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Why watching an ad break doesn’t have to feel harder than doing a chore

Rory Gallery says local ad agencies risks disrespecting their audience, and that a mindset shift is needed if creatives really want to compel customers.

Have you heard of Hugh McIIvanney? If not, then pull up a pew.

McIIvanney was a journalist, a pretty special one at that. So, it’s hard to sum up a man of so many great words, in just a few.

According to a global study on ‘Newspaper writing’ which covered everything from World Wars, to 9/11, to the present day, he is “probably the best writer ever to apply words to newsprint.”

A superlative bestowed upon someone whose job it was to report on sport rather than war or crime.

His undoubted strength was that he respected his audience’s desires. McIIvanney recognised that there were lots of other media vying for people’s attention. Often writing about the same subject.

He set out to ensure that readers were drawn to his words over others. Bringing magic to every story or opinion piece which graced the pages of the news.

“People hate ads… this should be the most important part of every brief.”

Ross Hardiman, Creative & Director, Misfits, LinkedIn Post

Nicklas Bendtner was a Danish footballer who played for Arsenal. He had undoubted potential but he held an inflated sense of self-importance. He once proclaimed he was the world’s best footballer.

It’s rumoured that at the age of 22, he (unsuccessfully) asked out the Princess of Denmark who was 12 years his senior.

He even once changed his shirt number at Arsenal from 26 to 52. It was suggested that he had doubled his number because he thought he was twice the player he was before, and the world should know.

Which is an interesting thought when we contrast it with Hugh McIIvanney’s eloquent description of Nicklas Bendtner: “If he was half as good as he thinks he is, he’d be twice the player he actually is.”

Over Christmas, my four-year old daughter asked me what my job was.

I told her I make ads.

She responded by telling me that “ads were really annoying”.

Following my daughter’s assertion, I did what all responsible fathers should do and set out to prove my child wrong.

I’m not naive enough to think that there aren’t bad ads out there. But as it turns out she gave me a reality check and reminder that I (and us all) regularly need.

Research told me only one in 10 Brits pay attention to TV, OOH or streamed ads (Source: YouGov). Similarly, Kantar found that only 11 percent of the UK population like advertising. The other 89 percent either said “they didn’t give a toss or they disliked it”.

Research Special commissioned showed that Aotearoa is no different. 87 percent of people don’t look forward to watching the ad breaks. And many would prefer to endure some of the worst things imaginable rather than be subjected to watching an entire ad break:

  • 66 percent would rather do chores.
  • 18 percent would rather go to the dentist.
  • 14 percent would rather streak at a rugby game.
  • And one in 10 Kiwis would rather test positive for Covid-19.

The protagonists of this article are an appropriate allegory for the world of ads.

Bendtner, a talent who overestimated his own importance in the minds’ of others. McIIvanney, a talent who never took his audience’s attention or desire to be entertained for granted.

One craved respect, the other gave it.One had an effective career, the other didn’t.

Coincidentally, McIIvanney’s musings on Bendtner also led me to my own contention on our current status as an industry: If ads were half as good as we think they are, they would be at least twice as noticeable and liked than they actually are.

I’ve been quite deliberate in my use of the words ‘audience’ and ‘people’.

The use of the word ‘consumers’ in our industry often misleads us into thinking that people want to consume our advertising. Perhaps, we need stop conflating ‘consumers’ with our ‘audience’.

They might be the same person, but their mindsets are fundamentally different. One is seeking out products and services. The other is more likely to be seeking out entertainment and news.

This implication of this is that we need to assume that people aren’t paying attention or that they will like what we have to say.

So maybe it’s time for the work we put into the world to be less Bendtner, and for us to be more McIIvanney (not to be confused with Machiavellian).

That starts with respecting our audience.

These are probably the words that should hang over and inspire us for every brief. Otherwise, I fear we may need to take the advice of another of our generation’s great wordsmiths.

I know what you’re thinking.

Yes, I’m talking about my fellow countryman Ronan Keating.

Who would probably tell us if we failed to listen to this story’s moral…

…that we’d say it best, if we said nothing at all.

About Author

Rory Gallery is Chief Strategy Officer at Special New Zealand.

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