What were the last five ads you saw? I’ll wait while you try to remember.

Chances are you’ve seen a couple of dozen ads in the last 30 minutes, there’s probably a couple to the right of this paragraph, but if you click off this page I bet you’d struggle to recall what they were.

Recently US-based ad executive David Droga told the Australian Financial Review: “The world sees marketing as just the attention side of things, shouting and disruption. And what doesn’t help is the majority of marketing is shit. I mean, it really is, let’s be honest. The death of our industry was the lazy and formulaic nature of what we did.”

I think he’s wrong. Not because most marketing is good, but because the majority of what we’re now turning out isn’t even good enough to be referred to as shit. Let me explain.

The thing with shit ads is that you remember them – they have impact. I defy anyone not to remember seeing these ads for Lube Mobile and Coles for a long time. They’ve certainly stuck with me.


Snobbishly, we as an industry call these shit. Why? Because we’ve allowed subjectivity to rule and not the fundamentals of what works.

You only need to go on Campaign Brief and look at the comments on one of the most successful campaigns of the year – Tourism Australia – and you’ll see the problem laid bare.

Or look at the recent Amazon Christmas ad which Campaign Mag UK have awarded the Turkey of The Week award. This ad tested off the charts with System One.

Both these examples are campaigns designed for the consumer, not for the industry.

The fact is, if an ad has grabbed your attention and made you feel anything then you’ll most likely remember it. It will work. See it enough and you’ll never forget it.

Which, frankly, is a lot more than the majority of ads being put out into the world are currently doing.

It’s a sea of sameness, beige mediocrity (recently coined the term ‘blandemic’). Most things don’t stand out, or even register on a subliminal level in the constant scroll. And if we’re not making even a momentary subconscious impact, are we even advertising?

Of course when we’re exposed to hundreds, if not thousands of ads every day we’re not going to remember them all. That would be fucking awful.

But when I talk about good advertising I don’t mean the kind of stunts that get talked about for a few minutes and generate a little social buzz. There’s a lot more to it than that. We’re talking about long term brand building. Burning memories into peoples minds so on the off chance, maybe, just maybe, one day, they buy you. It’s all probables and likelihoods.

Think back to your youth. You remember all the ads. And those ads interrupted your viewing pleasure, just in different channels from today. But it was ok. Because they were entertaining. They gave something to the audience outside of just selling. They gave us a feeling. Or a moment of entertainment. They used music and jingles and characters that stuck in our minds.

And although channels have evolved, people haven’t. We don’t evolve at the speed of digital. It takes the odd millenia. So there are lessons we still need to heed from the Madmen of old.

We’ve recently been advised by one social platform that “native and unbranded content performs better” on their platform so we should remove branding from work we do with creators.

Which is fine, if all you’re looking for is a large media number of hits. And completely shithouse if you’re actually looking to create any kind of brand effect.

If the audience enjoys what they’re watching but can’t commit it to memory and connect it to the brand that engaged them then it’s a complete waste of money.

More alarmingly, it’s undermining the effect advertising has on growth and the power of creativity to transform businesses. If every ad isn’t doing something to reinforce the brand codes (yes, even your most performance-based efforts) then you’ve missed out.

If you’re trying to hide the fact that your ad is an ad, then you may even be missing out anyway.

Some recent research we did with System1 for Menulog showed a correlation between people knowing it was an ad and increased happiness, telling us people don’t like being deceived.

We don’t make people laugh because it makes us feel good. We don’t shock people because it’s a thrill for us. We do it to make people feel something so we can connect a brand to that moment and be remembered.

There’s a simple truth to what we do. The role of advertising is to sell stuff. Sell stuff by building brands, persuading people to take one action over another.

The pipes are increasingly commoditised now. The smallest advertiser can now login to an ad manager account and buy the same audiences as the biggest corporate. So creativity becomes the differentiating factor in the attention arms race.

Which should be great news – because as humans creativity is now our one advantage over the machines.

But next time you’re designing a campaign or signing off on creative, ask yourself one simple question – who will care about this? If the answer’s ‘no one’, then why bother?

Read the article on Mumbrella →