Steve Stokes: it’s a new golden age of advertising – if only creative and media would work together

We should be in a new golden era of advertising.

If anyone from outside our industry were to stumble across our industry titles, conferences, LinkedIn or Twitter posts, they’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re an industry at war with itself, on a downward trajectory, lamenting the loss of the past, blaming tech giants for taking the headlines and our budgets and our clients for not being braver. Perhaps they’d see an industry severely lacking in confidence.

However, I believe we now have the potential to counter this, to start a new golden era of advertising. One where advertising is widely recognised as an effective business tool, that brings significant value to brands as well as the public.

We have the evidence.

It’s in all the IPA studies from Peter Field and Les Binet, in the IPA Effectiveness Awards, in research and analysis from Thinkbox, in the vast econometrics analysis commissioned by Radio Centre, in the evidence-based principles from Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg Bass Institute as well in the inspiring on-going studies by System1 Research.

The summation for brands being broadly all or most of this: Split your advertising budgets c. 60:40 between brand and activation. Aim for fame. Elicit a strong emotional response. Embrace and build ownable mental assets for your brand. In media, target your brand advertising broader than you think (i.e: with over-show) and focus response activity more ruthlessly to those who are in-market. Just look at the turn-around in fortunes that the latest campaign for The AA produced in this year’s IPA Effectiveness Awards entry (below) or the similar effect produced by the Direct Line entry of 2016.

Now, we need to act on it. What’s holding us back? These five actions might be a good start.

1/ We need to talk about risk. Our clients’ FDs and MDs talk in a language of risk and reward. Working with that, we need to prove to them that it’s a risk not to focus on both the long and short-term, it’s a risk not to adjust a brand’s advertising budget split accordingly and it’s a risk not to pursue fame and emotion in their advertising.

2/ We need to bin models and processes that produce mediocre work. If the models and processes we and our clients are working with are producing mediocre, unemotional and unambitious creative, then it’s time to take a good hard look at them. We need ones that can inspire (and not curtail) work that’s hilarious, truly heart-warming, blood-pumpingly upbeat, provocative and so on.

3/ We need to get our digital house in order. The big issues of ad fraud need to be addressed and the high cost of tech-based middle-men either need to be questioned or robustly justified. And creative needs to be better aligned with the media placement or stage in the customer journey. Toyota are embracing this full on with their latest We Choose Hybrid campaign (below), which has 150 different creative treatments for four groups of consumers with different states of mind – one to watch out for at the next IPA Awards. Get these fixed and results should fly.

4/ We need to stop the ‘cut and shut’ approach to media and creative. Increasingly some of the best IPA Effectiveness award papers are joint entries, where it’s clear that creative and media have worked closely together along the process, rather than welded together at the end. Past winners such as John Lewis, Dacia and Direct Line did just this and this year, eight entries as diverse as Lidl, the British Army and Yorkshire Tea were joint entries too. For starters, creative agencies need to understand all the opportunities that media can bring to their ideas and media agencies need to better understand how to make a great creative idea fly. But ultimately, it’s real collaboration with only one agenda that matters.

5/ Let’s kill off “is dead” commentary. Respected advertising and marketing titles need to kill off this sort of click-bait. Leave them to infest the realms of social media and blogs by blinkered commentators or those with a hidden agenda. If they can back their claims with strong proof then of course they should be welcome to join the debate.

This isn’t another rally-cry for a return to a bygone golden age of advertising – the industry and landscape has changed and I’m not sure many of us now could cope with the lunchtime and onwards drinking culture in any case. It’s more an observation that we have the potential to start a new golden era of advertising, not to be at the tail-end of a fading one. But like all golden eras not everyone takes part. So, who’s in?

Steve Stokes is a freelance strategist, with experience in both creative and media agencies. He was a contributing author of Dacia’s 2014 IPA Effectiveness Awards Gold paper.

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