I hate to break it to you, but no-one really cares about your campaign. That’s what I’ve learned since taking a break from the advertising industry.
It has been nearly two months since I stepped away from my tidy senior creative job to enjoy a little me time. I wasn’t expecting it to have quite the impact it has had on the way I see advertising. I can tell you now, we’re all getting lost in one big bubble.
During my time off, I decided to step away from the industry completely and have a proper break from it all. That included switching off social media – my main connection to the ad community. The place where you’re hit with a daily tsunami of "groundbreaking" work, ad of the day, ad of the week, turkey of the month, she said this, he believes that, this panel thinks this work is good, this chief creative officer thinks this work is bad. It’s an endless stream of loud ad chatter. When I did finally pull the plug on it all, I was stunned by just how quiet the voice of advertising became. Because, out in the real world, you hardly notice any of it – even the good stuff.
After a few weeks of becoming a normal person, I realised I had all sorts of other life matters occupying my attention over an ad. Sure, I was looking at ads – they’re everywhere. But they just stopped registering. I quickly became far more concerned with what Prince song to play on my phone. What time I was meeting Jonny for lunch. How much my council tax would change if I moved flats. If you put Messi and Ronaldo in the same team, would that basically complete football? What would a 500,000-capacity football stadium look like? Is it even possible? And could these ads please piss off so I can carry on watching the Tyson Fury documentary?
My mind cared way more about these things than pretty much every ad thrust in front of me. Actually, that’s a lie. One commercial in the US for Burger King genuinely had me considering a trip to their drive-through. It was the usual shot of a burger being flame-grilled, but then I was told I could get a burger, chicken nuggets, fries and a drink for $3.49. That’s an outrageous deal. You’d think Burger King would have tried to push the boat out or something. A mouldy burger (pictured, above)? Not sure that would have done it for me. However, a $3.49 meal deal? Now you’re speaking my language.
Anyway, there I was going about my life for a couple of months, blissfully unaware of all these brands trying to convert me into a sale. Still thinking about my design for that 500,000-capacity stadium. Then, while chilling at home one afternoon, I decided to boot up Twitter and LinkedIn, and see what was going on in the world I’d temporarily stepped away from. Bloody hell. Was I on another planet?
I saw people waxing lyrical about the "change" advertising was making in the world. Tweets about how agencies are revolutionising the way consumers "engage" with brands. And a lot of talk about new work that was sure to make a big splash. I can tell you now – it didn’t.
This world I stepped back into was not even close to reflecting the real world I’d just been living in. Advertising was not changing the world. It was not revolutionising the way everyday people saw brands. For the most part, it was not making a big splash. It was existing – that’s it. But you would have thought from the tsunami of chatter online that advertising was at the forefront of absolutely everyone’s minds. News flash: it really isn’t.
After just a few months of being a normal person, I came to realise just how much of an advertising bubble I’d been living in. Because when your Twitter is full of ad people, and your LinkedIn is full of ad people, and every other night you’re going to a networking event full of ad people, you are constantly surrounded by – you guessed it – ad people. People who weirdly care about ads 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And, soon enough, because every other interaction you have is about advertising, you start to believe, well, everyone must care about and love ads. The truth is that, outside the ad bubble, no-one does. We’re forgetting this.
We’re creating work assuming people will actively look and take interest in it. We assume the beautiful art direction will be admired by Helen in Scarborough as she waits impatiently for her delayed 8.42am train to Bridlington. We assume the four calls to action will stop Daniel in Swindon frantically searching for that hilarious goat video on Twitter. We assume the three core messages and breathtaking cinematography will blow away Maria and Ben in Kenilworth while they desperately rush their three kids through dinner, bath time and bed. We assume it all because we surround ourselves with people who do in fact do that. But they do it because they work in and care about advertising. Consumers are the complete opposite. They couldn’t give a single fuck.
We need to step out of our bubble. Remind ourselves who we’re actually making the work for. It’s not your ad mates, that CCO on social media or the D&AD judges. It’s real people doing real-life things that are way more important than an ad. Real people have the power to tell us if our work is truly successful. They’ll do it by buying what we’re showing. The tricky thing is that, unlike ad people, they have absolutely no interest in even noticing our work.
We need to get out of our world and into theirs. Find out what will get their attention. What makes them tick. What will stop them in their tracks. And when we’ve done that, we need to make sure our concept, art direction, copy and design work so fucking hard that anyone looking at it might just act on it. Because, otherwise, it will just become another ad for ad people by ad people. And, honestly, no-one cares.
Olly Cooper is a freelance senior creative