Beyond ship and blip

In this age of immediacy, when short-termism rules, advertising could do worse than (re)learn some lessons from the product and platform builders

Among those involved in the development of digital products and solutions, the argument often goes that advertising is a fire-and-forget solution, while building products and platforms is about building (and reiterating) sustainable solutions. Campaigns come and go; platforms are "built to last".

And, indeed, within the tiny world of adland, it is easy to find evidence of a fixation with "ship and blip".
Thanks to the immediate feedback loop of all things digital, our fixation with the short term has been turbocharged. We ship. And then look for evidence of buzz. We count the views, "likes", shares, +1s, pins, comments, Tweets, retweets, downloads, links, follows, clicks and buys. And then we move on to the next bright shiny thing.

Our new fixation with so-called "real-time marketing", with its promise of "real-time optimisation", is going to do nothing to encourage long-term thinking. As the novelist and cultural observer Douglas Rushkoff has recently argued, immediacy is more and more the central defining characteristic of our culture: "Our society has reorientated itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real-time and always-on. It’s not a mere speeding up… It’s more of a diminishment of anything that isn’t happening right now. So much so that we are beginning to dismiss anything that is not happening right now – and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is."

Indeed, so short is our collective horizon that work that forms part of a long-running campaign struggles to be rewarded by creative juries.  So, perhaps the product and platform builders have a point. Except that those who believe advertising is a ship-and-blip, fire-and-forget business fundamentally misunderstand how effective advertising creates profit.

For we know that sustainable value is built over the long term. We know that pricing improvements are more likely to drive profit growth than volume growth alone. We know that pricing improvements take longer to effect than volume increases. We know that the most profitable campaigns are those that drive both incremental volume and the strengthening of margins.

And while short-term (ie. temporary) volume effects can be achieved through discount pricing, offers,
incentives or new product features, we know that longer-term effects, such as share growth or reduction of price sensitivity, demand creating, sustaining and strengthening long-term memory structures.

Data from the likes of the IPA’s Databank is there for inspection by anybody who cares to look. So while some might tell us that campaigns only ever result in short-term blips, we know that effective campaigns actually work by driving sustained volume increases and reduced price sensitivity. It is the curve that matters, not the blip.

And if we cannot grasp the necessity of long-term thinking for profitable advertising, it is small wonder that agencies struggle to make the move into the development of products and platforms that have a real, enduring role in people’s lives.

Rather than thinking in terms of campaigns, perhaps we should all be adopting a platform and product mentality.

Rather than stop-start spurts, we should be thinking of sustained engagement with the consumer.

Rather than chasing "awareness", we should be finding ways to create value for people.

Rather than just looking for short-term spikes (in buzz, "conversation" and sales), we should be looking for evidence that we are driving sustained growth.

Rather than counting the mute evidence of exposure and interaction, we should be using interaction as an active and ongoing source of genuine consumer understanding.

And rather than thinking in terms of temporary audiences that come and go, we should be thinking ofaccumulating audiences over time.

Much has been made of the difference between the product and its advertising, and much silly nonsense ("advertising is what you do when you don’t have a good product") peddled. But when we look to what makes for effective, profitable advertising, we see that it is not so divorced from good products and platforms. Both are long-term activities.

It is, of course, an inevitable feature of a world of finite budgets and an ever-expanding array of possibilities and disciplines that vested interest set into competition all the disciplines, products and approaches we are now presented with.

But recognising the shared timeframes of advertising and platforms serves to remind us that they need not be antithetical endeavours. It reminds us that sustained mental (and, with it, physical) availability is as useful and valuable to people as products that meet their needs or wants. Advertising, in other words, is a fundamental part of a product’s manifestation and value in the real world.

It really is time for a more holistic perspective on marketing, for a more vigorous rejection of short-termism. And it is perhaps time that we gave up on the "campaign" mindset and adopted the perspective of long-term platform-building.

Martin Weigel is the head of planning at Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam

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