Want Consumers To Pay Attention To Your Ads? Make Them Meaningful.

A few weeks ago I ran across this article titled “Four Reasons Why We Choose to Watch Ads”. Seemed like a smart read because I always love to see simple lists about advertising.

So I click the link and jump to the four reasons. The first thing the author claims is that we watch ads when “They look and feel like content.” Uh oh. The bait and switch version of advertising: Let’s fool the consumer into watching our ads. A very, very poor start.

Maybe there’s some good value in number two. So I read: “They’re Engaging”. Okay, I’ll buy that. It is important that ads be watchable, engaging, interesting, nicely paced, etc.

On to reason three: “They’re (relatively) brief”. Hmmm. Having created a highly successful half hour infomercial about drill bits that drew 1.0 ratings (ratings mind you – not share) and drove sales of a few million units, I’d have to disagree. Much better to use the analogy I read on a LinkedIn board. When asked how long a man’s legs should be, Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said “long enough to reach the ground”. How long should an ad be? Long enough to succeed – not one second longer or shorter.

Let’s finish off with reason #4: “They’re Viewable.” His point is that there are a great many avenues for distributing ads right now (like YouTube) where you can put a lot of work into an advertisement and never have anyone see it. Agreed. If no one sees your ad then no one can be influenced by it. This is a BIG problem.

Two out of four may not be bad. But then I get thinking. Something’s missing. Something rather critical. What could it be?

That’s Right…Saying Something Meaningful!! (How Could We Forget?) This is the single most important reason (by far) that consumers pay attention to ads. But meaning is not only missing from this list, it is missing from most advertising today.

It’s scary that we’re so bad at it – but not unexpected. Consider advertising education. Most J-schools don’t talk about meaning. Advertising programs are often part of “media studies” – not business. That means students are taught that cultural relevance is more important than consumer value or solving business problems.

I don’t think portfolio schools help either. A creative director friend of mine refuses to hire portfolio school grads because they have never been critiqued by a consumer or a client. The feedback that trained them came from their peers (a bunch of other artists) and their instructor (most likely another artist). And none of them evaluate ads the way a consumer does – looking for value.

No Wonder Consumers Hate Advertising. The advertising elite claim that people hate ads because they interrupt them. I have listened to a lot of consumers talk honestly about advertising and I disagree.

What bugs people is being interrupted by meaningless things. In a way, consumers have a BS meter that detects genuineness and meaning – even if that meaning is only useful to someone else and not themselves. We’d rather be interrupted by an ad that’s clearly meaningful than an ad that’s designed to win a creative director a Cannes Lion.

When You Deliver Meaning It Is Noticed. At my DRTV agency we have a process that demands meaning in our ads (in part because you can’t get measurable direct response without it). We are constantly reminded how important this is to consumers.

My executive producer got talking with someone and John casually mentioned something about Kobalt Tools (a client of ours). This guy launched off on a story about this ad he’d seen the other night. It showed this tool and it explained it – answered his questions, made him care about it, fit it into his world. Best ad he’d ever seen was what he called it.

What he’d seen was our spot for the Kobalt Speedfit. What got him so excited? Our ad told him things he cared about. But even more, he’d spent a lifetime bombarded with entertainment oriented drivel – meaningless to anyone. So seeing something meaningful excited him – a lot!

The best ad – a DRTV spot. Take that sexy Old Spice hunk!

Problem is That Entertainment is More Profitable for Agencies. It’s much easier (and more profitable) to hire a bunch of young creatives that put out “hot ideas” than it is to hire savvy teams that deliver meaningful messages. So many clients accept this meaningless work that there’s little hope of client pressure correcting the error that profits and laziness put in place.

But that shouldn’t matter. It’s our jobs to change the world one campaign at a time. So, the next time you’re evaluating your creative brief, creative concepts, scripts, production plans or finished work, ask the really important question: is this meaningful? If not, head back to the drawing board.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

About Doug Garnett
Growing retail based businesses through television, DRTV, and all forms of video. Doug is a strategist, executive producer, director, author, & teacher.

One Response to Want Consumers To Pay Attention To Your Ads? Make Them Meaningful.

  1. Joanne Lewis says:

    Great article. Thanks for sharing it.

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