Ageism in advertising is out of control

In most industries you care to think of, experience is considered a jolly good thing.

He’s a highly experienced surgeon, yoiu’re in safe hands with him. She’s a hugely experienced lawyer, she’s the best person to have in your corner. He’s a massively experienced electrician, there’s not a problem he doesn’t know how to fix. And so on.

But in advertising the reverse is true. Ageism isn’t just rampant it’s virtually compulsory.

You can have won a million top awards, you can have solved major marketing issues for some of the biggest, most famous brand in the world. You might have turned  companies around with your input, saving hundreds of jobs along the way.

But if you’re over 50, maybe even 45 — and in the digital arena, over 13 – you’re considered waaaaaay past your sell-by date.

The thinking goes that you can’t possibly have any great ideas if you’re ‘old’. You suddenly forget how to write fantastically persuasive copy or art direct a stunningly innovative and memorable tv campaign.

I wish I could rationalise this bizarre situation on the basis of money. Along the lines of: “Clearly, more experienced people should be paid more. They work faster and produce better results. They’re better with clients and have a much better insight into planning and business generally. So they deserve the big bucks but we can’t afford them so we’re going to have to compromise on quality and pay less.”

At least this has a sort of logic to it. But, actually it isn’t this.

There’s simply an unwritten law in advertising and marketing, now, that anyone over a certain age is Too Old. They won’t have good ideas. Their ideas will be somehow old-fashioned. They don’t understand digital communications. They’re not edgy enough. I’ve heard all these and more.

The ultimate irony is that the people who spend the most money, who buy the most stuff, are not 22 year olds that work in advertising.

They’re middle-aged people. Cars, tellies, Sky subscriptions, food, drink, financial services — the majority of sales in these marketplaces are down to people in their forties, fifties and above. The people with the dosh.

So ask yourself, who is more in touch with the mindset, the motivations, the day-to-day family issues this group faces? The 22 year old or the 52 year old?

And before someone pipes up with “Ah yes, but if you get people onboard with your brand when they’re young, they’ll stay with you for life”, this is utter tosh and has been disproven over and over again. Brand loyalty barely exists in any meaningful way and an empty shelf, a higher price or a disappointing experience will have us switching to another brand in a heartbeat.

The issue is even more profound with B2B marketing. (I’d never give my junior teams any B2B or internal comms work if I could avoid it.)

Kids, on the whole, just don’t understand business and management in any meaningful way. Ask them to explain the difference between revenue and profit and their eyes glaze over.

Trust them with your cornflakes campaign, by all means, but leave the serious stuff to the grown-ups.

Why your new brand may be doomed to failure

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And this is especially true in the ludicrous mixed-up world of marketing.

A few years ago, everyone who knows only a little about marketing became convinced that The Brand is everything. You had to build a brand to sell your product.

Everyone who knows a lot about marketing knows the opposite is in fact the case. You have to sell your product in order to build a brand.

And to sell your product you have to tell people why they should try it, or buy it.

Because it cleans whiter. Because it’s the sweet you can eat between meals. Because it’s the safest car out there.

In short, you have to give people a clear, focused and specific reason to buy your service or product. This is called selling. Which is now virtually a dirty word in marketing and advertising circles.

The absolute foolishness of trying to create a brand to sell your products is tragically demonstrated by the closure of a private school near me. This school has been going for over 300 years.

But last year they suddenly changed its name from The Friends School to Walden School. And a new logo popped up to support this. Hmmm, I thought, That’s odd, why on earth would you ditch a very distinctive brand name with three centuries of heritage and, one imagines, close to 100% recognition in the local area? And replace it with a name that creates instant confusion with the local Saffron Walden County High School? Which even has a similar logo.

I’m guessing the answer is a simple one.

The school was losing pupils. Revenue was drying up. Something had to be done.

But instead of concentrating on creating a great product (a brilliant school with stonking academic results well worth your £7000 a term fees) and then telling people about it as loudly and convincingly as possible, offering special discounts and making themselves generally unmissable to their target parents, they obviously picked the route that so many businesses do today…

They decided they needed a new brand.

“Yes! If we change the name and the logo the customers will come flocking to our door and our woes will be over for ever! Hoorah for marketing!”

Except it didn’t work.

Because it never does. Yet, more and more companies do it. It’s a lot easier than selling. It makes you feel cool and trendy talking about ‘brand’ rather than grubby ol’ sales.

You get to meet designers and strategists and planners who make you feel very important and write all sorts of portentous documents about your brand and the psychological power of Pantone 345.

They make you a new logo. And choose a fashionable typeface. Maybe they even write a slogan.

But do they make people buy your stuff? Nope.

 

 

Is your website broken before you even launch it?

Remarkably, I still see people launching brand-new websites that aren’t optimised for viewing and reading on mobile phones. Depending on which survey you look at, around 60% of all website visits are now done via mobiles. And this percentage is set to increase as sales of traditional PCs, even laptops, continue to fall in relation to smartphones and tablets.

Only today I was asked for some feedback on a new website, launching a new B2B product. Clearly it would have looked dazzling and beautiful on the designer/developer/UX people’s big flashy desktop. But on a regular smartphone it was illegible.

It also had a homepage explainer video packed with cartoons, captions and animated diagrams that were quite literally illegible and incomprehensible on the smartphone screen. Again, I’m sure this looked magnificent when the video team showed it on their giant hi-res Mac display, with pats on the back all round, but in the real world it was an utter waste of money.

Get this stuff wrong and it hurts your business.

Not only that, last year Google launched its ‘mobile first’ algorithm. Which means , if your site isn’t fully optimised for mobile, not only can your customers not read it, you get penalised in the search results too!

Putting ‘mobile first’ into action doesn’t just mean making sure your site works on the smaller devices by being ‘responsive’ — some people call this a ‘mobile friendly’ approach.

It means you should be thinking about the smaller devices FIRST. Write and design for the small devices then upscale, not the other way around,

And, of course, it’s the same story for any digital comms. If you’re sending out some sales emails to drive your customers to your lovely new site, you need to optimise them for mobile FIRST.

Even better, think about actually writing and designing them ON your phone. You’ll soon see whether they’ve got too much copy or an overly complicated design. Try it; it can be both shocking and liberating at the same time!

Sometimes a whisper is louder than a scream

It seems that, in order to be heard above the mindless racket that passes for TV adverting these days, advertisers are becoming more and more hysterical in their approach.

The grotesque “You’re so Money Supermarket” dancers and the once slightly wittier but now just brash and crass “Go Compare” executions are just two examples of what their creators would no-doubt declare as ‘ironic’ advertising. Actually, it’s just boorish shouting.

What is actually ironic, is that often you get more attention on the telly when you whisper instead of scream.

There was a striking black and white ad for Adele’s latest outing just before christmas, for example. In virtual silence, it focused on her eyes, which then opened to striking and memorable effect. It stood out like a sore thumb amongst the stampede of not-funny, screeching nonsense that surrounded it.

And now there’s another example of a TV ad that stops you in your tracks, grabs your attention and keeps it for the duration of its sell. (You know, the stuff ads are supposed to do.)

It’s basically just a still screen showing text messages popping up on a mobile. The only sound is the gentle beep as the latest message arrives. You have to read each one. No voice over to help you.

It’s utterly captivating and, like the Adele ad, is an oasis of communicative calm in the maelstrom of nonsense we’re so used to being assaulted by.

So, well done

The same principle applies in press and online too. Shout loudly “I AM AN AD PLEASE READ ME”, and you’re actually saying “I AM AN AD. YOU SHOULD IGNORE ME IMMEDIATELY”.

Make your ad look like editorial, however, and you’ll get that extra nano-second of attention that allows your message (if it’s clear enough, and offers a benefit) to be more clocked by your target. Suddenly your ad starts to do its job.

There’s a reason that so many online advertisers use those tacky click-bait executions (universally sneered at by hipster, bearded advertising types) rather than ‘creative’ banners. They test one against the other.

And the editorial-style click-bait ones work better. Simple.

Why Trump’s election underlines the awesome power of The Big Brand

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The global airwaves and webwaves are now rammed with commentators and journalists post-rationalising why Trump got in.

You can’t turn on the telly or read a news site without finding some media luvvie telling you how half of Americans felt disenfranchised and ignored, and how, by voting for The Donald, they were making a statement about the Washington political elite. And globalisation. And immigration. And so on.

What nobody (apart from me, seemingly) has yet said is ‘Trump is an incredibly powerful brand’.

He’s built his public persona over many years. Like Kit Kat. People know exactly what he stands for and what to expect. Like Fairy Liquid. And as the ex-presenter of the US Apprentice series he is a genuine, A-List reality TV star.

And (just like Brand Boris in the UK), you can recognise Trump from his hair alone. What a fantastic logo that is. Just like McDonald’s golden M or Disney’s silhouetted mouse ears.

He’s got some brilliant brand slogans too: “Build a wall”, “Lock her up”. They’re what great slogans always are, specific, memorable and most importantly, ownable. Just like Have a Break Have a Kit Kat.

Compare Hillary’s lame offering: “Forward together”. Straight out of the bland political slogan handbook. Cooked up by a committee. Can’t really imagine people at a rally chanting “Forward together!”, can you?

Trump even created a hugely memorable  Brand Positioning for Clinton: “Crooked Hillary.” If you look at this stuff in marketing terms it’s actually close to genius.

In short, Trump has become quite simply a Very Big Brand. And big brands are what people go for. Ask Lever Brothers or Procter and Gamble.

Lever Brothers sell Marmite. Half the British population hates it (me included). The other half loves it. This division is so marked that it’s actually become intrinsic to Marmite’s brand. Their TV ads even show people spitting it out.

Lever Brothers and their agencies recognised that not everyone likes everything, and cleverly built a massive brand around the fact that lots of people hate Marmite with a vengeance. People in the UK even talk about things being ‘a bit Marmite’. How many brands have become part of everyday language in this way?

Donald J Trump is exactly like Marmite. He hasn’t tried to make everyone like him. But the people who do, love him. And the people who don’t, hate him. The people who love him forgive him his trespasses.

That’s why you’ll never hear anyone, anywhere, say, “Oy yes, Trump, he’s OK I guess”.

Large, established consumer brands can withstand short bursts of terrible PR. Their reputation can take a knock but, if they’re big enough, they easily bounce back. Smaller, less established brands can be destroyed. Again, Trump embodies this resilience spectacularly.

Contrast this with Hillary. A me-too brand if ever there was one. A white, charisma-free Obama-lite –  the own-label diet cola to Trump’s full-fat Coke.

 

Is grammar really that important?

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Should you really be that worried about knowing the difference between ‘you’re’ and ‘your’, ‘there and their’ (and ‘they’re’), and ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? Aren’t these quaint old-fashioned considerations that in the modern, super-fast online world we simply don’t need any more?

Well that depends, as my friend stated pithily when we were discussing this issue yesterday, whether you want to look like an idiot or not.

As with many things in marketing, it all comes down to who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to 15 year olds about a new video game, not so much. If you’re talking to 46 year old CEOs of global corporations who might be (potentially) spending $1m on your product then, yes, it very much matters.

If your website or brochure is full of spelling and grammar mistakes, what kind of message does that send your customers who are clever enough, or experienced enough, or educated enough to notice?

It says either “I am too ignorant to know the difference” or it says “I know the difference but I don’t care that people think I’m just ignorant.”

EIther way, why take the risk of turning off a potential customer before they’re even fully engaged with your offer?

Of course, the proliferation of typos, bad punctuation and grammatical errors in today’s marketing has a lot to do with keeping costs down for clients. Hiring or contracting a good copywriter is a cost that more and more agencies feel their clients won’t bear (and they’re often right).

So the client writes their own stuff or, heaven forfend, a web designer or UX person does it.

But the result is copy and content that is badly written, hard to understand and that can genuinely damage your brand.

 

Always remember: people WANT to buy your stuff

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You see so much marketing where it’s clear that the manufacturer or business owner (or their agency) are embarrassed about their product. Or at least embarrassed about having to sell it.

You see it all the time with what I call ‘borrowed interest’ advertising. Where the person writing the ads is bored by or ignorant about the product they’re meant to be pushing and, as a result, imports some extraneous nonsense because they think it will catch someone’s interest more.

This is nonsense. And the reason is quite simple:

People want to to buy your stuff.

They really do. If you’re selling second-hand cars, people in the market for a second-hand car will want to know all about what you’re offering.

If parents are looking for something new to give the kids for tea, they’ll want to hear about your new pizzas.

If business people are unhappy with the service they’re getting from their bank, they’ll be all ears to your bank’s introductory business account offers.

The point is, not everyone who sees your advertising or marketing will be your target customer. Most won’t. But the ones that are currently in the market will listen to every detail you can provide. They’ll hang on your every word.

That’s why, time after time after time, long copy works better than short copy. The ‘experts’ will constantly tell you nobody reads long copy. (The ‘experts’ have been saying this since advertising was invented.)

But the smart marketeers who actually TEST, know that long copy always outperforms short copy. Because people who are in the market for your product are interested in it. They WANT to buy what you’re selling.

Of course, the people who aren’t in the market won’t read long copy. But these people won’t read short copy either. You’re never going to sell to them, so you can ignore them completely.

This is why, if you want to produce a successful ad, website, sales letter, you must always remember that you’re writing it EXCLUSIVELY for the people who ALREADY have a need for what you’re selling.

You’re not writing for yourself, your agency colleagues or the awards jury. You’re writing it for the people out there who are waiting, all a-quiver, cash at the ready, to buy your stuff.

Changing someone’s mind is the hardest thing in advertising. (And politics.)

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If there’s one thing marketeers should note from the EU referendum campaigns it’s this: nobody listens to advertising and promotion.

We had massively expensive and media-saturating campaigns by both the Leave and the Remain teams, but did they change a single person’s mindset? Maybe one or two, but not many.

Time and time again, once the results came in, we saw people expressing almost total ignorance about the key facts that should have been important drivers for the nation’s vital decision-making process.

People said they voted Leave because all their mates on social media were saying Leave. Students were saying they voted Remain because all students voted Remain. Old people voted Leave because they still hate the Germans. People in towns with barely any immigration voted Leave because they believed there were too many immigrants in their town.

The ignorance of the real facts was astonishing to some, but not to anyone who really knows what’s what in marketing and advertising.

It’s long been said that changing someone’s mind is the hardest thing to do in marketing. And the referendum showed graphically how resistant the populace is to any information that’s at odds with their currently-held world view.

And with the news and social media channels utterly saturated with Leave/Remain messaging from dawn til dusk, the wilful avoidance of the facts is truly mind-boggling.

If an entire nation can resist campaigns of this magnitude so easily, just consider how hard it is to get your low-budget B2B campaign to hit the bullseye and work its magic.

Why everyone in marketing should watch Gogglebox

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I really like Gogglebox.

I like it for a number of reasons but, wearing my work hat, I like it for three reasons:

Firstly, because it reminds me that – despite every article you read in magazines or on the internet that talk about the Death of TV, the Death of Traditional Media and The Death of The Old Interruption Marketing Model etc etc – television is still a massive part of our life.

So much so that we even tune in in our millions to watch complete strangers talking about it. (YouTubeBox? Nope. InstagramBox? Nope.)

In other words, rumours of TV’s death are not simply exaggerated, they’re utterly wrong.

Secondly, I love Gogglebox because it continuously reminds people like me, in marketing and advertising, that when most people sit down to watch the telly they want one thing: to be entertained. Perhaps to be enlightened. (And if it’s the latter, they still want to be enlightened in an entertaining way.)

So on Gogglebox we get to see regular, ordinary people reacting to telly in a natural, spontaneous manner. They use ordinary, everyday language. They’re watching fairly closely but they talk during the programmes and miss bits.

Just like we all do.

They see straight through anything that’s pretentious. They mock the self-consciously arty. They recognise lame humour and feeble attempts to ‘get down with the kids’.

So if this is how they react to the programmes that they watch voluntarily, how do you think they react to the ads attempting to interrupt their entertainment?

They hate them. They fast forward them if they can. They go and make a cuppa. They go back to their phone and catch up on Instagram for a couple of minutes.

Thirdly, I like Gogglebox because it shows what an utter pile of tosh the average client and agency briefing document is when it comes to talking about a target audience.

On Gogglebox we see people of all ages, classes and colours reacting in ways that are inconceivable to the average agency planning department.

The people in their 20s aren’t ‘Millennials’ (see my previous post). They’re regular people with regular jobs and regular concerns. And smelly dogs.

The people in their 50s and 60s aren’t grey-haired silver-surfers, smiling and riding motorbikes. They’re overweight, they wear jogging pants, they’re smart, cynical and swear like troopers.

The Gogglebox crew bear no relation to the cardboard cutout cliche characters that appear on every brief. And despite their differences in age, class, race and sexual orientation, they all broadly share exactly the same points of view on the programmes they’re asked to watch.

In other words, despite what planners will tell us over and over over again, the fact is most people are pretty much the same.

(This is something that those of us from the direct marketing world have recognised for 50 or 60 years. We tend to sell the product on its benefits instead of tying ourselves in knots about what newspaper our potential customer might read. It seems to work.)

All of which is why people in advertising and marketing should be dragged away from thinking about Apps, strapped to their Eames chairs, and be forced to watch Gogglebox.

Every single week.

 

Excuse me, madam: where might I meet a millennial?

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Sigh, as they say in the online forums.

In marketing circles, real or virtual, you can’t move for people blathering on about millennials about the moment. And how to target millennials. And what millennials want to buy. And what millennials think. (And magazines are full of it, too.)

It’s like someone has just realised that every product and service in the world is only bought by this newly discovered group of people. If you’re not talking to (and about) millennials, you’re a loser, an idiot and clearly know NOTHING about marketing.

There are two problems with this.

One, all these people raving about millennials seem unclear as to who these god-like creatures actually are. What they’re not, is people born at the turn of the century as their name might suggest. Because they’re only 16.

The descriptor seems to refer to people who are young, but not too young, but love their technology and like engaging with all the digital stuff that 20 year old marketing executives think is important.

At least, I think that’s what they are. The people getting all over-excited about the importance of millennials clearly don’t have time to stop and write a clear definition that we mere mortals can fathom. Perhaps they are in their twenties? Or thirties? Or forties?

Two, nobody seems able to say WHY this group is so important in any objective way. They don’t spend nearly as much as older people, for example. They have less disposable cash. They’re quite hard to reach through advertising.

So why is everyone so obsessed with them? Take this page of slobbering drivel amongst the gazillions on the internet. I’ve pasted this here as it’s absolutely stereotypical of the mind-bendingly dim stuff that is written about millennials.

“Who is the Millennial consumer?

Millennial consumers overwhelmingly prefer access to goods over ownership of goods, delaying purchases of large ticket items like cars and homes—and fueling a new “sharing economy” in the process.

While Millennials are often portrayed as impatient, tech-obsessed and egocentric, their spending habits tell a more comprehensive story. The Millennial group is highly loyal to their chosen brands, valuing philanthropy, authenticity, and higher purpose in business practices—and paying little attention to advertising.

This group rewards brands that respect their independent decision-making skills. These values mean that a company that can capture a Millennial customer will be richly rewarded, and for a very long time. As Millennials begin to enter into their phase of purchasing power and consumer dominance, their loyalty is more important than ever.”

This is absolute tosh of the highest order. You’ll note that there is no evidence put forth for any of these assertions. Because there isn’t any.

Who writes this patronising, idiotic garbage? More worryingly, who believes it?

Take the first point: they’re not creating a sharing economy, whatever that is. They’re delaying buying because they can’t afford a mortgage. They’re not a religious movement, they’re skint.

Second point. There’s no evidence they’re any more loyal to a brand than any other group. Recent studies have shown that brand loyalty is, in any case, not nearly as important as people used to believe. It hardly exists in any meaningful way. Customers described as ‘loyal’ can still only be buying your stuff twice a year. And will buy other brands regularly and readily if their preferred brand is unavailable. (Which is why real marketeers know that distribution plus shelf position etc is often considerably more important than advertising.)

They apparently value authenticity (whatever that is!) and higher purpose in business practice. Do they? Again, where’s the evidence? Who are these paragons of nobility? Are they superhuman?  So who are all these young people eating at McDonalds and Starbucks and happily supporting massive tax-evaders like Amazon? Who are these gangs of young Londoners drunkenly throwing bottles at the Man Utd team bus?

Can’t be the Millennials because they are all angels in human form.

“This group rewards brands that respect their independent decision-making skills.”  What does this even MEAN? Nobody rewards brands. People buy stuff.

As for the second half, ask anyone in a survey whether they like/respond to advertising and marketing and they’ll say no. But, of course, the fact is they do, just like they always have; and any sensible marketing director has banks of evidence to prove that good old-fashioned advertising works as well as it ever has.

Finally, the idea that you capture a young buyer and he stays with you when he gets lots of money in later life has been disproven so many times it’s tragic that people are still rolling it out under the Millennials banner as if it’s something new.

As the majority of people working in advertising or marketing today would probably consider themselves to be millennials (ie under 45 perhaps?), I have a horrible suspicion that what we’re really seeing here is their own idealised portrait of who they think they are (or would like to be)…

A group of smiling, white-teethed twenty-somethings that work in a children’s hospital, drive a vintage VW camper and have somehow, magically, stepped out of a FatFace ad to become living, breathing flesh and blood.