July 16th 2017

The decline of the ad game

Image Deanna Ladret

When I was 8, my mom used to make jugs of Minute Maid™ juice, frozen from concentrate in those tins.

My job was to stir the deep burgundy lump with a wooden spoon until it slowly dissolved into the warm water. How's that for a mother-daughter culinary memory?

Today, close to 3 decades later, I try to make my own juice for my kids, from ingredients I get at the farmer's market, or at least the organic section at the grocery store. What's strange about this picture? In stark contrast to the assumption that consumers — millennials especially — want things faster, better, smarter, sooner, I've prioritized quality over convenience, paying with both my time and my money.

It's not just me, and it isn't just food.

In the digital ad world, we're seeing a similar change in the way progressive brands are reaching their audiences. Similar to the impetus behind the whole food movement, to assume that people want ads and brand messages delivered easy, fast, or cheap is a mistake. It's also careless to presume that customers use your product just like you use them — to serve an immediate need that's ultimately replaceable or disposable. Some people are in it for the long haul. Loyalty is part of being human.

Our desire to forge connections and form attachments isn't going away.

Disruption in the food scene.

Over the past decade or so, we've seen a new movement — a paradigm shift, if I may. As consumers become much more interested in what ingredients they're putting onto our plates, we also seem to be drawn back to the more tactile, social experience of growing and preparing our own food from scratch.

The farmer's market has experienced a steady resurgence. Why? Well, many of us want to know where our food was grown, when it was picked, even what the soil was treated with. But there's something else, too. People also like the community of Farmer's Markets.

This new trend completely upsets the rules of play — that people want food to be cheap, fast and easy. Sure, lots of people still do. But the biggest revelation of all seems to be that — gasp! — we're all different. 'Consumers' are not a giant morphous lump that heaves and lurches to and fro. We're individuals.

The food market, therefore, is a sum of its individual parts — people. With mouths and brains and opinions and values. A desire to feel connected.

Yesterday's campaign was about advertising. Today's campaign is about authenticity.

And people are different from each other.

Something similar is happening in the ad world. The current customer brand relationship (if you could call it that) of is on the precipice of a major upset. And the tide change is already well underway.

Banner blindness, peak content and general fatigue.

Have you noticed it's getting harder and harder to drive conversions? Noticed that your blog is getting less traffic, or your Facebook Likes seem to have plateaued? What's wrong?

People are tired of irritating ads. Facebook has lost its lustre for many, partly because of the ad noise. If you get an interstitial popup ad on your mobile phone, do you immediately search for the [X] in the top right hand corner without even reading the message? Me too.

So why isn't anyone listening?

Well, some brands are. And to the winners go the spoils.

InVision, a SaaS product for designers, recently released a feature film, called Design Disruptors(our company hosted a community screening last night) The film follows some of the biggest movers and shakers in design today, as they discuss the state of the industry and contemplate the future. The InVision app isn't mentioned once (until the outtakes). And why not?

Because InVision understands that it's more important for people to trust you than to buy you. Buying comes in time. InVision knows that if designers watch the film and feel impressed, they'll do their own homework and figure out who InVision is and what they make. They give their audience enough credit to not insult them with a sales pitch (well...until the outtakes, but nobody has to watch those anyway). It's probably no coincidence that the InVision Blog also gets over a million hits a month.

It's a big leap of faith, you might be thinking, making a million-dollar film and barely mentioning your brand.

Or is it? For a little perspective, a 30-second Super Bowl ad costs a reported $5 million. That's the price you pay if you want to talk to EVERYONE for half a minute. Or, for a fraction of that cost, you could talk to a few thousand people, 100% of whom belong to your target market, for an hour.

The Oreo #SnackHacks campaign did something similar, with presumably a much smaller price tag, when they took notice of how a customer used a fork to dip a cookie in milk. The brand, who was actively listening to its customers, noticed. Oreo parlayed that little uploaded Twitter photo into a viral campaign that got people swapping stories and pictures, bonding over a shared experience.

Now the cookie has its own web series on YouTube.

Customers are unique flowers, not soybean crops.

The decentralization of our food system was borne from the renaissance of the individual. The farmer, the conscious consumer. Big Food realized that in order to stay relevant, they had to make a change to accommodate this. This is why we see large grocery chains forging deals with small farms, local brands appearing on the shelves of a national chain.

Customers are not a soybean crop you can spray n' pray, water and harvest year after year. You can't meddle with their DNA, making them hungrier, or thirstier, or more likely to love you (at least not yet).

Your customers are people who crave meaning. They have an inherent need for community and choice. You can't Monsanto your way to victory here.

You need to start a conversation.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma,famed food journalist, activist and author Michael Pollan says, " The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway".In the world of advertising, perhaps a conversation is the place where a brand can meet its audience halfway.

A conversation is a dialogue about something that people can connect with or relate to (hint: it's not your product. Maxi pads didn't come up once in the Always Like a Girl campaign). InVision's distribution strategy for Design Disruptors— community screenings — gets groups of creatives together to chat design and industry on a local level. Patagonia Provisions' Unbroken Grounddiscusses our relationship with food. Love them or hate them for reasons I won't get into now, Dove and Always inspired conversations around feminine empowerment on social media with their respective engagement campaigns.

In a non-GMO nutshell, smart brands find something interesting to talk about, and build out a space where people can congregate over shared vision — like we did at our Design Disruptors community screening, with 200 creative professionals from around the city.

It seems the sun may be setting on traditional digital advertising. Engagement and conversation are the new, old thing.

Now it's time to dig in.

Categories: ALL, Marketing

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