I remember the time, about two decades ago, when advertising was simple. All ad agencies had to do was push out their cleverly crafted slogans and jingles to a limited selection of TV channels and newspapers. That would hit the spot for brands seeking to achieve their targets. It all worked well because the media then enjoyed a relative monopoly on the attention of their audiences. Only a few affluent consumers could afford the massive dish antennae that would bring them a richer diet of international news and entertainment mixed with local content. Consumers were ‘advised’ and ‘influenced’ about what they should buy by brands that had the wherewithal to command ‘top of mind’ on the limited local media channels. It was binary and beautiful.
Those heydays ended about a decade ago. Consumers, especially younger ones, now have a plethora of content and media choices available to them – and much more than they are capable of consuming. They can now consume, even binge, on media according to their changing moods and situations. As a result, old approaches don’t work anymore. In fact, what works has changed. This article is about the changed reality in which advertisers must compete for their share of voice, share of heart and share of shelf.
1. From binary to multi: Today’s consumers enjoy tremendous choice, as they switch from TV to streaming to mobile content, and brands now need to master the art of ‘multi’ in order to capture their ‘total time.’ They need to deliver seamless experiences across a wide variety of content types and mediums. Communication has evolved from simple spot advertising to a multiverse that includes content integration, edutainment, influencer marketing, passion marketing and AI-driven personalised content. Seamless mastery over multi-media multi-content communication is hard to get right and agencies need to deploy multidisciplinary teams who can not only master the mediums, but also subtly vary the messaging so that the whole becomes more than the sum of the moving parts.
2. Enough meaningless messaging: Communication should be about making meaningful connections between brands and their audiences, while considering the context. Sadly, this is often not the case. Brands need to look beyond bragging about themselves and their features. They should instead prioritise making genuine connections with their consumers’ passions, aspirations and values. Context matters. Consumers do not appreciate their favourite YouTube show or Facebook video being interrupted by out-of-context marketing messages. It is a well-researched fact that most advertising fails to matter because it is not distinctive and meaningful enough to cut through the clutter. So it’s worth investing time and effort in getting the creative product right. Advertising still has value, but brands should also look towards alternative approaches, such as content integration and edutainment, to become more contextually relevant.
3. The messenger is as important as the medium: Crafting the right messaging from a plethora of insights is the bread and butter of great advertising agencies. But advertisers should look beyond the messaging and ensure they have the ‘right messengers’ to deliver the message to their consumers – and they are not necessarily the biggest celebrity in town. Yes, celebrities work, but many of them lose their credibility and salience when they endorse everything from cars to pharma to detergents to cooking ware. It’s often the smaller but more relevant and credible influencers who drive real salience with consumers, especially younger ones.
4. Be authentic: I completely acknowledge the big jump in the production values of Pakistani advertising over the past two decades, but I question whether this leap forward has come at the cost of authenticity. Everything looks so polished at the cost of moving away from authenticity and grit. If everything looks the same, it will fail to cut through the clutter. Authentic insights, authentic emotions, authentic situations coupled with world-class production values are the way to go for content.
5. Sick and tired of brands not being woke: I wrote an article about why brands need to become more woke – because it really matters to today’s young consumers. I am talking about brands becoming authentically woke rather than trying to over-publicise superficial efforts to look good. Brands should not digress towards ‘washing’ that comes in many forms – greenwashing (making brands look more sustainable than they are), bluewashing (making brands appear more socially just than they are), purplewashing (making brands look more gender conscious than they are). Authenticity done right goes a long way in connecting with young consumers.
6. Deal with misinformation: While the evolving landscape offers immense new opportunities, it also comes with the dangers of misinformation. The information ‘infodemic’ is a reality brands need to live and deal with, and they must be ready to develop their counter-messaging. Trying to be perfect, trying to hide every criticism that is meted out to brands is not a good strategy. I believe that acknowledging a limited amount of criticism and taking corrective steps helps build brand authenticity. Authenticity and clarity of purpose are the best weapons to counter misinformation.
In conclusion, it is time for brands to embrace the new realities of a multi-dimensional communication space in a challenged marketing space. The craft of advertising and communication is as sought after now as it has ever been. It is just the way we do it has changed. It’s time to embrace the new reality.
Afzal Hussain is MD, M&C Saatchi World Services Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org