Expecting More From Advertising

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We all know it. Advertising is something we both love and hate. In this age of multiscreen lifestyles and advancing ad technology, people can be easily reached and served ads no matter when, who and where we are. Advertising has become a bad word, a scapegoat, an all-encompassing culprit that describes all that is wrong with media. Expletives, annoyance and frustrations have all been directed toward the ad form.

There are moments though, which are more rare nowadays, when we are delighted by an ad. Sometimes it happens during the Superbowl. Many times, it happens on Youtube. Occasionally, it catches us while watching TV or listening to the radio. Potentially, it could happen through online banners or in print ads. Frequently, it happens on Instagram and Pinterest. Out-of-home have compelled us to smile. These moments illustrate that ads have the qualities and abilities to connect with us in new and touching ways. Ways that truly resonate with us as human beings. An ad may actually shed its currently ugly facade and show us the gem of a positive message it contains inside.

The derision and obsession of the masses toward advertising extends toward those of us in the advertising world. We get looks from our peers in other professions, implicitly communicating that our industry is evil. People chastise all forms of messages that hint at selling and mistrusts content for its potentially subliminal manipulation of pockets. But people love MadMen and they go as far as wanting to look like the beautiful ad men featured in the show. It is another rendition of the love/hate relationship of people with our industry.

Advertising has a purpose in society. At the most basic, it’s a form of communicating to the masses. It is a vehicle to send a message across a huge number of people. It has achieved many things, such as elected presidents, provided discounts, informed us of a new product or service, reminded us of an event, entertained us, made us laugh, piqued our interest to seek more information. And the list goes on.

I argue that advertising should be pushed to become something better. The old form is passive, aging, and it needs to be disrupted. With changing media behaviors and increasing sophistication in using technology, advertising as we know it is slowly and painfully losing its ability to communicate or persuade. The dialogue is still analog. Advertisers have messages they want to communicate– “Buy this product! It will change your life!”– but what does the viewer get out of this? A waste of time. Something they can disregard. They are incited to feel negativity. There is interruption. Contempt is harbored toward the brand or product or company being featured. They need to run and be left alone. Negative responses to ads means something is amiss and it needs to be fixed.

What if ads possess an intrinsic value for its viewers, and create a two-way benefit both for the communicator and recipient? 

A few ideas that came to mind as I entertained this thought experiment include:

What if each piece of ad is a form of art? The print ad a painting to be hung on the wall, the TV commercial a spot to be recorded and retrieved at a later time, the video ad an inspiring microfilm that can be shared, the out-of-home execution that can be captured into a picture that is worthwhile to keep digitally. With each ad becoming a piece of art, it can transform, inspire, celebrate human skill, encourage appreciation and enrich our lives? Ads will then promote art to the world, making media vehicles like mini-museums that showcase mini art exhibits, digitally or offline.

What if we give viewers the ability to change their lives or others’ through the ad? Can advertising be used for social good, no matter how inane it may sound right now? The question is not will is be possible, but: what is the potential of the ad to do good in this world?

What if the ad is not just juxtaposed by editorial content, but actually becomes the very content? An online banner can feature well-crafted lines of verse that describe a product or service, which could both communicate a selling proposition and inspire at the same time.

What if each digital ad is a dynamic platform for communication between the masses and a company, such that an ad may allow and encourage viewers to type a comment, or share a complaint?

What if each viewers can get value out of each ad they see, so that there is an incentive for them to pay attention and even seek ads to view or watch because they can get something in return? Wouldn’t companies want people to deliberately seek their messages?

What if we allow for the inversion of the process and let the former communicator be the new recipient? Give the people the power to raise their hands and create a dialogue with the company and the company will be tasked to respond, versus the current state where companies push messages with calls to action attempting to get viewers to respond?

The current disruption happening– the recent invention of the DVR that allow us to skip commercials, transformation of print from static pages to dynamic leafs on tablets, etc– these are trends that we should pay attention to. Journalism is not dying; it is evolving. In the same vein, those of us in the advertising industry must evolve with it. New forms of ad technology are being rolled out and this shows the great potential of messages to be communicated to a refined, targeted set of people. To reach the target group at moments when they are receptive to messages. Ads are transformed from interruption to actual communication.

It is up for a reinvention. Let’s peel away the excess brought by the current state of advertising and move toward something more lean and beautiful. To promote the communicator’s core message authentically to those who will listen. This will not only save advertising, but if we let it, it may even touch us.

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