Most Ads Suck, Now What?

More and more people are migrating to what they think is an ad-free experience.

You want proof?  Well, many of our behaviours are telling. For example:

Instead of tuning into the radio, people are turning on a Podcast (like ours).

At the gym, folks are paying to listen to music ad free on a variety of platforms.

Ad blockers are all over the place, so you won’t see ads at all if the blocker is working.

And when day turns to night, for chilling or other reasons, folks turn on their streaming service of choice and enjoy an ad free evening for the low, low price of subscribing, which keeps going up and up with very little customer blow back.

As for social media, we all know ads are served to us based on our behaviour, meaning an algorithm is making an informed guess of what we might dig. That’s close to working, but when you know how low the engagement rates are, it’s more a numbers game than anything else.

And anyone who’s paying attention knows the traditional advertising media mix, if not dead, is certainly wavering on the brink of irrelevancy.

Network TV, commercial, pre-programmed radio, and mass market print media are struggling to be relevant given that all of these platforms are dependent on ads to create content that must appeal to advertisers first, even more so than it appeals to viewers, listeners, and readers.

That model, by its very nature, loops out the viewer who wants more and more content that suits them, however pernicious, dubious in origin or downright evil in expression or intent.

Fact is, people fucking hate most ads, cuz most ads are worth hating.

Sure, Super Bowl ads are cool and generate plenty of hype and traditional media coverage … and the ad industry loves to reward itself for the brilliant creative that gets pumped out in support of the new and improved cheese puff, noodle doodle chewing gum, oxidizing laundry soap and gracing the processed aisle of your local store.

What we continue to see out there is worth ignoring. Apart from how depressing a lot of the content is and with due respect to the annual orgiastic Super Bowl extravaganza, advertising in a general sense is largely stupid, clichéd bullshit, it’s ugly as hell, noisy as hell and all too often hucking products and services that are just as shitty.

But … to quote that infamous circus freak promoter PT Barnum, there’s a sucker born every minute and flashy, even crappy ads, however annoying, target suckers.

A more current observation from an ad “genius” of the golden age of advertising (when doctors promoted cigarettes) is that in the absence of any real intrinsic value in your offering, pump up the production value.

And suckers love production value!

But those sucker minutes are now down to 5 or 8 seconds on YouTube, down to 15 seconds on TikTok and disappearing from outdoor ads that all too often add nothing to the skyline but another dull corporate message about your banking choices.

If you believe some researchers and academic types, apart from poor, unsophisticated people who have no choice about being subjected to ads because they can’t afford to block them or subscribe their way out of them, the rest of us glitterati are increasingly tired of being subjected to bad ads, lame promotions and uninspiring corporate messaging that numbs the skull with platitudes. And besides, ads don’t work on us anyhow, right?

That’s what the people say.

But people, even smart, affluent ones, are full of shit.

Everyone says they ignore ads. Bullshit.

Everyone says ads don’t work. Bullshit.

The sad truth is that so much of our buying behaviour is locked in so most of the ads we see are largely meant to reinforce our loyal behaviour, so they don’t have to be exciting or daring.

Just reassuring.

Why? Because branding and advertising is like a magic mirror we stare into that talks back and tells us what we want to hear, shows us what we want to see. And when we see it, we’re reassured, comforted and compelled to act, even advocate for our choices. Violently, in some cases!

Because we’re not exactly rationale creatures. We are rationalisers who can justify our compulsive behaviour. Like storming the American capitol on January 6th or running down innocent people in London, Ontario.

Compulsion is what too often drives the success of products, services, and ideas that, even in a marginally better, more enlightened world, should have never existed in the first place – like cigarettes, nuclear weapons or racial hatred.

Big time advertisers and their hench-people, in the ad and influence industries, count on that compulsive default.

So, if you’re a medium-sized outfit that offers something worthy, how do you cut through the clutter? How do you generate customer engagement that will turn your customers into advocates?

Well, it’s kinda simple, but it can be hard as hell at times. The good news is its worth it!

Start by changing your mind about your brand. It’s not the logo, the website, the ads or social content. Your brand is a community that solidifies around your ability to consistently deliver on the promises you promote. Full stop.

Promise something worthwhile, deliver consistently and, assuming you are offering something worthy and sustainably (note that does not include hatred), you’ll be building your brand – and your business -by making it part of your business and your offering to encourage, recognize and reward the contribution and participation of existing customers who will remain loyal and best of all, continue to refer new customers to your business.

Their experiences and their storytelling of that experience, are what drives conversions, enhances loyalty and grows the brand community, thereby growing your business.

So those people won’t hate your ads.

They will welcome your ads and your content, not as mere observers or fans of it … But because they are members of the brand community that actually has an ownership stake in that brand … trusting that you’ll keep looking after for them.

Do that and your ads and content will always find a receptive audience.

It’s tough out there … don’t make it any tougher by adding more shit to the world. Good people, the ones you want in your brand community, deserve better.

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Wayne S. Roberts

The Globe and Mail calls Wayne S. Roberts "an ad industry provocateur." Maybe its because he's never seen the point of playing by the ad game rules that place awards above results, while offering spec work instead of real value to win accounts. Throughout his career, Wayne has maintained a defiantly independent streak characterized by his insistence that agencies must be honest, direct and passionately invested in their clients' success. His pioneering work in espousing the brand community perspective has been a touchstone of his belief that branding is more than just logos, websites and ad campaigns; it is the fundamental way human beings connect with each other to create communities and launch movements that have changed our world.

Wayne S. Roberts has 66 posts and counting.See all posts by Wayne S. Roberts