Why your advertising is failing

Likely the best way to determine if your advertising is working is if the sales are growing. But as most marketers know, a critical medium to long term role of advertising is to build brands and shift harder to budge behaviours. Yet, such brand building is far rarer than a couple decades ago, most advertising flies below the radar of all eyes to see. Nowadays in brand and advertising tracking it is becoming increasingly rare to see notably strong growth in key metrics such as awareness and recall, as clicks and impressions etc replace them.

Over the past couple of decades I’ve been involved in the research of likely hundreds of advertising campaigns – early insights to guide the creative and strategy; concept testing and refinement; and monitoring of campaign recall and impact. The media market and the eye balls it attracts has become far more fragmented. Once advertising recall measures of 80-90% were quite common, nowadays a campaign is likely to see around a third or less of this recall. This may be a rough pill to swallow for some marketers and their funders.

I have gotten much joy over my career in testing concept boards of clever and creative prospective TV ad campaigns (and often chuckles over ill-conceived or rushed concepts). It is a bit sad in recent years to see fewer and fewer big, clever and creative campaigns, and more and more hardly inspired push campaigns for Facebook and other social media. It really can be hard to squeeze out much joy from a focus group discussing a Facebook ad. In contrast, participants are enthusiastic and articulate when seeing a clever TV or video story board concept. They acknowledge the great ads, but lament they are disappearing.

It has become much rarer to see an amazing, awe inspiring, advertising campaign. I am sure this doesn’t mean advertising creativity is dead, more so it does seem harder for the client to be willing to pay for such creativity. Apparently TV advertising is dead, more likely what has died is the willingness of leaders to invest sufficient budgets take creative risks.

Remember those great TV shows where they’d share the world’s funniest, best et cetera TV advertising? They were engaging shows. Likely this will be the first generation where such is a thing of the past. Other than the huge popularity of TV show such as Gruen. We’d likely not be able to fill 10 minutes of great ads (Gruen is now largely talk with a few cracker ads), and definitely not 30-60 minutes of gasping ad awesomeness. It’s really a bit sad.

In a recent project we discussed the rise of retargeting online targeted advertising by which online advertising is targeted to consumers based on their previous Internet actions. The research participants were well informed and articulate of such ‘advertising’ and generally found them unsettling. However, they were viewed as replacing traditional advertising. The growth of retargeting advertising in recent times was viewed as rational – advertisers hitting relevant customers – but more so annoying and raising fears of what data our devices are using and abusing, and how business, government and others are taking advantage of the trend, and manipulating the audience to sell more stuff.

Remember when marketing was strategic and creative, not just about being click bait?When an ad guy, gal or marketing manager could stand at bar and be sugared with praise?

We are the era of spam marketing …

“Do you want it, do you want it, do you want it, what about now, what about now, now, now, OR Now, Now, Or NOW, OR NOW ….?”

“If we pester enough we will eventually get a sale.” Thank goodness for the digital robot spammers, retargeting, emailers, advertising, again, and again, and again.

Have they no pride? Just set and forget to annoy and launch!

Retailers online and off canon firing ‘sale, sale, sale’ et cetera ads is said to drive sales, and when the ads slow so do the sales, likely because the ads build up no brand affection or connection. For such retailers, it is more affordable to rapid canon fire poor quality ads to drive short-terms sales, while they drive the audience a bit ad crazy. Desperation in advertising is likely not a sustained medium to long term growth strategy.

The joy of advertising starts to die – hence the growth of ad blockers, mute and pay TV.

From our research, real people want to know about about brands, new products and services, but as Gary Vaynerchuk has said “Marketers ruin everything. It’s what we do. So, we push too much.” Just like overseas spamming call-centres have long killed trust in inbound sales calls, most are closing their eyes and ears to spam ads.

As Clemengers ad legend Kim Boehm noted in his Real People podcast interview – the horrid ads kill the joy of all advertising and suck air from good advertising. The clients and creatives behind shit advertising spamming their wares, make it unsavoury for all.

In the 100’s of advertising related projects I’ve directed over the years, people like good advertising, but it is becoming increasingly rare. It is too easy to make shit ads, especially with sloppy clients. Despite Mark Ritson’s article Accept it, people hate ads – yes, all of them, people have a hunger, perhaps even a romance lost for truly creative and engaging advertising. Just like how trust in our governments is in decline, so has our trust in advertising, from manipulative, poor quality garbage to ‘sell, sell, sell.’

I have directed many, many projects where the research participants have requested more adverting as a priority to help build awareness of a product, service or valued brand. People don’t hate advertising, they just hate shit, manipulative and wasteful advertising.

In our recent Real People podcast interview with globally traveling advertising strategy executive Olga Kudryashova we discuss …

What makes a good marketing team …

Willingness to push back to executives to fight for a big, bold idea

Why risk is becoming a far bigger driver in corporate brands than creativity …

Fear of managers failing ‘on their watch’

And, we discuss that particularly in this crazy chaotic advertising word, creativity is critical, as is strategy. It is easy to play it safe, to spam, believe the hype, to under-invest and hope for the best. To think short term returns, rather than medium to longer term strategic impact.

Which brings me to the three gaps observed over a couple decades of researching advertising, to hopefully overcome moving forward …

1. Creativity

Creativity is about creating an engaging ad that is be relevant – “if you are not relevant, you are invisible” – and sincere “if you are not sincere, I can’t trust you – don’t give me bull-shit.” Creativity is hoping to hit a wide market, but engaging the priority market segments in message, media and execution. Saying something of relevance and sincerity to people who actually care, when likely a large chunk of the audience does not care at all.

2. Clarity

What are you trying to say? Say it, again, and again, clearly and cleverly. Rather than throwing 1,000 messages at the audience and hoping they might catch one. How about gaining some self-control and precision and picking one or two key messages that come back to your fundamental ‘why’ or whatever. A-B testing, may be OK, but please not A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M … like a schizophrenic monkey released into an all-you-can-eat fruit, nut and soft-serve bar. Get to the point, don’t make finding the brand like ‘Where’s Wally?’

3. Commitment

Put your balls on the line. As Jerry Maguire once said “SHOW ME THE MONEY!!! $$$” No guts, no glory, a worthy budget. Once you say “let’s do this” >> do it on an on-going medium to long term basis with a solid and strategic media spend. Rather than, cutting the TV scale campaign budget, back to a budget allowing a small Facebook spend. TV still has the biggest impact on ad recall, brand and sales, at least in places like Australia, especially when backed with an omnipresent digital and other media spend with a non-monkey alignment.

$$$ Show Me the MONEY!!! $$$

What the world needs now, is love sweet love, and beyond that CREATIVE advertising.

Not click bait, or short term ‘sell, sell, sell’ ‘Crazy Dave’ like ads.

Repent before all is lost.

The logo re-design will most likely have little impact, and your PR will often be yesterdays news for the few who bothered to read or view it. Most will not see it on twitter, nor instagram, YouTube nor Facebook. You need to think deeply and strategically, towards the vision into the future, beyond immediate clicks and sales. Do not assume that your spend is working. It most likely is not.

But, there is hope. Be the change in the loss of joy in advertising. 🙂

And, for all the marketing managers out there dealing with risk averse leaders and boards NEEDING to grow their brands and businesses just remember to tell them …


Clever and impactful marketing costs money to pay for suitably skilled creative and strategic minds, and requires a solid media investment. Otherwise, the growth in your brand, business et cetera will likely be much flatter than hoped.

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