Adland, Machines And Bullsh*t

Adland, Machines And Bullsh*t

In his latest rail, B&T raconteur and columnist, Robert Strohfeldt, argues that in advertising’s race to the tech-digital-AI Holy Grail we may be missing the point of advertising in the first place…

Machines have been replacing people since the industrial revolution. The pyramids would be knocked up a hell of a lot faster (with much less loss of life) using modern machinery and techniques. (Though it could be argued that the build quality would not be improved upon – check out inner city Sydney units built in the past decade).

Moving from the industrial to the information age, we are now experiencing machines (computers) taking over the thinking once done by people at an ever – increasing rate. And there is no argument that computers are much faster and more accurate than people.  They are also a hell of a lot cheaper and don’t carry the “baggage” that many people bring to a job. (Never had to fire a computer for making an unwanted pass at the photocopier).

As computers evolved, they have become smaller, faster and permeated virtually every aspect of our lives.  We now have a generation who have not experienced life without computers.

A function of our digital world is the volume of data and information produced – way too much for a person with a calculator to interpret.

In 2017, IBM estimated that: “Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. (10 with 18 zeros) To put that into perspective, 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone – and with new devices, sensors and technologies emerging, the data growth rate will likely accelerate even more.”

I didn’t bother checking the figure for 2019 – it sure hasn’t decreased. Without information, you are running blind, but when does it get to the point there is so much information/data between you and the consumer that you are blinded, in a different way?

An article from Marketing Weekly talked about the need for marketing “specialists”, that marketers can no longer be “generalists. They need to specialise in SEO, Data, Digital, blah, blah. Blah:

“We’ve structured the marketing with agile teams in order to be able to respond to things like changing weather; or when products sell out online we are able to respond really quickly in terms of the content we’re serving up to customer, making sure we’re contextually relevant through channels,” explains a marketing director of clothing and home, speaking to Marketing Week.”

I find it hard today to know if someone is serious, or just taking the piss. You need a specialist to provide “content” to ensure contextual relevance through the channels to tell customers you are out of stock? They cannot be serious? And the “changing weather” requires a highly trained content specialist to ensure that something such as the forecast of rain is communicated in a contextually relevant manner.

The term “Silos” has been around for quite some time now – evolved with “digital marketing”. The volumes of data and information assaulting marketers is a major reason given for marketing departments to become comprised of specialists. (With little or no communication between them.)

“What do you do?” – “I am a Social Media expert”

“And you?” – “Oh, I analyse the data”

“And your role?” – “SEO” followed by “I specialise in activations”, “My role is EDM”, “Customer experience is my area of specialty”.

Two issues:

  • Marketing is not “rocket science”. Yes, it has supposedly become more “scientific”, but the reality is that it is not beyond a person of reasonable intelligence to be able to understand the key issues and conclusions derived from each Silo.
  • Who looks at the big picture? Someone specialising in any one of the many different disciplines marketing has been split into, has bugger all an idea of how anything outside of their area works.

In the past five years, the emphasis has been on machines taking over more and more roles.  The focus has been on developing machines (algorithms) that can take over the roles of people. (Customer service/satisfaction/X or what ever term used is a hot button now. Yet the more machines replace people the worse the customer service becomes.)

Again, quoting from Marketing Week, it seems we have reached the point of specialisation when marketers are “discovering” that design is a strategic component. “But design can be the creative glue within your organisation. And it can add significant value to shareholders and consumers’ lives because the core skills of a designer are about problem solving… It frustrates me that the industry doesn’t realise we can act strategically.”

Just one of the many functions of design is in creation of strategic brand assets, Marketing 101: The Golden Arches, Three- Pointed Star, Nike Swoosh – the list is endless. (Now referred to as “distinctiveness” and being is presented as something marketers know little about.)

We are pumping so much data and information into marketing departments, 95 per cent of it useless but excellent in hiding the gold. People in marketing today don’t see consumers, they just see information. But an algorithm will give them the answers they seek. (Even though they have no idea about the deductions made in any algorithm they use.)

And IT people are busy developing machines that will write surveys and produce results, write ads and do A/B tests – one slight problem that goes way back to a computing basic

Shit In = Shit Out

Ask a media person to explain the algorithm that plans a client’s media. This is no criticism of them, they are not programmers, but neither are programmers media people. Very easy for important information to be lost in the translation.

We can’t go backwards; machines are the future. It is how we interact with them. But we need to know what the machine is doing, rather than be a sidekick.

For as long as I can remember, advertising (and marketing) has been described as “Science meets Art”.

The “science” has become more complex, to the point where some believe it now replaces art i.e. AI used to create “content” (have trouble using this ambiguous term) and advertising.

Have we reached the point where so many in the industry believe creativity can be formularised? The topic of creativity is rarely written or spoken about.

Every second day someone gives an interview, a speech or writes an article about “how advertising has changed”. If not about an algorithm that does everything but pick your nose and scratch your arse, they talk about “alternatives” to traditional advertising. (Should drop the word “traditional”. Digital media contains advertising. As a publisher, there are 2 ways to make money. Subscription and advertising. Many have tried exclusively using the former, only to discover that some advertising revenue is still required if the business is to remain solvent.)

But 99 per cent of the time these interviews, articles, speeches etc. are self- serving. Their aim is not to provide objective and educational information, rather to push their own barrow.

In a recent article, a very young CEO said:“I am a big believer that experiences can have more of an impact on an audience rather than traditional advertising.”

Wow, what an earth-shattering observation! Those of us who cut our teeth on traditional advertising believed that say, a retailer’s ads were all that mattered. Customers see the ad, go to the store and get treated like shit but will continue to be a loyal customer?

He goes on to say “Traditional advertising, if you look back 20 years, was all about shouting as loud as you could through traditional TV, radio and print. Push that message as loud and far and wide as you can and hopefully that resonates. The below the line approach these days is trying to create really genuine inspirational moments for people that sort of resonates. (Love the “sort of”).

A few observations:

  • He knows fuck all about traditional advertising. TV still provides the largest return on ad spend. And has he only experienced advertising that relies on wide reach and being loud?
  • If you want people to go somewhere and experience “a really genuine inspirational moment”, you either advertise or contact them directly. He is quick to dismiss all traditional advertising as loud and ineffective but ignores the fact consumers today are inundated with direct messages from advertisers. Junk mail (hard copy or electronic) is not spoken about.
  • Times have changed but the bullshit remains. “A really genuine inspirational moment”. Fucking hell. People are lucky to experience this a handful of times in their life and it sure as hell never comes from some commercial event.
  • Finally, he works for an experiential/event company. So, anything outside of the services his companies sell is bullshit.

At least he did not mention algorithms.

It must be very hard for people starting out in the industry today. The amount of bullshit has grown exponentially over the past 20 years. They are inundated with so much information, the majority of which is rubbish.

Algorithms and earth- shattering experiences. I know I am getting close to the end of my career, because I can still remember when advertising agencies made ads. Fucking great ads. Not many today would know of The Campaign Palace, Saatchi & Saatchi (Before the M&C split) or the original MoJo.  (With Alan Morris and Alan Johnson). A shame. If you are fed shit, then shit becomes the accepted norm.

The “art” has all but disappeared.


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Robert Strohfeldt

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