Before advertising platforms like Facebook and Google had these sophisticated targeting tools, you had to write excellent copy, come up with a creative idea, and select the ad placement incredibly well to get people's attention.
I recently sat down with our Account Supervisor, Robert Johns, to discuss the state of digital advertising and its future. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Advertisers Have Gotten Lazy
Robert: I think that this new era of digital advertising has made advertisers really lazy.
Think about magazine ads, billboard placements, radio ads, and TV. You had to know, to an intimate degree, what your customers read, what they listen to, what shows they watch, where they work, the kind of car they drive, and more.
With current targeting tools you can say, "I want to target an 18-year-old who lives in New Jersey and likes skateboarding," and all you need to do is find a photo about skateboarding, write some mediocre copy, hit publish, and you can expect decent results. It is super easy.
Institutional & Consumer Pressure
Now that institutions and consumers are restricting these targeting options are becoming more tech-savvy, it places the impetus on the advertiser. The creative agency is being forced to come up with copy that people actually read and creative that catches people's attention to make them stop. It's not just going to be a random photo from Unsplash with some general copy about my product with a link to click through.
As an advertiser myself, that excites me because even I feel like even I have gotten lazy because of how easy it is to target people. I focus more on targeting than I do on the creative and the copy. I remember having conversations like, "Let's not worry about that so much, let's focus on targeting.” Which is a fair assessment when you're balancing time versus effort.
But, I'm excited because I do appreciate great advertising, great copy, great creative, and so I'm hopeful that as these targeting options are rolled back, that advertising will become better and more engaging.
Which is, I think, ultimately is what people want. I don't think anyone hated the old school Budweiser ads during the Super Bowl. People still share those links now – the "what's up,” or the frogs ad – those were good ads that were funny. Even now, I share the Bud Light versus Miller Light ads. They're just funny and it's good content, but it also provides a lot of brand lift.
And so, I think that's another discussion about why content matters in the age of privacy. And not only privacy but the lack of ability to target people on these digital platforms.
How to Reach “Adlergic” 18 to 34-Year-Olds
Brady: When you can click your mouse a few times and find 100,000 kids who would buy a skateboard, and you sell skateboards, it's pretty easy to just ship in a run-of-the-mill ad.
But with this demographic of young people not wanting to be tracked, not wanting to be on Facebook, adopting other channels, and preferring more secure browsers, it begs the question, how do we reach kids who are "ad-lergic”?
I liked what you said about the old ads because the reason they're so good is that they're so relatable. When I think of "drinking a cold one," I think about those Coca-Cola commercials and I have all of these feelings come up - there's an emotional reaction to these ads and you just don't see that anymore. And those are TV commercials that tell a small narrative story.
What we see now is just flashing sale banners or static pictures or 15-second lifestyle videos and it's almost like they're just trying to bait us to click something. But, there's not enough time spent looking at them to establish an emotional connection.
Create Great Content
And so in this world of 18 to 34-year-olds who don't want to be tracked and re-targeted with ads, and institutions clamping down on advertising platforms that have just said "anything goes” for the past 15 years, it forces us as creatives to start creating really great content.
Because that's ultimately what people want. They Google a question for an answer or they go to YouTube to watch something, and so I see a lot of investment going into creating great content.
Great content, like great ads, will stand the test of time, and not a picture that you spent 10 minutes choosing from iStock for an impression-based campaign on Facebook.
It forces us as creatives and advertisers to go so much deeper into who our customers really are. Our job in life as people, as companies, is to serve others.
Saying "18, likes skateboarding, lives in New Jersey" can sound like a complete profile, but that's not true; our customers are much more complex than that. When we see people as a collection of demographic information it cheapens who they are as a person.
Simple Ad Targeting Tools Aren’t Always a Good Thing
In the pre-digital advertising days, the lack of technology forced advertisers to understand who was buying their client’s product, what they cared about, and what they valued. They had to know where they spend their time, what brands they use, and from whom they get their information. Today, we can construct an audience of 1 million potential buyers in minutes.
Here’s the fact: advertisers won’t always be able to design an ad and shove in front of their customer’s face. Consumers will tune you out, and institutions will make it more difficult.
So what do we do? We're going to have to attract them with great content like a fly to fluorescent lightbulb. Marketing agencies will need to double-down on inbound marketing. They will need to invest in attracting people instead of digitally screaming, "look at me."
Robert: The reason why old ads are so good is because they took weeks and months to do. Now, you can spin up a campaign in 15 minutes if you needed to.
We’ve become incredibly efficient, but not very effective.
However, back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, what I consider the golden age of advertising, it took agencies weeks and months to come up with an idea, to craft the idea, to pitch the idea to a client, and get them to buy in. Then you still had to publish it and hoped it worked.
I look at Ford, Johnson & Johnson, or Kraft, all these legacy brands and their ads stand the test of time because it took them months to get to their customer’s heart. They spent days brainstorming ideas, weeks storyboarding. It’s one reason why ad agencies were so big and expensive. It may have appeared wildly inefficient at the time, but these iconic ads are etched into our cultural memory and remain relevant 50 years later.
Clients and agencies need to give creative people space and time to come up with a good idea. It requires a budget, time, and human resources, but it is absolutely necessary if you want to create something meaningful, something that will grow your client's business.
Fight the Pressures of Instant Gratification
Brady: We’re in an age of instant gratification, and as consumers, many of us would agree that's true. Just look at the popularity of Amazon Prime and GrubHub. "I want this. *Click* Your order will arrive in 20 minutes.”
This mentality of instant gratification as consumers bleeds over into people who run businesses too. I want more sales immediately, I want more followers immediately. So what happens is a $100,000 budget is split $10,000 to design an entire campaign in a week and then spend $90,000 promoting it. Young brands have a difficult time accepting, that great ads require a lot of thought and time. It is difficult to accept the fact that it will take a few months to storyboard and film a two-minute commercial.
Regardless of the type of ad, don't cheat yourself on the creative. Don't rush the copy, don't ship the same ads to the same people. Create something that's not just award-worthy, but old-school ad-worthy.