumbed to any of the ten suck points listed below, it hasn’t got a hope in hell.

Ok, get your pencils out and let’s see how you fair.

There was never any buy-in on the brief This is a biggie from the get-go. The brief is the tablet of stone by which all is judged. It should set the direction of the communication, guide the creative process and be the touchstone for whether the work is strategically sound, creatively impactful and ready to go to market. It needs to be kept to a single page, and both agency and client need to be on it.

The client has given the agency “direction” Yeah, I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Client direction is, after all, code for “do my idea” and that rarely works. All you’re doing is putting the brakes on minds trained to take base elements and turn them in gold. Best let the agency do what agencies do best: come up with great ideas. 

The work has gone through more than 3 rounds of revisions Anything more than 3 and there’s a substantive flaw in the brief. (See #1) It usually means there was never a consensus on what needs to be accomplished, and the vagueness and woolliness of the original brief are starting to show through in the ideas. No good can come from pushing on regardless and hoping for the best – best step back, re-focus, re-write the brief and start over.

More than 3 people are approving it One point to contact with ultimate say-so on either side of the client-agency relationship. That’s all you need. Anything more leads to mixed, diluted messaging that tries to accommodate too many opinions and points of view. An ad or initiative that seeks to say too many things fails to say anything at all.

The Creative Director doesn’t have the final say There’s a reason he or she is called the Creative Director – they’re the person best able to direct the creative and assume the role of guide and touchstone. In the best relationships, the client has absolute faith in their agency CD’s judgment. In its absence, client seniority usually takes precedence – again resulting in a mixed bag of potential outcomes. Take away: If you don’t believe in your Creative Director, replace them with someone you do. Failing that, let them do what they’ve been hired to do.

It’s been focus-grouped Never a good sign. A crutch for the marketing director who’s unsure of themselves, focus groups essentially cede the position of Creative Director to the loudest, most persuasive voice in the room. They usually hog the M&Ms, too. Not good. If you look for nuances rather than definitive analysis, then they maybe hold a modicum of value. But I’m not convinced. Bad idea.

 It lacks impact So much for the politics of the ad, now let’s get to the nitty-gritty of what it looks like. Impact is the first rule of advertising regardless of media. TV, social, print,  radio, if it lacks impact, it means that one thing: No one’s going to see it. And if no one sees it, everything else is a complete waste of time.

It doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable Impactful work signals its presence by generating a feeling of uncertainty in the pit of your stomach. This is because the work is fresh and unfamiliar and, as a consequence, you have no compass with which to pre-judge it. Conversely, a feeling of quiet satisfaction means your ad is a homogenous glob of same-old, sameness and you’re in big trouble.

It’s trying to say to many things at once Is your ad predicted on a single-minded thought provocatively executed? Or is a bloated amalgam of mixed messages, each desperately trying to shout over each other? If it’s the latter, save your money, your ad’s dead on arrival.

It looks like everything else in its category Uh-oh, sounds like you may have created a piece of safe advertising – an ad that desperately wants to look, feel and act like all its competitors when, in truth, what it needs to do is the exact opposite. Safe advertising is predicated on fear. And fear is a guarantee of failure.

So how did we get on?

If it’s any consolation, most ads exhibit some, if not all, of these tenets.

It’s why only 4% of ads are ever remembered favorably.

On a positive note, think of the ads that are memorable, command attention, talk persuasively and stay in the memory?

How many of those fall foul of the no-nos cited above?

Exactly.

The Math vs. The Myth

Time Spent Consuming

Take a look at this sucker.

It’s from a recent report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and it pretty much confirms what many of us have known all along.

That TV, far from being dead, is alive and well and kicking digital’s ass.

Really kicking digital’s ass.

It also rather debunks the theory that everyone and anyone is viewing everything and anything on a mobile device.

They patently aren’t. 

So here’s my question:

Why isn’t it a holy-shit topic of debate right now?

Call me crazy – and believe me, many have – but these figures seem to point to a vast misappropriation of focus in three significant markets. Is it too fanciful to suggest that our industry take them just a little seriously?

Maybe rethink an assumption or two? Perhaps take a closer look at the current ROI on digital platforms? Maybe dump the latest media buy and initiate a reallocation of marketing dollars?

At least call a meeting about it.

Yeah, not going to happen.

This report, like those that have come before it, will be avoided like the plague. In a mind-boggling display of counterintuition, brands will continue to pour vast sums of money into digital platforms.

It’s not difficult to see why.

To accept these numbers you’d first have to admit you might have been duped. Or at the least acknowledge that you’d got it very wrong.  

And to act on them, well, that would mean flying in the face of received wisdom, and it’s a brave marketing chief or agency head that’s going to do that.

But someone will eventually.

And when that happens, the game will be up.

The day digital platforms are judged on their numbers will be the day they’re recognized for what they really are: a developing channel that’s currently delivering modest results.

The math will have prevailed over myth.

By the way, the IAB’s study has affected one immediate change:

TV’s last rites have been canceled indefinitely.

Read more on the IAB study here https://bit.ly/2DYNjC9

No one cares about your ad

Sorry to break it to you but they really don’t.

Today’s consumers don’t care how long it took to prepare the brief.

Or the rounds and rounds of revisions the creative work went through.

They don’t care about buys, flights, analytics, reach or the fact that you managed to incorporate five product benefits into the whole shebang instead of the original one.

Oh, and that last-minute change of image? 

Yeah, they don’t care about that either.

They don’t care because they’ve got much more pressing things to worry about. 

Mundane everyday stuff like buying groceries, dropping the kids off at school, making rent, paying down debt, getting a raise, getting fired, getting laid, getting coffee, etc. 

You know, life. 

It’s this indifference that accounts for the fact that only 4% of advertising is ever remembered favorably. 

And the secret to being one of the lucky 4%?

Be noticed.

Stand for something and, by doing so, stand out.

It’s not going to be easy.

You’re going need to be creative.

Not lip-service creative. 

Provocative creative.

Never-been-done-before creative.

The kind of creative that’ll need to be championed, supported and stood by.

Exactly the kind of creative, in fact, that gets killed or dumbed down by the machinery of the modern approval process.

Risk-averse superiors, overzealous legal departments, all conspire to rain on the parade.

They win the battle but lose the war.

The war for the customers’ attention.

If your new ad campaign doesn’t compel, intrigue, shock, move, surprise or otherwise engage the recipient, chances are no one is going to read it, watch it or engage with it.

They’re certainly not going to act on it.

And isn’t that the whole point of advertising in the first place?

The real cost of cutting costs

Real Cost

Reduced budgets. Belt tightening. Downsizing.

Seems like everyone is looking to reduce costs.

All the time.

“We need to do it for less” is the mantra of our times.

“Why?” “Well, … because.”

If I’m honest it’s not clear to me why anyone would actually believe this to be a good idea.

To be sure, the world is not short of big brands with the wherewithal to apply a boatload of downward pressure on their agency or design group.

Don’t want to submit to the new budget parameters? No worries, there are plenty of other potential partners out there that will. 

But is it really a sound strategy?

Is the knee-jerk of cutting agency fees (and expecting more out of them) or halving last year’s production budget really such a no-brainer?

The agencies that agree to the reduction will only pass on the pain to their vendors. Or they’ll try and keep it all in-house

To compensate for lost revenue they’ll fire the more expensive senior members on their staff and replace them with cheaper, younger ones – bright, eager and inexperienced.

They’ll also opt for people who can be utilized in a number of different ways – Jacks and Jills of all trades who’ll sadly be masters of none. Perhaps a junior exec who can take good meeting notes, knock out a brief and do a little social. Or a tyro Art Director who can also point a camera, edit a little, and dabble in after-effects.

The work gets done. 

But none of it is great. In fact, it’s deathly average.

And if the work is inferior, you can bet the results will be, too.

Ineffective work. Indifferent performance. Damaged brands. Not good.

That’s why it’s crunch time for those who know that this is a fool’s errand.

Who’ll be the first on either side agency/client divide to say “Enough”? Who’ll be the first say to their immediate superior “If were going to do this right, I’m going to need more resources.”

Never going to happen I hear you say.

Perhaps.

But I’ve yet to see a brand save its way to success.

Or cut its way ahead of the competition.

On the other hand, I’ve seen hundreds of great ideas – fully invested in and realized to their full potential – transform a brand’s fortunes forever.

Because a great idea is worth its weight in gold.

What’s more important?

What can be saved?

Or what might be lost?