Advertisers’ wet dream risks turning into nightmare

The advertising industry has to learn to connect again with users, without getting on their nerves and without invading their personal space.

The usual round of annual results from the stock exchange-listed advertising agencies doesn’t look that pretty. Big groups like Publicis and WPP are struggling to grow and are now faced with dwindling profits. But even their traditional clients like Unilever, Kraft Heinz, AB InBev and Coca-Cola are reporting modest results. What the big agencies and their multi-national advertisers have in common is their dependency on brands to leverage their commercial success.

Behind the dust cloud kicked up by the financial turbulence, a silent revolution is brewing. One that goes beyond the growing success of private labels and digital channels. Because the real problem is the erosion of brands and the value they represent: i.e. the connection with their users.

Somewhere along the way, advertisers and their agencies became convinced that consumers find targeted messages useful and that they are all too happy to surrender their personal data in exchange for personalised advertising. And so they cast themselves en masse upon the duopoly of Google and Facebook. With ad placement across thousands of sites and apps now left to platforms and algorithms, all in the hope of reaching the right man or woman at the right time.

What seemed like a wet dream for advertisers at the time now risks turning into a nightmare. The overload of annoying messages has created a boon for ad blockers but at the same time a significant pitfall for advertisers. For one, those commercial messages are starting to appear in undesirable contexts with increasing frequency. Such that a McDonald’s ad offering free fries, for example, would appear next to an article on obesity. But the underlying problem is far, far more serious than that. Silently and unwittingly, brands are crumbling into the most singular expression of the most singular benefit. Without anyone ever asking for it.

Dictatorship

The dictatorship of segmentation has come entirely at the cost of the collective experience of the brand itself. Even marketing people today seem to have forgotten that a brand is more than just an individual relationship with a product. Either that or they have been silenced by cost-cutting measures within their own companies. The strength of brands is vested in the communal experience of their users. Good examples of that can be found in Nike’s “outdo you” and Dove’s “real beauty” campaigns.

The disappearance of brand capital has led to commoditisation and ultimately, the erosion of shareholder value.

In the absence of such a unique experience, however, the move to a competitor with a similar product is quickly made. The disappearance of brand capital has led to commoditisation and ultimately, the erosion of shareholder value. Take the example of our national lager, of which all men back in the day knew why. A textbook case of a brand that has lost its way… but that’s another story.

In the past, the value of a brand was mainly fed through advertising in traditional media. The latter resulted in more collective meaning for brands but also, paradoxically enough, more freedom of choice than is currently the case with the micro-campaigns that now pursue individual users across the internet. The term “retargeting” can in this sense be interpreted literally: after one visit, that garden furniture will stalk you for weeks on news sites and social media. Whatever Google and Facebook may claim on the basis of their research, consumers are simply not in favour of more personalised advertisements. On the contrary, they want more freedom of choice in what they buy.

Brand builders need to start looking for collective experiences again. And I’m not just talking about things like live broadcasts, events and retail experiences but above all the quality of those contacts.

The question remains how we can solve this problem in the current context, without misplaced nostalgia for the traditional advertising campaign. Instead of alienating users with hyperpersonalised messages that often come across as an invasion of privacy, brand builders need to start looking for collective experiences again. And I’m not just talking about things like live broadcasts, events and retail experiences but above all the quality of those contacts. And when it comes to sparking those connections, nothing works better than creativity. It opens doors, breaks the ice and gets people talking, sharing and ultimately buying. Efficiency pure and simple if you ask me.

And although it sounds simple, we in the advertising industry have to learn to connect again with our users, without getting on their nerves. But if we can advertise with augmented reality the way soft drink brand Pepsi does or with artificial intelligence the way auto manufacturer Volvo does, then surely we can also find technical and creative solutions that match brands with like-minded groups of users, without invading their personal space. Only then can there be a future for companies whose business models are centred around brands.

Marc Fauconnier, CEO of creative agency FamousGrey

About FamousGrey

FamousGrey was founded in 1997 as an independent agency. In 2016 it became part of the Grey Group, one of the world’s most innovative and creative advertising networks. Under the motto, Famously Effective, the agency not only aims to build its clients’ brands but also their business, via creative, result-driven campaigns. All of which takes place thanks to the dedication of 80 employees, including specialists in every discipline of relevance to today’s advertiser. Many of these specialisations have since grown into genuine expert hubs, such as FamousGrey Performance, FamousGrey Digital, Famous Relations, FamousGrey Productions and Buyerminds Brussels.

FamousGrey creates campaigns for national and international companies such as Proximus, the Belgian Railways (SNCB/NMBS), Volvo, Hyundai, Alken-Maes, IGLO and Visit Brussels.

FamousGrey’s offices are located in a former 18th century monastery on the outdskirts of Brussels.

For more information, visit www.famousgrey.com 


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