There was an episode of the Apprentice that aired a few years back whereby the teams were told to go and create a TV advert for tissues.
One team got very excited about the creative aspects of this project and launched into a full blown attempt at creating an Oscar-winning, tear jerking advert full of beautiful shots of weeping children and puppies and uplifting, gorgeous music which they were convinced was an absolute winner.
The other team, staffed by some rather more straightforward types produced a dull advert containing sensible products shots of the box, packaging and brand that was pretty uninspiring.
Team One were convinced that victory was theirs – until Lord Sugar, in his usual way, burst their bubble and gave Team One a good dressing down for getting carried away and producing an advert that had nothing to do whatsoever with the product that they were actually supposed to be marketing.
Team Two duly snatched victory from the jaws of artistic defeat to the chagrin of the losing creatives and went and drowned themselves in cheap champagne (or whatever else it is that aspiring apprentices do on these occasions).
The point was that advertising is (alarmingly, for all the budgets involved!) often ineffective, not just in the Apprentice but in real life too and never more so than when it gets carried away with itself and tries to be a bit too clever. A great example of this is this Super Bowl advert from 2015 which was gorgeous, but didn’t succeed in actually selling more beer. because as creative as it was, the advert didn’t actually have much to do with, well, drinking beer.
Often, marketers reply on a misplaced idea that emotions alone can sell us any old tat and this just isn’t true. There’s some really interesting research that’s recently come out from the team at Decode that says that it’s all well and good to create a bunch of emotions when showing someone an advert but if it’s not backed up by some sensible information, a strong brand presence and a clear link to the product, then it’s not going to sell more stuff. We may be manipulable by clever advertisers but we’re not that gullible.
What does work when it comes to advertising, is baking in a really strong brand message to create a distinctive memory structure. This means consistency, in design, and in making sure that the advert absolutely embodies what the brand and product is all about.
The brand needs to be at the centre of the advert as the star so that it’s instantly possible for a consumer to relate the advert that they’ve just seen to the product that they might lazily pull off the shelf when they aren’t really concentrating, or to the phrase they’re going to Google when they are thinking about something they want to search for.
It doesn’t mean that advertising can’t be hugely creative – of course it can, but if the brand is lost within the creative execution, forget it. That’s why branding is important – over time, it helps people to understand the key properties of a product in very few words and the brand then becomes a symbol representing products, values, services and experiences that can be trusted because of quality and consistency.
Ads are just as much creating awareness as they are about provoking emotions – and in all the creative buzz sometimes it’s easy to forget that the ‘what’ is just as important as the ‘wow’.