A fragile future for advertising

Last week we attended APG's event 'How does advertising work in the 21st Century?’ where Paul Feldwick and Giles Hedger bravely approached and explored their interpretations of the future for advertising within such a fast-moving and competitive multi-media landscape.


We were particularly struck by Paul Feldwick's notion that “advertising must sell itself before it can sell anything else”. We live in a world where omnipresent advertising has become see through, and consumers have become increasingly sceptical of it. Certain brands have started to play to this – for example Oasis' campaign which aims to reach young people in a way that doesn’t seem disingenuous or forced, humorously stating ‘You’re thirsty. We’ve got sales targets’. This tactic directly aligns with Paul's observation that it's important to create advertising that people will tolerate – otherwise it will be ignored, not taken seriously, and brands will struggle to reach people and ultimately suffer. 

Key to understanding the future is to understand the past. The advertising landscape has shifted from a stable one whereby viewers could recognise a clear exchange in terms of the broadcast media that was consequentially available to them (whereas now people are increasingly paying for what they watch), there were tangible boundaries and limits, the possibility of enjoyment, and fundamentally - ignorability. Feldwick’s concern for the future of advertising is that the world of digital defies all of these principles and therefore interrupts the stability of advertising and it's purpose. The amount of data now available to companies and the way they use it to advertise is arguably intrusive, absurd, and not charming. 

Feldwick believes the answer lies in shifting our focus from advertising to creating content people want to consume. Faris Jakob describes the somewhat ambiguous term of 'content' as 'stuff people choose to consume’ - something that is interesting and enjoyable – but also ignorable for those who don’t want to consume it. Therefore, content will work if it’s allowed to work, but if brands lose sight of this, advertising will shoot itself in the foot. The increasing presence of online ad-blockers serves as a perfect example of how society will find a way to actively avoid the intolerable if brands don’t take this mandate seriously.

Shifting focus to content doesn’t mean the essence of brand building has changed - it is still about consistency and creating meaning. Giles Hedger warned the audience of the new landscape being entropic, fast, and fragmented. In order to restore coherence to the course of chaos that we are accelerating towards, he highlighted the importance of long–term thinking and creation of meaning when it comes to brands. Instead of focusing on the short–term goals, activations, and changing messaging whimsically, marketers must remain true to building brands and meaning around them consistently, keeping the human condition at the heart of every strategy.  

At Truth, this very much relates to our approach of thinking about brands and communication – Brands as Stories.  To succeed, brands need to focus on storytelling and create original content that connects with culture.  We believe cultural connectedness is key – being able to tap into culture and gain a deeper connection with people through it. This focus on cultural connectedness and storytelling also enables us to think and act at the higher level of narrative instead of tactical, campaign-focused content.

In order to tell stories that resonate, brands and marketers need to find new ways of gaining deep and rich insight into both people and culture.  As the media landscape changes and technology advances evermore, insight into the human condition has never been more valuable for brands to thrive.