It was a bit of a surprise to feel sad at the news memorable ads have disappeared from our screens. In particular, a survey from TH?NK Global found six out of 10 people couldn’t remember any ads they felt positive about and two-thirds couldn’t remember one ad they disliked.
It was fun being a couch critic. Whether we loathed commercials (most of the time) or loved them (too infrequently), we could unite around the images of ourselves that were offered in the service of a product.
And, once upon a time, advertisers did try to wrap their brands around our identities. Think of the way airlines, cars, supermarkets, banks, political parties and beers tagged our stereotypes and tugged at our emotions. You only have to think of beer commercials to appreciate how much the memorable ad has disappeared.
We were once masters of the beer ad. If you ignore the art deco posters plastered to hotels in the early 20th century, the great beer period began in 1980 when Tooheys launched the How Do You Feel campaign, and it continued solidly until 2005 when Carlton Draught launched its Big Ad. In between there were scores of memorable and mostly funny beer ads, including my favourite for Tooheys when the guy tries to pass off his pug as a guide dog to get into a hotel — “what did they give me?”
But 2005 was a long time ago. The person who was born the last time a great beer ad appeared is sneaking beers into a teenage party this weekend. It’s a long time between drinks and an even longer time between laughs.
For a generation, the beer ad followed our moods, sports obsessions, sexual mores, attitudes, jobs and, most obviously, our ideas of mateship. But they also nailed the ways we make ourselves laugh and, when they did that right — and they mostly did — we felt a sense of belonging that eliminated boundaries of gender, class and geography.
The advertising industry has lamented the passing of the memorable commercial (and the big budgets that accompanied them). It has blamed — in rough order — lack of competition between big players; lack of talent in the industry; lack of courage among brand managers; too many sensitivities in society; and too much shareholder thinking and not enough thinkers outside the square. But the real culprit is more obvious. You can’t have a big ad without big media. A big ad needs mass media with big audiences for the big impact needed to repay the big money needed to make and broadcast a big ad. Ergo, the Big Ad.
But little media rules now. We have atomised across multiple media points. We are an audience of one, watching our personally curated content on our particular device, on our own timetable. And, if advertisers want to find us, they use data to send us anaemic ads, tailored to the audience of one. The ads that reach us are like those flyers you find in your mailbox soggy with snail bites. Useful, maybe, but forgettable.
But it’s not just the audience that has atomised, so have advertisers. Disregarding the banks and supermarkets, there are so many businesses in every industry around the world pitching for our attention that none can afford a big sell. Think again of the beer market, it’s so fractured between hundreds of craft beers, scores of imports and ever-diminishing old brands, they’re lucky to afford label designers. Even the American Super Bowl, the hallowed ground for commercial creativity, doesn’t have the impact its 100 million-plus audience would suggest, unless a pop star makes a hash of the anthem. A 2014 study showed 80 per cent of Super Bowl ads don’t increase sales.
So there are no big moments in advertising. It belongs to commercial history, personal nostalgia and a time when we could agree on our stereotypes. But in the same way old pub posters became collectable, I’m guessing someone will make a YouTube mash-up of great beer ads. And lots of people will share it — on their own devices and media sites — and wonder perhaps about a country where everyone sat in front of a TV at the same time and had a laugh. gmail.com