Brands should aim for the less ordinary
A view from Gen Kobayashi

Brands should aim for the less ordinary

When was the last time you were briefed for "ordinary"?

Just as no self-respecting client would ask for ordinary ideas from its agency, no self-respecting creative or strategist would ever consider their work to be ordinary.

But there are indications that this is exactly what is happening to our industry.

Kantar TGI tracks the public’s perception of advertising each year and reports that in 2018 only 13% of TV viewers agree to the statement, "I enjoy the adverts as much as the TV programmes" compared to 23% in 2006 and 30% back in 1991. Even more concerning is that according to Kantar TGI, almost 50% of Brits agree to the statement that "Nearly all TV ads annoy me".

It’s no wonder why we’ve seen the rise of ad avoidance. According to IPG Media Brands, 65% of all YouTube users skip ads. That’s over 1.1 billion people opting to opt-out of our communications.

And it’s not just advertising that is suffering. A study of 51 million social posts from 40,000 brands across 130 industries between 2017 and 2018 showed a decline in engagement ratios per brand in almost all channels. Average interactions per post per 1,000 followers decreased 25% on Instagram, 8% on Facebook and 7% on LinkedIn.

We aren’t doing enough to engage in channels that have historically given brands a strong opportunity to engage consumers.  We need to begin accepting that there’s a growing climate of convention where people are switching off to what we produce and the ordinary seems to be displacing the extraordinary.

Why is this? It would be all too easy for an agency executive to point the finger at "squeezed budgets" or "procurement". But perhaps we need to look closer to home. A recent post from planning director, Thomas Wagner, pointed out that our industry is judging effective advertising against entirely average benchmarks. What is deemed to be a "liked" ad by viewers is only scoring of 3.5 out of 5, and a "well branded" ad is only being identified correctly by 40% of viewers.  

Our standards have slipped and as our standards slip, so does the value our industry is charged with making.

According to the Advertising Association, the UK spent £5.4bn on TV advertising last year. If on average, only 40% of ads we’re producing are being correctly remembered and identified, you could say the industry is wasting around £3.24bn a year on TV advertising that is not being correctly recalled.

Any hotshot account person will tell you that the conditions for extraordinary work to thrive require a strong and trusting relationship between client and agency. But the average CMO tenure in the UK is now just 18 months. Having such short tenures makes it harder than ever today to build relationships where extraordinary work can thrive.

So what should we do? The answers may lie in behavioural science.

Robert Rescorla and Allan Wagner’s research into Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory tells us that response to stimulus was greatly affected by how unexpected the stimulus was in the mind of the test subject.  Simply put, if we expect an outcome and get a very different one, this sticks in our memory. The unexpected lodges in our mind.

When we apply this to marketing communications, the solution is simple; ordinary should be our enemy because ordinary goes unnoticed at best, and actively bypassed at worst.  Not only does the less ordinary get us noticed and talked about, it sets higher standards for the industry to aim for.

You could look at the 65% of all YouTube users skipping ads as the nail in marketing communications coffin, or you could look at it as an irresistible opportunity to help us to stop meeting benchmarks and start defying them with less ordinary thinking. Defying them with communications that score higher than 3.5 out of 5 for "likeability", that more than 40% of people will remember correctly and that less than 1.1 billion people will opt-out of. 

Let’s blast ordinary out of the water and aim for less ordinary in everything we do. 

Gen Kobayashi is head of strategy at Ogilvy UK