Marketing myopia: Consumers are fed up with your boring, safe ads!

Former global CMO of Just Eat and founder of Rock Pamper Scissors, Mat Braddy wants businesses to start daring to be different...

I have a confession.

I’m a professional marketing bod that doesn’t really like most marketing.

When I occasionally watch adverts on TV I turn into a character from a 1970’s sitcom giving commentary on what’s wrong with most of the ads. I’m aware this is a tad arrogant considering I’m sure I’ve contributed a significant landfill of dross in the last 20 years but, still, one thing that really gets me is that most ads are really boring.

Why spend all that effort and money on a beautifully shot 30 second film to produce something so dull? And no, this isn’t just my jaded opinion.

According to The Guardian, the average city dweller is apparently exposed to over 3,500 advertising messages every single day. Almost 99% of these ads have no impact at all. All channels, all touchpoints; we are bombarded with bland messages that no one can recall. Communication landfill.

The problem of boring ads

Name an ad you saw yesterday, it’s a struggle to pull one out of your mind right?

Why? Well the marketing cycle goes like this: we have a new sparkly thing to push in autumn, let’s do a cool campaign. A brief is written about the product, how we want to position it, features to highlight. Agencies are briefed, pitches happen, a creative is chosen that excites the team, focus groups (or the boss) take the edges of it, high-fives are handed out and up it goes. To be met mainly by a shrug.

The truth is it’s boring to anyone that doesn’t work at your company. You get so focused on hitting your own brief and saying what you wanted to say that you lose sight of the fact that no one really cares enough to notice. I’ve been there and done this myself many times – it’s the natural way projects seem to go.

‘The mushy middle’ aka copycat advertising

The other big mistake is a natural drift most marketers have for making ads which broadly match their competitors; this is what Adam Morgan calls ‘the mushy middle’ in his book Eating the Big Fish.

Take comparison websites for example: Compare the Market changed the serious-minded paradigm with the comedy meerkats, transforming a dull financial product into a well loved and highly recalled brand.

So what did its competitors do? Singing opera stars and comedy robots. Get your cuddly financial tool mascot now kids! Therefore, you end up in a boring place where all the ads in the sector feel the same. The upshot of copying each other is that you then fall back into the Cold War strategy of marketing – who can spend the most.

The other weakness in being inspired by your competitors is that you are unlikely to capture the magic that makes the original campaign ad so good. Take the amazing John Lewis Christmas ads; they tend to have great photography and usually a cool cover of a loved song. Debenhams has copied this style over the last few years but no one talks about those ads or noticed them.

Copying someone else’s strategy is like a pop star covering a classic tune. Like Madonna’s version of American Pie; there’s the same lyrics and music, but none of the magic.

Creating an ad that’s actually remembered by the audience

How important is being ‘remembered by the audience’ in the communication development process for most ads? Surprisingly in the processes I’ve witnessed this is barely discussed which is weird because afterwards you’ll always see CMOs and executives spinning the brand recall stats to prove that their campaign was brilliant. If this KPI is so important in post -launch analysis then why isn’t it up there as the main point in ad briefs?

Back in my Just Eat days, my team and I were lucky enough to be part of building a new national brand from scratch. None of us were traditionally trained FMCG marketers but, through happy accidental learning and hard work, we managed to get there. We even won dozens of awards beating the likes of McDonalds and the London Olympics, which was very weird.

When we sat and reflected on what had worked we realised something important – you have to make people think and form an opinion.

Our campaign was simple; we’d try to ban cooking. Potentially controversial, but if we could pull it off with humour we thought it would be eye-catching. However, being controversial isn’t a means to an end – what was interesting is that by campaigning to ban cooking we forced you to form an opinion. It was a counter zeitgeist thing to say; how did you feel about it? It was honest of a takeaway brand to want to ban cooking – so was it funny to you or did you think we were highly irresponsible?

The fact we made viewers think about this for a few seconds meant the campaign achieved very high recall for much less money and that’s the key point.

Protein World, Channel 4 etc.: Presenting the case for memorable ads

Marketing is not a cold war of money spent but a battle to make people think. With less than half the budget of Domino’s, we at Just Eat were able to become the number one recalled brand in our industry in the space of just over 18 months.

We can tut and judge Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ ads, but you can’t deny it made us all think and you can probably still remember it now. More positively, Channel 4’s approach to the Paralympics with their Super Heroes campaign was amazing and has arguably changed the country’s perception of both the event itself and disabled issues in general.

The other key benefit to making people think is that many products are only consumed every few weeks or months, or years in the case of cars. So it’s crucial that you are remembered when the consumer is in the market for what you sell.

Memorable ads are much more effective over the medium term because they do not need to be broadcast every night of week in the hope you catch the consumer when they are ready to purchase.

So dare to be different, aim to be noticed, but most of all try to make people think. And pretty please, stop being so safe and boring!

Mat Braddy is founder of hairdressing app Rock Pamper Scissors, click here to find out more.

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