On February 3, 1959, a Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashed in Iowa, with on board Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. They did not survive, and Don McLean sang about “the day the music died.” A year earlier Elvis was forced into the army. Rock’n’roll seemed dead. It was 1963 when Don McLean got it wrong, thanks to four boys from Liverpool.
“You say you want a revolution” — and with that words began the song “Revolution” written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. That also be the title of my report. It was 1963 and the world changed – and there was no intention of turning back. The Beatles wrote their own songs and were not suppressed by a large label. It was further proof that large corporations were getting less and less power. This trend has continued, mainly thanks to technology. Of course companies like Google and Facebook have a lot of power, but this is very volatile today; the consumer is hard and has no pity. In September 2008, Myspace was still the 4th most visited site worldwide, a year later it was ten places lower on that list. And now, forty months later, it holds the 158th place. Consumers did not like the poor layout, abundance of CATPCHAs and lack of innovations. The power of Google and Facebook is equally fragile. If it should ever leak out that, for example, a virus is spreading via Facebook, the question is how loyal users are. After all, there are enough alternatives. Companies can no longer present themselves differently than they are.
Thanks to technology. There is no greater enemy of truth than technology. A historical trend is underway that can be traced back to Gutenberg’s invention in the fifteenth century; the printing press by single letters. When it was no longer necessary to cut every page from a single block of wood, books became cheaper and easier to distribute, and with it the information it contained. People read about other theories and other truths. The control of the authorities was weakened. Manipulation and demagogy still existed – but it started to unravel. Because, what is the first thing a totalitarian government does? Restrain the technology of the population. Just look at North Korea or China.
Fast-forward to now – and let’s take a look at advertising. Because yes; perhaps governments no longer (consciously) manipulate, brands still do that. Brands, previously only needed to characterize a certain quality, often create a different truth around their product. That world is the brand, and it is spread through advertising. However, thanks to e-mailing, blogging and tweeting, consumers are stinging through this faster and faster, and that is a trend that I see growing further. In that regard, we go back in time, to a time when there were not yet everywhere television sets in the living rooms, and when word of mouth was essential. In this way, people will increasingly get to know brands in the future. And therefore believe in it.
Technology provides transparency and therefore offers many challenges – but advertising agencies barely make use of it. There is a lot of talk, especially on the “about us” page on websites – but are agencies as innovative as they say? The organizations are set up for the situation as it was; people have been hired for certain positions and that cannot just change, while the world around them does. In addition, advertising went very well for a number of years, which makes people lazy. Now we are in a very different financial season.
In addition; Despite all the attention for social media, there are very few campaigns that dealt with this really well. Even the “viral” of Old Spice was admittedly millions of times, it was ultimately just a glorified TV commercial.
Desks are full of sayings such as; “Failure is okay”, but oh well if you actually fail. Or, one more spell that I hate; “Think outside the box”. Well, I went to the Cannes Lions last year, and almost all of the work comes from the same “box.” Advertising people see it, understand it and therefore appreciate it – which is quite at odds with the saying. At a presentation about creative strategy by the advertising agency TBWA I wondered; “But, this does not apply to their own work at all?” Later a strategist admitted that it was more a self-promotion of TBWA to customers than it was actually applied.
As Lee Clow, ironically a TBWA global executive, said; “If you’re not promoting a truth, you’re accelerating a failure.”
I strongly believe in ‘practice what you preach’, and therefore I do not have such a high view of the Dutch advertising agencies in particular. In the end they are very conservative. They want to innovate, but apparently not hard enough. Characteristic is the wait-and-see attitude. McLuhan’s quote hit the nail on the head;
“We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We are backwards into the future. ”
But to stay ahead, you have to look ahead again. Brands only go bankrupt if they do not see that they must change, or do not follow that change. Such as BestBuys in America, which cannot compete with Amazon in terms of price, service and supply. However, BestBuys is still in a state of denial and although sales increased by 1% in the last quarter of 2011 (the first increase in two years), net income plummeted by 29%. Consumers are increasingly aware of the difference and are merciless. This is the same for advertising agencies.
In the past – and I’m talking about the 60s – thanks to the rise of radio and especially television, advertising had to stand out to work. That was Bernbach’s philosophy and the principle of what we now call the “creative revolution.” Now the media landscape is even denser, and consumers are flooded with expressions – for which they are now reasonably immune. Moreover, advertising does not only compete with advertising for attention, but with the whole world around us. Also a cat movie on the internet. In our society today there is a great lack of attention and trends are emerging that people delete their social accounts to prevent this.
It has been about 50 years since the Bernbach revolution – and perhaps that date explains why there have been so few social campaigns. It is no longer about pushing, but serving. That time is up, let’s see that.
Good ads should be a vehicle of people’s statements. The content would then be reviews, because consumers have enough resources to make their voice heard on the internet. Dry writing a review is not something that many people do, so it may also be that if you like a certain type of phone, you’d rather share a cool video that says that for you, instead of saying it yourself. Anyway; the message must come from the consumers themselves – only they can be trusted, especially if they are friends or family members.
Also, what advertising should do is provide consumers with content that actually contains the same stories that they (the consumers) would say anyway, but in a more poetic and entertaining way. Some brands try this, but they still use advertisements for this. They have to stop doing that, because it is advertising. The experiment must be looked up in this (“the answer must be in the attempt”). It can be anything, an exhibition in the park, a demonstration on the street, a crazy tattoo in a strange place, a stop-motion video; something that can tell a story, but is not advertising.
Will it be easy? No, not that – but a start has to be made. Because as soon as it happens, good products can actually show that they are good. A bad product can no longer be promoted – opinions circulate too quickly and too easily and there are already too many alternatives.
And only then can we sincerely call it ‘the industry formerly known as advertising’.
“Creative people, rise up!”
And, to conclude with the words of Seth Godin:
“This changes everything. The industry is dead. There has never been a better time to be an artist. ”
As dead as rock and roll ever was? I think so.