“People Hate Ads, Yes All Of Them!” Advertising – Are We Deluding Ourselves?

“People Hate Ads, Yes All Of Them!” Advertising – Are We Deluding Ourselves?

He’s back! After a short hiatus, B&T’s regular rabble-rouser, Robert Strohfeldt, returns with his latest column. Sure, people don’t remember any of your ads, Strohfeldt argues, but they would if they were good…

In a recent edition of Marketing Week, Professor Mark Ritson is blunt in his assessment of consumers’ attitudes towards advertising: “Accept it. People hate ads, yes all of them.”

Thirty years ago, I would have given the highly eloquent response of “Bullshit!”.

Anecdotally, I doubt there would be even one person who hasn’t encountered: “Did you see that ad on TV ….?” And the person goes on to provide a quick precise of said ad, though in many instances they cannot recall who it was for. So, bugger getting the name of the advertiser correct, they liked the ad, right?

And during the 1990’s “Funniest TV Ads”, was a half hour programme run at least once a year by one of the commercial TV networks. And these programmes rated “alright”. Though not being in the media department or a media agency, I sometimes wondered how they would present this choice of programming to a client?

“You are running our TV ad in a half hour of WHAT?”

But how could people hate ads when a half an hour of prime- time TV was devoted to showing them and advertisers were paying big money to run their ads in a programme of ads? (Put this way, it does sound kind of kooky and risky. The advertiser is on a hiding to nothing running their ad in a programme of great TV ads.)

And there was the tradition in most agencies of after work drinkies whilst watching that year’s Cannes award winning ads.

And some ads even added to the lexicon. “Not happy Jan”, the great TV ad for the Yellow Pages by one of the great, long lasting agencies. Clemenger.

And if you were around in the 1980’s, you would not just hear, but most likely sang along (after a few) to “Come on Aussie, come on, come on. Come on Aussie come on.” Or responded to “How do you feel?” (bringing to life Walter Mitty sporting moments.) with “I feel like a Toohey’s, I feel like a Toohey’s, I feel like a Toohey’s or two.”

Just as history is divided into BC and AD, we should probably think of advertising as BI and AI – Before Internet and After Internet. (Or BD and AD – Before Digital and After Digital”.)

Although TV seems like an ancient medium to many Millennials, it has not been around that long. And colour TV only came into being in Australia in 1975.  Again, to a Millennial, that is ancient history, for me it was in my teenage years. (As Einstein said, “Everything is relative”.)

It wasn’t until 1988 that TV began broadcasting 24 hours a day. Not that many years prior to the Internet (World Wide Web) becoming publicly available in August 1991.

Most people would be familiar with the phrase “Familiarity breeds contempt”? Though TV began broadcasting in Australia in 1956, through the 1960s, people would stop and watch TV in shop windows. It was still a new and riveting phenomenon. (Even the ads).

Print advertising for a product would often have a large starburst with “As seen on TV”. If it was on TV, then the assumption was

  • You had to have seen it (There was bugger all else to do at night back then, particularly during the week).
  • If it was on TV, it had to be good.

Many of great old TVCs such as “Louie the Fly” and “Happy Little Vegemites” are still referenced

So how can Ritson say “People hate ads”? Quite easily, actually. The past always seems much better than it really was. We often look at the past through rose coloured glasses, with a tendency to skip over, or downplay, the bad.

If familiarity breeds contempt, then inundation leads to outright hostility. And therein lies the problem. Compared to the 80’s and 90’s and even early 2000s, advertising, in the broadest sense of the word, has grown over society in the way weeds grow over an unkept garden.

To be blunt – there is fucking advertising everywhere! Go into a petrol station and there is Pump TV, walk inside and you are assaulted by ads and promotions where ever you look. Your kids school sporting teams are probably sponsored by the local whatever, or the school newsletter has the sponsors/supporters listed.

Last Saturday night at the pub restaurant the male toilet cubicle door had the restaurant menu on it. (Someone should explain to them context).  You cannot escape it. It is everywhere you look. Social media is either comprised of people telling and showing the world what they did and with whom, or a company which thinks that  people will give a toss and read (and believe) a heap of self -serving rubbish about their commitment to the environment, whales & little puppies. As if people don’t have enough to keep them busy, they are going to actively seek out and “consume content” about toothpaste/jam/coffee/tea/margarine/condoms etc.

But mostly, there is just “so much f…..ing advertising” today (using the vernacular).

Ritson quoted from Byron Sharp’s seminal book “How Brands Grow”, that research conducted by the Ehrenberg Bas Institute a couple of years ago found the average consumer could both remember and correctly attribute 16 per cent of TV ads they had been exposed to the previous day.

Or put another way, 84 per cent of the TV advertising dollars were wasted. And many people still rightly state that TV advertising is as good as it gets in terms of platform. (Consider the click through rate of banner ads is 0.6 per cent, or around the failure rate of contraception and half of this is from fat finger syndrome and that 16 per cent is starting to look pretty bloody good.)

On average, a person is exposed to hundred’s, some say thousands, of advertising messages each day. To remember and rightly state 16 per cent of these would be no mean feat.

Research over many years, both pre- and post-digital, shows a strong positive correlation between” liking” an advertisement and correct brand and message recall.

Today’s marketing and advertising is strongly biased to media and data, with the message a poor third. In-depth and complex market research is not required to prove the supposition that people have never been overly fond of advertising.  And as the volume of advertising the population is exposed to has increased to today’s saturation point, there is an across the board negative perception. (With a large per cent being hostile).

Pre-digital the creative/the message, was the sharp end of advertising. Media, account service and production existed for the sake of the creative. Unfortunately, many in creative acted with a corresponding arrogance – a point people who worked in agencies pre-digital would readily attest to.

It is about time that the message, the creative, retook its position. But without the arrogant baggage.


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Robert Strohfeldt

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