Why advertisers need to start adding value to our lives
BUSINESS BOOKS Here’s an idea, companies: Subsidize silence, stop airing messages that interrupt and annoy
I’m a big fan of podcasts.
The Turnaround and On the Media are my favourites for two reasons.
Both podcasts have great hosts, guests and conversations. Turnaround host Jesse Thorn talks with interviewers about the art of interviewing while On the Media’s Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield look at how the news media shape our view of the world.
And here’s the other reason why I’m a fan. The conversations on these two podcasts don’t get interrupted to sell me razors, underwear and meal kits that I can order online with special promo codes.
Lots of us are tired of traditional advertising and we’re finding ways to escape it, whether it’s through ditching cable TV for Netflix or downloading ad-blocking apps on our smartphones.
Advertisers need to start adding value to our lives and stop interrupting and annoying us, says Andrew Essex, author of “The End of Advertising,” past CEO of the award-winning Droga5 ad agency and a board member with the American Advertising Federation.
“In an era of unprecedented noise, producing pollution in the form of annoying advertising represents the height of an unprincipled approach and, more worrisome, is likely flat-out bad for business.
“Advertising will continue to take its lumps,” says Essex. “Like everything inherently unwanted, from stale pastries to last season’s social media, it was doomed to be overshadowed. Like pollution, we prefer it in the landfill rather than randomly strewn along the road. People, platforms and products will have to distinguish themselves by doing something radically different, will have to embrace the not-so-radical idea of always endeavouring to be useful, authentic, original and/or interesting.”
So what’s the radical alternative to traditional advertising?
Citibank spent $41 million over five years to sponsor New York City’s bike sharing program. Citi Bikes give the bank 6,000 roaming billboards while appreciative New Yorkers and tourists get a bike share program that doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime.
“You don’t need much more than intuition to see that most people would choose a clean Citi Bike over a useless ad,” says Essex. “One accomplishes something, the other doesn’t.”
American Girl puts out movies, books, clothes and accessories. Essex says his daughter knows all about American Girl without having ever seen a TV, magazine or internet banner ad from the company.
“All this very savvy company had done was communicate its values via content, a very old model that was new and necessary again. They’d become genuine storytellers and put themselves as the centre of the story.”
And then there’s the world’s biggest toy company. In 2014, Lego found a way to transcend advertising with “The Lego Movie.” Lots of us paid good money to put on 3D glasses and watch a 100-minute commercial. “The Lego Movie” grossed $260 million in North America and another $210 million internationally. In 2015, Lego overtook Mattel to become the world’s most valuable toy company with more than $2 billion in annual sales.
“A brand made a brilliant, wellexecuted movie,” says Essex. “The movie was a hit. The movie also happened to be an ad, one that people were willing to pay to see. For the first time in a long time, the thing that normally sold the thing had become the thing itself.”
Your company doesn’t need to create the next Hollywood blockbuster, says Essex. Just sponsor quality content that reflects well on your brand. Make that content commercial free for viewers, listeners and readers. Subsidize silence and give audiences freedom from traditional advertising that interrupts and annoys.
And what do you get in return? If you became the presenting sponsor of The Turnaround or On the Media, you’d earn my gratitude, my attention and quite possibly my business.
“The End of Advertising” by Andrew Essex argues traditional practices are likely bad for business these days.