Harry Herber sees where the industry has to go – but can’t see it changing fast.
If I rewind to my youth, the ad industry was a very different kettle of fish to what it is today. And if I had to put my finger on what the fundamental differences are, I’d say there are two:
- Clients believed in advertising.
- Clients respected a media agency’s opinion, input and output.
Do clients still believe in advertising? Well, is the client of 2015 smarter than the client of 1975? I don’t believe so. But I hasten to add I don’t believe they’re any less astute. I think the consumer revolution or evolution, depending on how you look at it, has come into its own. In 1975, there was no television. But a couple of years later, after TV came to South Africa, ads for new products were allocated only 12 flightings a year. That is right, either two bursts of six spots or one ad a month. Truth is, the results from that were often phenomenal.
Consumers lapped up TV. Hell, restaurants closed on Tuesday nights because the population was watching Dallas. The Star launched the Tonight section to give readers what they wanted. It was garbage about the TV garbage. But that didn’t stop everyone watching every minute of the three or four hours of TV (50% in English and 50% in Afrikaans) every bloody night. Spot ratings were outstanding, often hitting the 50% mark – of the ‘white’ population, I hasten to add. And we loved the ads. Discussed them and sang the jingles. And despite them only being allocated 12 spots a year, we bought the products.
Plus, the clients were your mates. I worked with Martin Klein at Teltron. He launched – with 12 spots each – the Snackwich, SodaStream and Popcorn Maker. They were all sell-outs. The other division at Teltron sold Betamax VCRs. They were massive machines that no one without a Master’s degree in applied maths could operate. And just how long could they record for? A full hour… Boy, was technology something back then.
In the world of the mid-’70s, advertising worked. It worked because it impressed and engaged with a willing consumer. Clients believed in advertising because the results were there. Advertising was a solution and the agencies delivered. And once you deliver, your opinion is respected.
Time-swipe to 2015.
A different client. A new consumer. A new perspective on advertising. Consumers are no longer mesmerised by advertising. They’re looking for so much more – involvement and dialogue, not monologue. They want to converse and not be addressed. Marketers, advertising folk and communication people recognise this. So, what’s so hard? What’s hard is letting go of the past! Some techniques and ways of doing advertising are archaic and ineffective. The new, novel and different is desired but, in most cases, never implemented – because someone, somewhere has to take responsibility if it doesn’t work. Explain to the powers that be (usually led by the financial director) why there was no TV ad, no full-page in the newspaper or magazine, or what happened to that great billboard down the road. But, honestly, everyone in the room also knows that they weren’t the answers anyway.
We’re on the brink of great things. Technology and innovation is going to sweep up the marketing and communications industry in the next decade. Nothing will stay the same and current methods of communication will appear horribly simplistic and naïve when you look back 10 years from now.
I mean, do you know it’s possible today to find your audience wherever they happen to be on the web, and then follow them, speaking to them at the exact time when they will be most likely to respond to your ads? We can do this by using data about your market’s credit card purchases; their Facebook likes and dislikes; what products they have viewed and bought online and their interests and demographics. Even their location.
Data, coupled with technology, is the new currency and it will fundamentally change the way in which we buy media. We will soon be able to show new car ads on TV only to people whose motor plans are about to run out. We will flight ads for razors on digital billboards when guys with beards walk past and we will serve digital ads with messages that dynamically change, depending on the weather conditions outside. You will see car ads that punt the aircon feature when the temperature is above 25° C and they will punt the vehicle’s safety record in the wet when it is pouring. This will all be in real time and on a mass scale. This is new communication. I’m just not sure the industry is in any way ready or able to deliver it.
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