Bust of Socrates - Photographer Marie-Lan Nguyen
Critical thinking was Socrates’s superpower.
Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it.
Put differently, it is the process we use to reflect on, access and judge the assumptions underlying our own and others’ ideas and actions.
In the context of the Socratic Method, critical thinking involves asking six types of questions to get to the bottom of an issue.
For the purpose of this post the issue will be the crisis of credibility facing the advertising industry today.
According to Dr. Richard Paul, the six types of questions are:
I. Questions that serve to clarify the issue
II. Questions that challenge our assumptions about it
III. Questions that probe our reasoning and the evidence
IV. Questions that uncover viewpoints and perspectives
V. Questions that throw light on the implications and consequences
VI. Questions that question the question itself or its gist
Question: ‘If advertising is an important facet of the promotion part of the marketing mix, why are questions being raised about its credibility?’
Counter: ‘In our own or a client’s case, how important is advertising when compared with the other promotional elements (public relations, sales promotion, direct marketing and/or personal selling)?’
In parting, I yield to the philosopher par excellence:
"True wisdom comes to each of us when we realise how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us."
Source: Bryan Rodriguez via Unsplash.com.
Like your device.
Like social media.
Like the sciences.
Like virtually all other facets of human civilisation and development.
Advertising is a shortcut.
It’s a shortcut to reaching more prospects.
In the most memorable way.
In the least expensive way.
But when advertising pretends to be or do anything more, it becomes an eyesore.
An unwelcome interruption.
A mere pandering.
A waste of money.
And human potential.
When advertising pretends to be or do anything more, it becomes a needless test of patience.
A lost opportunity.
A blight on common sense.
Advertising is a shortcut.
It does not have all the answers.
But it can be made better by the right questions.
It is a business.
It is a calling.
It has to be both.
Advertising is a shortcut.
To being more responsible.
As advertising professionals.
The wider world.
Advertising is not dead.
Advertising is just a shortcut.
If it can get you where you’d rather be, you should take it.
If it can’t, the world is not short of other shortcuts.
Thomas V. Pedersen (1820–1859), English Wikipedia (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/47/Emperor_Clothes_01.jpg)
A lot of the advertising today is like the vain monarch in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Not surprisingly, many a marketer’s opinion about advertising is likely to echo that of John Wanamaker’s:
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half.”
At the heart of the problem is . . .
. . . on the marketer’s and/or agency’s side(s) of the table.
Yet, every advertising opportunity contains within it the seeds of a renaissance.
One that starts with the consumer.
Source: Kaboompics // Karolina via Pexels.com
Word of mouth. Books. Newspapers. Magazines. Radio. TV. Internet.
Content is the common denominator among all media.
It was, is, and always will be king.
Until recently, it was a "seller's market" as far as the content was concerned.
Thanks to the Web, the power has now swung to the consumer.
The invention continues to:
This has resulted in the:
It has forced marketers to rethink the way they do business and their decisions regarding media and media platforms.
How marketers communicate with consumers is also undergoing a transformation.
The Web is as powerful as it is because it incorporates all the media that have come before it (Web Copywriting 2.0, Nick Usborne).
On the Web, you can not only consume content by reading it, watching it and listening to it you can even participate in its creation.
Marketing using content is all the rage today.
But like all marketing tactics, it can never be any better than the strategy powering it.
If content is king, it's only because strategy is the kingmaker.
But . . .
. . . there’s something even more important than your content marketing strategy.
One popular way to bring your content marketing strategy to life is by using the S.M.A.R.T. method:
Make sure your content marketing goals are:
“Who are we talking to? Why should they bother listening to us? What do we want our content marketing campaign to achieve?”
“How will we know if our content marketing campaign is doing what we expect it to do? What are the criteria that we will be using to measure campaign success? What sort of testing will we be using and how often?”
“Can our content marketing campaign actually help us achieve our Web marketing goals? Have we set an impossible or unreasonable task for ourselves?”
“Does our content marketing campaign make sense from a business point of view? Are we merely reacting when we should be responding? In the first place, will our campaign add value to the life of our prospect?”
“Is everyone clear about the campaign’s timeline? Have we established a reasonable end date for the campaign?”
Although content marketing democratises the ability of marketers to influence buying decisions, marketing fundamentals will always matter.
Like positioning your product/service for success, and understanding your consumers and the business you are actually in.
Source: Lum3n.com via Pexels.com
Brazilians speak Portuguese.
This was the conundrum DM9, Sao Paulo—now a part of the DDB network—faced in 1993.
Diet Guarana, a popular soft drink in neighbouring, Spanish-speaking markets was eyeing the millions of parched throats in Latin America's biggest nation.
Using the Spanish-language advertising that had worked elsewhere outright was out of the question. On the other hand, adapting it would be a risky proposition, given the cultural differences.
At that time, print advertising in Brazil hinged—as was the case virtually everywhere else—on words.
But to grab attention, the advertising also needed to be transparent. Brazilians were (and are) advertising-savvy consumers. Blatantly drawing attention to the advertising itself or the brand wouldn't work.
Instinctively, DM9's art director, Marcello Serpa, knew that indifference was the biggest obstacle the brand had to overcome.
After all, a soft drink is a soft drink in the grand scheme of things.
In a stroke of genius, the answer presented itself to Serpa.
Brazilians have a thing for beautiful bodies.
Why not use this norm as an easily relatable context?
The concept of reduction—expressing an idea in the simplest possible terms—which Serpa had picked up from his time in Germany, served as the crucible.
Despite the complete absence of copy, Serpa's campaign succeeded in grabbing the eyeballs of both consumers and the Cannes jury, who recognised his brilliance by awarding the campaign Brazil's first Grand Prix Lion.
And soon, imitations began to mushroom around the world.
'Aha! Less is more. Viva la creativity! Off with the copy!,' was the battlecry of their creators.
And thus began the castration of the copy department, and—according to the legendary Neil French—the death of long-copy advertising.
A quarter-century later, misconceptions about advertising creativity are—in all probability—a key factor behind:
So what exactly is creativity?
David Galenson studies human creativity, and is Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago.
Galenson believes that creativity is of two types:
The type of creativity the advertising industry elects to promote and practice going forward may very well change the marcom landscape and seal the industry's fate.
1. O'Barr, William (2008). Advertising in Brazil, Advertising & Society Review, Volume 9, Issue 2, 2008. Retrieved December 1, 2017, from Project MUSE database.
2. Design Indaba, Marcello Serpa on the art of reduction. Retrieved December 3, 2017, via YouTube.
3. Galenson, David (2014). Creativity: Myths and Misconceptions, April 24, 2014. Retrieved December 4, 2017, from HuffPost (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-galenson/creativity-myths-and-misc_b_4836263.html).
4. David Galenson. Bio. Retrieved December 4, 2017, from http://www.davidgalenson.com/bio.html.
5. Neff, J. and Schultz, E. (2017). Does Cannes matter?: Agencies debate spendy festival in lean times. Retrieved December 5, 2017, from AdAge (http://adage.com/article/print-edition/cannes-festival-creativity-matter/309354/).
6. Schultz, E. (2017). The race is on: How IBM, Accenture, PwC and Deloitte are shaking up the marketing industry. Retrieved December 5, 2017, from AdAge (http://adage.com/article/news/consultancies-rising/308845/).
In My First 65 Years in Advertising (TAB Books, 1975), Maxwell Sackheim calls indifference and inertia the enemies of advertising.
'Indifference is normal,' says Sackheim.
'We go through life generally with our minds only half turned on, except when we are promised an adequate reward for our full attention. Ordinarily, our attitude towards nearly everything we see, read, hear and experience is "so what?"
'Indifference is the number one [obstacle] we have to overcome—and when you begin to realize how terrific the competition is for your prospect's time and attention, you begin to appreciate what [an obstacle] indifference is.'
Sackheim describes inertia as the 'law of physics which decrees that a body in motion, or at rest, resists change'.
'People hate to bother changing their minds, their habits, their routines.
'It takes tons of persuasion to make people do even the things they want to do!'
So, how does one tackle indifference and inertia?
Sackheim suggests three ways:
Offer the consumer a benefit, a solution, an answer. "What's in it for me?" asks the consumer. Tell them. Quickly. Prominently. Ideally, in the headline.
Change what the consumer believes they know about your product/service, in relation to the competition or the brand category itself.
If you can, overhaul your physical or functional product/service (keeping your consumer and the competition in mind while doing so) and then communicate the brand-new you in a way that spotlights the advantage.
Consider positioning or repositioning your brand, or even infusing it with a unique selling proposition.
3. Make them an offer
A free gift, prize contest, recipe booklet, special price, and the like.
Although Sackheim was speaking from a mail-order perspective, virtually all other forms of advertising can make use of these indifference- & inertia-busting methods.
But, where does branding fit into the picture?
Branding and the methods Sackheim recommends are not mutually exclusive.
Sure, branding has its advantages, not the least of which is it can help create & reinforce a unique brand persona—this is especially true if ATL and/or digital advertising is your primary marcom.
But there's a limit to the amount of branding a consumer will put up with or relate to, and there's only so much that branding itself can do for a marketer.
Moreover, misinformed branding can easily make your brand and the product/service too abstract for the consumer's liking.
Let's not forget that branding is also expensive. If you can afford it, ask yourself if you, in fact, should.
By the way, if most marketers in a category are preoccupied with branding, an opportunity may exist for the right trailing or new brand to quickly make inroads into the market on the back of a "street-smart" marketing & advertising campaign.
The branding (a.k.a. marketing communication) strategy stems from the business or marketing strategy.
A marketing strategy that ignores what is already inside the head of the consumer—and other market realities—only makes things difficult for everything that follows.
After all, not all consumers are in the same boat.
New prospects or customers of competing brands may find your branding appealing enough to consider giving your product/service a shot.
Why not make the most of the opportunity and encourage them to become a buyer sooner rather than later by incorporating a mail-order/direct-response technique or two in your marcom?
Because in the end, what must matter to a marketer is the same as that which matters to the consumer:
The value one gets out of the advertising space, time, or pixels.
Source: Pexels (https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-casual-collection-fashion-296881/)
According to a MarketingSherpa-MECLABS survey, consumers hate it when brands (and their marketing):
Marketing is essentially about either changing or reinforcing attitudes and/or behaviour.
Marketing communication is much more so.
A lot has to happen (or has happened) to move the consumer to the brand awareness stage.
And a lot more has to happen to convince them to make that transition from a prospect to a customer (or even a repeat one).
If alienated from marketing & business objectives, marcom can be nothing more than an expense—a tax write-off. It can be allowed to exist for its own sake, and even treated like a necessary evil.
Marcom of this variety festers as a knee-jerk reaction to market forces, such as the competition, a product/service category disruption, and the like.
Or, it merely serves as a vassal of the marketing manager's ego, whim, and/or opinion.
It tries to draw the consumer's attention to what can only be described as a nebulous product/service by drawing attention to itself (usually via no-brain "creativity"), and neglects to put the consumer first.
It communicates nothing of value to the consumer.
And it fails to offer service (Claude Hopkins) in the form of information the consumer needs/wants.
Not surprisingly, businesses don't think twice about pulling the plug on marcom budgets during internal, sectorial & economic downturns. Some businesses even look to marcom to solve a PR, business or some other non-marcom problem.
Marcom was, is and always will be about mass salesmanship—a means to an end. And like a good salesperson, only the most empathetic & resolute marcom is worth its salt.
Source: Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons (https://tinyurl.com/y8k7edmj).
Everyone's looking for some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Consumers are no exception.
And if we marketers and marketing communication practitioners are as smart as we believe we are, it's plain to see that the world is quickly 'runnin' out of "fools"'.
Not least because of the spanner that the Web and the "disruptions" surrounding the tech-savvy, seemingly self-absorbed Generation Y (a.k.a. 'millennials') have thrown in the works.
Fortified by social media and instant messaging services, word of mouth can now travel faster and farther than ever before.
This democratisation of communication and information sharing has suddenly turned the spotlight back on marketing & advertising accountability.
Geographic markets—until recently virtual provincial fiefdoms of brands—no longer insulate marketers from the blowback from a brand's real or perceived shortcoming. A wound to a brand's image in one market can today haemorrhage market share virtually overnight in a market halfway around the world.
Governmental censure & fines, anti-consumption campaigns, loss of face, and the inevitable layoffs can be compounded by a drastic—sometimes fatal—reduction in brand equity.
Only the most foolhardy & callous marketers and their marketing communication agencies can now afford to take consumers, marketing & advertising campaigns, and the firefighting following a crisis for granted.
A useful rule of thumb in these turbulent times can be one that's reflected across cultures, but is easier said than done:
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Source: Mathyas Kurmann (https://tinyurl.com/ycyepr8g) on Unsplash (https://tinyurl.com/y7j8ct7l).
There is nothing new under the sun, at least not in the world of marketing communication.
The digital marcom folks are rediscovering what "Old School" direct marketing practitioners and the businesses that depend on it knew all along:
Marcom that's worth its salt is intrinsically accountable.
Whether the purpose is branding, education, credibility-building and/or sales, marcom effectiveness can be greatly improved if it is evaluated against an objective ROI benchmark.
It doesn't hurt if everyone's in agreement that marcom's about what your prospect wants it to be. Nothing more. Nothing less.
For starters, we must stop assuming that the noise in our head is the same as the noise in our prospect's head (Seth Godin).
The prospect couldn't care less about our attempts to separate them from their money and/or time.
To paraphrase the legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz, a marcom plan should be based on insights regarding:
A prospect who's already sold on the idea of buying your product/service (or one just like yours) will demand a different marcom approach than a prospect who is unfamiliar with you and even your product/service category.
If your brand falls somewhere in between these two market limits, your strategy has to take this fact on board.
All marcom for a product/service category can be said to have a verbal & visual vocabulary.
It pays to, therefore, take stock of the current as well as the most recent marcom that corresponds to the product/service category that your brand is competing in.
What is the competition saying and how are they saying it? What strategy, if any, and tactics are they using?
A fundamental objective of a marcom plan should be to counter competing approaches, arguments and the tactics used. Not follow suit.
Of course, the value you allot to such insights depends on how important marcom is in your marketing mix.
There may be nothing new under the sun. But if your prospects believe this to be also true of your marcom, then it has clearly ignored one important fact:
'. . . the people you address are selfish, as we all are. They care nothing about your interests or profit. They seek service for themselves. Ignoring this fact is a common mistake and a costly mistake in advertising.' (Claude Hopkins)
Source: GIPHY (https://media.giphy.com/media/HoyhrME6MXm5a/source.gif)
I froze after reading something someone had written in an opinion piece.
According to the author, the most credible way to evaluate advertising is to use the award winners as the models.
This observation reminded me of Professor Marilyn Strathern's pithy restatement of Goodhart's Law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." (I was introduced to the law in Mr. Dave Trott's article, The Dog's Bollocks.)
If awards become the be-all and end-all of advertising, wouldn't such a state of affairs be like the tail wagging the dog?
Effectiveness—and the awards that spotlight it (e.g. the Effies)—should be the focus of our industry.
A subjective evaluation can only result in no-brain advertising (Rapp and Collins), plus make matters worse for the consumers, advertising industry, and marketers.
Advertising that does nothing for the prospect is quickly forgotten, having merely served to add to the clutter.
The human being your advertising is aimed at is the alter ego of the not-in-market individual. The two neither think alike nor share the same emotional profile.
They can't be appealed to and persuaded in the same way. And they most certainly do not judge advertising like the people who create & approve it.
Seen in this light, the importance of understanding what happens after the advertising steps out into the real world can't be emphasised enough.
Out here, advertising competes not only with other advertising but also a cultural Zeitgeist saturated with:
How will your advertising fare in this melee?
The pursuit of the bright shiny object—be it an award, a technology or something else—is not what advertising is about.
To paraphrase Ogilvy, the end product should be evaluated on the basis of its content, not its form.
Any attempt to sell advertising "creativity" as well as the brand paying for the advertising can only result in failure to sell neither.
And that can be a fatal mistake.