There is no shortage of claims about advertising being dead. It’s the age of search, digital, social media, and consumer participation. Interruptive messages no longer work. We have too many ways to avoid them. And less tolerance for their unwelcome intrusions. All of which may be true.
But if you’re actually in the business of making ads or crafting TV spots, times have never been better. For despite what Bob Garfield might say, you don’t have to do any hard selling. You don’t have to provide very much product information. In fact, it makes little sense to waste time doing so.
For starters consumers have more ways than ever to learn about a product, assess its utility or determine its value. They can search for or solicit objective opinions from friends and others they actually trust. And they can simply tap into a host of social networks for public sentiment and reviews.
All of which means that ad creators are liberated to do nothing more than “light a fire,” as Dodge brand CEO Ralph Gilles recently declared in defending the brilliance of Chrysler’s Super Bowl spot.
Finding an attention-getting way to express what a brand stands for rather than explain what a product does has always been the preferred approach of any talented creative team. But it hasn’t always been easy to sell. However these days, even the most by-the-book marketer should realize it’s more important to create advertising that gets talked about and passed around than it is to produce work that tests well with Millward Brown.
This genre of creative just got another boost in the form of TED’s announcement of the first winners in its Ads Worth Spreading Challenge. The invitation, made last fall to the global advertising community in hopes of helping redefine what video advertising can mean in the digital age, drew over 1000 entries. Yesterday TED named 10 winners and 14 finalists. A look at the work quickly tells you that messages about a brand’s values, beliefs and purpose — rather than facts about a products’ efficacy — prevail. Even ads that were about a brand conveyed something more important than a product quality. Nike advocated for 12- year-old girls. Chrysler celebrated the determination of Detroit. Target created an experience that brought people together. Dulux exhibited not just the power of color but of teamwork and collaboration.
Granted TED has an agenda. It wants to associate itself with advertising in hopes of generating revenue and selling ads on the back end (not the front end) of its videos. But if anyone is ever to sit through an ad at the end of online content it had better be something we want to watch, not something we have to watch. And, of course, that is the real point. Not only are we now free to create work that is pure, entertaining and delightful, we have to. Otherwise no one will ever see it.
Ironic that all the digital forces that threaten advertising might actually be the same forces that come to its rescue.
(Note: I’m well aware that the ad/promo for Arcade Fire and Google, a finalist, shouldn’t really count as “advertising.” After all it is a bit easier to advertise a great band, song and technology than a product. But no reason that we can’t be trying to do similar things for traditional clients, too.)