So, what are my predictions for 2016 for the ad landscape in Pakistan? Well, they are more points of hope rather than predictions. Things I hope to see change in the coming year. Will they change or not? Perhaps my magic 8-ball can shed some light on this.
1) Will the market shift focus to digital?
Shake Shake Shake... And the magic 8-ball says: ‘Without a doubt’. With the advent of multi-screen consumption, it is becoming harder to reach audiences using the regular media channels only. The moment an ad appears on their screen, audiences tune out to check their Facebook pages or respond to their Whatsapp messages. Even the way we consume social media is different. There was a time when we read the status updates and tweets, then we started to look at the photos and now it is all about videos. Increasingly, brands are realising that if they are not part of the conversation they cease to exist. It is no longer a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ rather it is ‘out of conversation, out of mind’.
2) Will the new buzzword change from ‘clutter breaking’ and ‘wow factor’ to ‘disruptive’?
Shake Shake Shake... And the magic 8-ball says: ‘Yes’. If brands are to survive, they will have to. You can no longer be clutter breaking to get through to your audience. When we were new to the wonderful world of the World Wide Web, banner ads used to catch our attention. They would pop up and we would look at them. Then we grew accustomed to them and our brains would automatically tune them out – this phenomenon was even given the name of ‘banner blindness’. Even when the ads were in our face, our brains would not process the message, which is as good as not being there. This is becoming increasingly true of most ads. Think of the countless PIP (picture in picture) and scrolls that play on TV during cricket matches. Our eyes are focused on the cricket and the PIPs and scrolls merely offer an annoyance rather than deliver a message. It definitely doesn’t do the brand any good, and even if they deliver on one of the two objectives of communication – awareness – it has the opposite effect on the second objective of creating a favourable brand attitude. More importantly, they don’t grab attention. If we want our communication to work we have to be creative in the way we deliver our communication. To grab attention and become part of the conversation it has to be disruptive. Disruption is the ‘wow factor’ and ‘clutter breaking’ on steroids.
3) In the words of David Ogilvy, we tend to use research like a drunkard uses a lamp post – for support rather than for illumination. Will we finally start to use research for illumination?
Shake Shake Shake... And the magic 8-ball says: ‘Don’t count on it’. DANG! As a strategic planner, I was hoping this would turn out to be true this year. Most brand’s communication is disconnected from the audience. Research is used to support predetermined hypothesis. We test three ads, from which our focus groups select one as the best. We run the consumers’ best liked ad and we are surprised when it fails – we gave consumers what they liked, so why aren’t they buying it?! Well if we had spent a little more time understanding the ‘why’, we would have learnt that the focus group had simply picked the lesser of the three evils. We have to move beyond surveys, interviews and focus groups as being a tick on the checklist of marketing essentials. We have to apply more ingenious ways to understand why a consumer buys. Experiments show that consumers tend to justify a decision even when they do not know why they made it in the first place. How can we expect them to tell us in a survey why they buy something when they don’t even understand it themselves? The world has moved on to more technologically advanced ways of understanding consumer behaviour such as MRI brain scans, pupil dilation, eye tracking, etc., yet we are stuck on surveys and focus groups.
4) Will ad agencies take a stand against the current pitching culture?
Shake Shake Shake... And the magic 8-ball says: ‘Signs point to yes’. It is only a matter of time before agencies realise what a sham the pitching process is. A brand decides that the communication is not working or they want to put pressure on their current agency in order to strike a better deal, and so they call for a pitch. All the agencies under the sun are called in for a massive pitch; they work for days on end, usually on double shifts given that they also have to manage their current clients. Countless hours and money goes into the pitch and in the end the brand usually decides to reselect their current agency at a lower cost. Or the worst case scenario – a new person joins the brand team and wants to hire the agency he or she is used to working with, but has to go through the pitching process. Other countries are adopting a method whereby a third party manages the pitching process to ensure transparency and each competing agency is paid to participate. Something is going to snap soon and this will hopefully lead to a resolution of the ‘pitch problem’.
A brand decides that the communication is not working or they want to put pressure on their current agency in order to strike a better deal, and so they call for a pitch. All the agencies under the sun are called in for a massive pitch. Countless hours and money goes into the pitch and in the end the brand usually decides to reselect their current agency at a lower cost.
5) Will ad agencies become more award focused?
Shake Shake Shake... And the magic 8-ball says: ‘Very doubtful’. A man can only hope. The PAS Awards have managed to create a bit of an appetite to create better work and win awards. I hope this will trickle into international award shows as well. Unfortunately, entering awards is not cheap and until agencies start to see the benefit of entering and winning international awards, they will never choose excellence over spending money on awards.
6) Will marketing folks stop asking that their logo is made bigger?
Shake Shake Shake... And the Magic Eight Ball says: ‘Ask again later’. A tricky one. Just maybe, they will realise that the smaller the logo, the bigger the brand becomes.
7) Will we ditch looking for the winning formula and look for big ideas?
Shake Shake Shake... And the magic 8-ball says: ‘Outlook not so good’. This goes hand-in-hand with the research methodologies currently in use. Research that looks at the results of a communication only answers what worked and what did not. It doesn’t answer the ‘why’. And as long as is doesn’t answer the why, brands will continue to look at what worked as the holy grail and repeat it to death.
8) Will we move from creating ads to creating content?
Shake Shake Shake... And the magic 8-ball says: ‘Very likely’. This will be a direct result of learning how to use digital media effectively because consumers of digital media have little patience for brands and ads. I mean how quickly do we scroll down when we see anything that remotely looks like an ad? People use digital and social media to consume content they like. Brands that understand this basic truth and create interesting content with limited branding are the ones that will become part of the conversation and win hearts.
Assam Khalid is Strategic Planning Director, BBDO Pakistan.