OPINION: PINNELL ON ... BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS ADVERTISING

Why does business-to-business advertising seem so dull? One assumes that most readers of Campaign work in, or are associated with, the advertising industry. Whatever people in adland say to describe what they do, I would argue that most are ultimately in business - which means they are business people.

Why does business-to-business advertising seem so dull? One assumes

that most readers of Campaign work in, or are associated with, the

advertising industry. Whatever people in adland say to describe what

they do, I would argue that most are ultimately in business - which

means they are business people.



So, we are part of a target market: businesses selling products and

services to other people in business. Being part of the market, one

would assume that we take a lot of care over the development of

business-to-business communication.



However, a trawl through the business section of any newspaper or

business magazine seems to pick up very few tasty creative morsels. The

net does not capture the undistinguished shoals of ads for management

consultants, investment banks, financial services and dotcoms that seem

to be dot-nothings. Some of these do stand out, but only for their

limited and patronising propositions.



Is the advertising effective? Is it measured? Does it work? What returns

for each advertising pound are delivered in relation to other targets

and media? Until one gets the answers, one is still struck by the

impression that business-to-business is the graveyard of advertising. If

we define a market as ’men in grey suits’, maybe we are,

correspondingly, getting grey advertising.



I am of the view that we should develop a creative idea to appeal to a

main target and then work out how it can be developed to appeal to

different markets, rather than start with a different creative idea for

each market.



But maybe business-to-business work, like trade advertising work, is

delegated to the bowels of the creative department where new talent,

learning their craft, are just too risk-averse and see it as too career

threatening to propose anything other than ’serious and ponderous in

tone’.



Advertising wallpaper may meet the client’s need and assuage management

jitters, but surely one could do better. Maybe it is harder to do

well.



Advertising in the press that seeks to influence rather than just act as

a ’call to action’ is tough. Sometimes people say of TV: ’The ads are

better than the programmes.’ I can’t think of an occasion when someone

has said of a newspaper: ’The ads are better than the news or

editorial.’



So maybe the content of newspapers is just better and more

arresting.



But inherent in this is a challenge. Perhaps the space in business

publications is too cheap and we have allowed ourselves to be wasteful

in terms of having low expectations, response and impact.



Perhaps we have no wooden spoons for poor work to galvanise us into

action or we are too high and mighty to acknowledge what would work in

terms of an appeal - to ourselves. Or perhaps we are suffering from the

starting point of much business-to-business advertising: the tombstone

ads, many of which have the objective of being a public record. Maybe we

just can’t break out from the graveyard.



Raoul Pinnell is the vice-president, global brands and communications at

Shell International



Have your say at www.campaignlive.com on channel 4.



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