De­sign

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.

New Zealand Marketing - - Contents -

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. rich@prob­lem­child.co.nz.

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.

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