Opinion

Are you ready for a world without TV ads?

With a shift to 'John Lewisesque' TV ads, there has been a return to simple, consistent, emotional messages. However, are authors Byron Sharp and Daniel Kahneman leading us off the edge of a cliff? asks Craig Mawdsley, joint chief strategy officer of AMV BBDO.

A world without Tv ads is just around the corner
A world without Tv ads is just around the corner

Now that the dust has settled on Christmas, we have the chance to reflect on what happened in 2014 and look forward to 2015. 

One of the most striking things on the ad agency side of the table last year was the increasing dominance of the Sharp/Kahneman worldview.  Now, as accomplished and well-read marketers, I’m sure you don’t need me to explain what that is, but just in case, I’m talking about How Brands Grow and Thinking Fast and Slow.

Sharp’s work proves that brands grow by reaching mass audiences with simple and consistent messages, and Kahneman’s work gives the theroretical backdrop, by establishing that decision making is emotional and the brain is looking for mental shortcuts.

A planning director at one of the media agencies we work with said to me that he thought ITV should be paying Mr Sharp commission, as the effect of his analysis has been to drive brands to spend more and more in TV. More and more existing and prospective clients are looking for a simple John Lewisesque emotional telly ad to cement their brands in the consciousness of the nation.

In a sense, there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s great to have proper empirical evidence behind the true role and purpose of brand advertising, and I am certainly not disputing the conclusions of the analysis (although it is worth looking at how many retail and telecoms brands he has in database).  No, my concern is what it’s doing to the ad industry’s future prospects of survival.

Looking forwards, going backwards

The Sharp/Kahneman orthodoxy gives us a false sense of security. It enables us to think that everything’s fine and that we can just keep on doing the things that made us successful before the internet arrived to make things complex.

Nowadays, we’re back to writing scripts for TV ads - we have gone backwards

In the first blast of the digital revolution (the pre-Sharp era), we innovated wildly and learned fast.  We gained a lot of new skills, made some mistakes but invented some new models. Nowadays, we’re back to writing scripts for TV ads. We have gone backwards. But it feels fine, because it works.

But one day, we’re going to get blindsided by technology. Anyone worth targeting will buy into ad avoidance services and Apple TV or Chromecast or Netflix or something we haven’t heard of yet will destroy our ability to reach mass audiences through TV, and we will go the way of the record labels.

In some ways, this isn’t your problem. You don’t run an ad agency, and our prosperity is of no consequence to you.

But reflect for a moment on whether you’re ready for the implications of a world without TV ads, and think about whether you are investing the time and money in learning how to apply Sharp’s learning without the power of TV to make it easy.

So let’s make 2015 the year we think about How Brands Grow without TV. You may not have to act on it for a few years, but if you know how to do it, you will have competitive advantage beyond measure.  And hopefully you will see the people who you are currently asking to write TV scripts as the people to learn those skills with.

MEET OUR THINKERS