Giles Keeble: do TV ads really face an idea-free, execution-only future?

ITV is 60 and it was interesting to see the various TV ads selected in recognition. One commentator pointed out that not so long ago a poll showed that people preferred the ads to many of the programmes; another that they became an ‘art form.’

Some great ads were shown that are always worth seeing again, whether old favourites like Smash and The Guardian, or newer ones like Sony Bravia Balls (below) and Cadburys Gorilla (both from Fallon).

But the days of 20+ million people seeing your ad are gone. TV – or film at any rate – is still a powerful advertising medium, and Michael Grade was shown saying that the ad break in Downton Abbey, for example, still has significant impact.

A man with a beard was also filmed to make the point that we can now, should we wish, advertise directly and individually to men with beards.

This is direct marketing at its most direct, as I have mentioned before. We must not forget that the end aim of advertising is to sell, but also that it is not the direct objective of most advertising, apart from direct response.

This is clearly demonstrated in the late Stephen King’s ‘Scale of Immediacy’ which is still relevant.

Whatever the number of people you can talk to, thinking about how you expect the ad to work is invaluable; and so is thinking about how it can effect a longer term relationship with the consumer, a job not just for consistent campaigns but for customer service of all kinds, websites and other channels, and the intelligent use of data bases.

For film, one of the things that the internet enables are ads (or branded content) longer than 30 or even 60 seconds. This can be liberating but can also lead to indulgence. The emphasis on ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ of course relies on people being interested enough to want the content themselves; and the underlying notion of viral is that it gets passed on. Only then will there be a viable audience. So the question for all involved is to ask why anyone would pass it on: this includes relevance not just shock or humour.

Challenging times are interesting times, and the world of advertising is changing and will change more. Everything has been said before. In literature, Christopher Booker says there are Seven Basic Plots, and in advertising there are probably about the same number of mechanisms, if that’s the right word, from side by side to torture tests to hyperbole.

So maybe we are going to see more of an emphasis on executions – not that ideas will always be missing but that old ideas will be re-purposed, with fresh scripts, characters, direction, music and channels. What is the idea and how are we going to get it across should remain central to effectiveness.

Ads are dead, long live ads?

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