When I was a kid, there were commercials for days: Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers, L’eggo my Eggo, public service announcements (“This is your brain on drugs.”).
Constant interruptions to TV shows, sports and movies was the annoying norm (unless you were friends with that one lucky kid who had HBO).
Today, the list of ways to spend our time is virtually limitless. In a world where you can do so much, network television – once the default ad market – is simply not as attractive to consumers as it once was. In fact, at $88B, digital advertising spend eclipsed broadcast and cable TV ads last year. Plus we now know the wonder that is an ad-free entertainment experience (e.g., Netflix, HBO Go, Prime Video), and we’re willing to pay for it.
So why are so many brands still operating like it’s the 80s and 90s – with impersonal, intrusive, generic advertising?
Let’s unpack why this doesn’t work – and what needs to change.
It’s a new normal…Smart companies are using data to optimize our experiences for the better – and in the process, they’ve permanently reset our expectations. In the age of the personalized Amazon homepage, we expect curation. In the world of tailored Spotify playlists, we expect relevancy. We no longer have to tolerate time sucks. As our curated Netflix queues beckon, we’re only too happy to wave goodbye to irrelevant, forgettable advertising.
Meanwhile, the money-only model is dead. It used to be that any brand with enough money and a reasonably creative ad agency could develop a decent campaign and generate some results, whether it was reach or revenue. Today, it’s no longer about money – or, more accurately, no longer just about money. It’s – once again – about data.
As we increasingly cut the cord and move away from traditional advertising mediums (e.g., network television, newspapers, and out of home), digital platforms like Facebook, Google, and Instagram have become advertising’s prime real estate. These platforms are where consumers willingly and enthusiastically congregate, sharing their information freely and in depth with every like, connection, comment, and click.
And these platforms reinforce curation by rewarding ad content that resonates. If brands aren’t producing sticky, relevant content – as measured by clicks, time spent with the ad, how much video is watched, bounce rate, etc. – the algorithm will de-prioritize your content, pushing it into a virtual no man’s land. You’re in the penalty box and out of the game.
One platform stands out in this brave new world. In this space, Instagram is redefining the standard for advertising with a highly relevant, semi-optional, entirely data-backed model, one that encourages delightful product discovery. The platform mines the rich information it has to construct ads that are hyper-relevant to individuals, not faceless, coarse-grained demographic groups.
In fact, Instagram is so good at this, it’s virtually a personal shopper for me; I’ve tried and liked a number of products based on their ads. And they’ve all been small, direct-to-consumer shops that, because of the platform, are able to build a solid business that competes with traditional retail. I’d love for Instagram to take it one step further and create an entire space within the app for curated recommendations.
Instagram has also savvily integrated its advertising. Yes, ads are unavoidable but they’re beautifully woven into the aesthetic of the platform. Uninterested? No problem – you can scroll right past them. Engagement is semi-optional with the power mostly centered in the hands of consumers.
Brands must transition quickly. That’s the critical point: time is of the essence. Customers today are more discerning than ever before. With every Netflix and Spotify subscription, with every call to Comcast or Dish Network cancelling service, they’re removing access to the normal avenues of approach. They’re saying, you can’t get to me anymore.
The advertisers that win in this landscape know the identities of their customers (with their permission) and their associated attributes. They pay for the privilege of finding you and me on the social networks we favor – and use that data intelligently and responsibly to encourage discovery. To surprise and delight us. They tailor the approach with deals, promotions, and outreach that’s meaningful to a person. No more marketing by monolith. These savvy brands get granular – and consumers reward them for it.
Bottom line? The best way to make great ads is to know the person you’re making them for, period.