I work in advertising, and even I’m bored by most ads.
It’s amazing how much of the advertising we see in the world is absolutely, completely unmemorable. Unremarkable. And sometimes even unbearable.
When you think how much care, craft and cash go into making and running an ad, it seems impossible that so many of them would be so damn boring. I’ve worked with hundreds of talented, smart clients and many smart people at agencies, so why is the industry making so many boring ads?
Let’s start with the things that make advertising good. A good ad, no matter what the medium, engages and challenges us in some way. It makes a good argument for why I should covet the brand or product. It’s memorable because it makes me think, does something unexpected, or makes me feel something. It pulls me in and engages me.
That type of advertising is getting tougher to do. Why? I’ve come up with 5 reasons, but feel free to add your own in the comments section.
There are too many decision makers:
There are simply too many people involved in advertising, both on the agency and the client side these days. There are many people who can weigh in and adjust the work, but few who are willing to overrule everyone and make a bold decision. As they say, a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Often, by the time the creatives are off producing the work, even they have lost site of the story they are telling.
We worry too much about what others will think:
It’s important to look at the work we approve and produce with a critical eye, but too often there’s an abundance of overthink. Everyone is trying to second what consumers will think. Or worse, they’re trying to second guess what their boss will think. This happens on the client and agency side of the business. Instead of believing in something and selling it, people try to figure out how to protect themselves from making a decision that might get themselves in trouble.
We rely too much on data:
People put a lot of faith in research and data, but as Bill Bernbach said over 70 years ago, “Advertising isn’t a science, it’s persuasion, and persuasion is an art.” Yes, we need to listen to the data and understand what the research is telling us, but we also need to craft a story that articulates that information in a way that compelling to consumers. Too often people think creativity gets in the way of clarity. So instead they end up with a straight-forward borefest of an ad, that says the right thing, but goes wholly unnoticed.
Email is a horrible way to share creative:
I’m shocked at how often and how comfortable we’ve become with shooting off a piece of advertising via email. I can remember when we would fly all over the world to present creative in person, so we could look each other in the eye and have a good conversation about what we were doing and how we were doing it. I get that isn’t always feasible, but at least get on the phone and talk to each other! Or skype. To create great work you need to work it out with each other and collaborate in a way that can only happen in a real conversation.
We are reactive instead of proactive:
More and more often, we end up in a situation like Lucy from the famous conveyor belt scene trying to just keep up. Yet, some of the best things I’ve done in my career have happened when we stepped back, had a conversation and brought something to a client they needed, even if they didn’t explicitly ask for it. In order to do this, you need to work efficiently on your other briefs and prioritize where the big opportunities lie, both for the agency and the client.
There are so many talented, smart people in this business, that we should be able to create more great work. Instead of seeing ads and yawning, we should be looking at advertising and getting jealous that we didn’t do it. My suggestion is that you find the right partner and trust each other, challenge each other and make the tough decisions that in the end will make you all proud of the work that you’ve accomplished. And have fun doing it, after all, it isn’t heart surgery, it’s advertising.