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
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
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
Advertising wallpaper may meet the client’s need and assuage management
jitters, but surely one could do better. Maybe it is harder to do
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
So maybe the content of newspapers is just better and more
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
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