There’s no shortage of quarrelling in the ad industry. Adland is, after all, a competitive place. But of all the battles ad folk fight on a daily basis, Rich Maddocks argues that none is as challenging as the skirmish between new and old.
Brian Slade says line of sight beats she’ll be right.
I’ve only ever been in one fight. I apparently started it with a no doubt insightful and witty comment yelled at a passing car in Chapel St, Melbourne, early one Sunday morning some 20-odd years ago. I say apparently as I don’t recall what happened. All I can tell you is I came-to some time after the fact, knocked out with what the papers today would refer to as a ‘king hit’.
Back then, it was a lucky punch. And yes, you’re right, technically that’s not a fight at all. So instead of right hooks and suplexes, I’ve had to do my fighting with layout pads and sharpie pens ever since. Not by throwing them either, although that might have happened on the odd occasion too.
Our industry is pretty much corporate UFC. Only the blood is spilt in marketshare points and share dividends. So capitalist, you see. Obviously, the title fight is between brands. But on the undercard are a series of ongoing battles that have varying degrees of influence on the ultimate outcome: agencies constantly scrapping with each other for talent and clients; creatives and clients battling over ideas; suits and finance directors over budgets; and even internally, where staff can come to fisticuffs (one fine morning, I ventured into the office to be greeted with the news that my most senior art director and copywriter had come to blows the night before. For the record, the art director won by sitting on him).
But arguably the most difficult battle in all of this chaos is the dance between the new and the old—the battle between the familiar and the unexpected. Go too far into new territory and you lose people. Stick too closely to the well-trodden paths and you risk being ignored. In other words, mess it up and your brand can get badly hurt.
So the question we’re always asking ourselves is at what point does the baby slip out with the bathwater? And with the proliferation of new media and diminishing power of the conventional channels, it’s a question being asked more then ever. Most crucial in all of this is, of course, the consumers. Yes, remember them? This is the lot who are helpless to avoid their status quo bias; the theory that humans are resistant to change. So you can see why we might err on the side of convention.
It’s this part of the human psyche that explains why TV stations fight tooth and nail for eyeballs on their nightly news, and banks send smiling reps into school classrooms to sign up six-year-olds.
People have a habit of sticking with the familiar. But while this fear of change has everything to do with brand switching, it has little to do with comms. Except perhaps our own bias about playing safe, of course.
The truth is that people have an insatiable appetite for the new and the exciting. They want to hear, see, share and talk about things they find thrilling, interesting or titillating. They want drama in their life. It’s just that they want that drama to be safe, surface-level drama. Drama with a small ‘d’. Which explains why the best advertising has usually erred on the side of the new and unexpected.
The tricky bit is still how much unexpected? What conventions should you keep, and which ones can you afford to toss aside? Which is baby and which is bathwater? If the advertising fight cage has taught us anything over the past ten years it’s this: nobody knows.
With each new subservient chicken, Whopper freak-out, Earth hour, yellow treehouse or breast milk we have seen the rules broken and rewritten each and every time.
To state the painfully obvious, when you’re doing new you don’t get the reassurance of formula. But while we can’t copy those who’ve come before us, we can learn from them. And the lesson is this. Be relevant. People still only care what they care about. So go for your life. Give away solar-powered kites with every box of cereal, cover an actor with slime and roll him down Queen St, write ads in code, do anything you please. As long it’s relevant— to your consumer and your brand. Which is the one rule you never want to break.
Of course you could try and avoid the fight altogether. But you just might find someone jumps out of a car and knocks you flat on your backside. Or worse, sits on you.
Rich Maddocks is the creative partner at Problem Child. email@example.com.
One fine morning, I ventured into the office to be greeted with the news that my most senior art director and copywriter had come to blows the night before. For the record, the art director won by sitting on him.