Formula of Advertising

I must confess: although I work in advertising, I don’t watch television. However, thanks to our social media (specifically in Pakistan) we are able to see these commercials without bothering to watch the shows they are sponsoring.

Having lived and breathed advertising for the last 10 years of my professional life, I have not seen progress in our creative communication. Most of it is formulaic. It pretty much confirms that no one (ad agency or brand team) is willing to take risks. The Return on Investment (ROI) is completely dependent on a number of units sold.

Our target audience is a topic discussed at great length, but despite those long discussions, most of our communication is designed in the following way:

Create a situation and keep some suspense (to get attention), add some conversation about the problem at hand, and… suddenly the product is introduced as the Hero to solve your issue and make your life easy. That is pretty much like Superman coming and saving the world without causing collateral damage. I must say, to some extent, it’s going to provide benefit for the brand.

But that also brings me to my point: why aren’t we being creative at all? I still remember my first lesson as a junior advertising employee: “The role of the advertising agency is to think wild. The brand team will always play it safe, but it’s our job to bring sanity through insanity (creativity).”

Agencies are still struggling to sell the wild ideas. Meanwhile, the brand teams are bringing them down to the level of promotion of the brand name and the packaging only. We are all looking for innovation and trying our level best to break the clutter, but not to be creative.

Internationally, I have managed to see Coca-Cola do wonder by exploring the “Coke side of life” theme and selling their brand by giving consumers a true experience of their brand personification. Hats off to them for such initiatives. On the other side of the spectrum, the Unilevers and P&Gs of the world are using the same formula and their brands have lost their own personification.

The best example to this is Unilever’s old icon “Supreme” which is somewhat lost in translation. Multiple packaging changes and USP shifts were still not giving this brand its earlier mightiness and glory. On the contrary, Tapal has picked one direction and their team has ensured they are the largest market share holder in Pakistan. Since most of their competition is either P&G or Reckitt, their lead in market share is revolving around the same variation in advertising.

One step from P&G – Commander Safeguard – was indeed creative to shift “buying decision makers” from moms to kids and making their brand a market leader in that category through their communication (and I must stress on communication).

We tried to be closer to our consumers through social media but unfortunately, the posts we see are merely the same personification of the brand which we see on TV and are fighting to have more likes than utilizing the core of this new tool.

I am sure all of us are looking for a new and clearer direction with the justified amount of money for our ideas that we share with our clients. But the world is changing and, in my personal opinion, so is the communication!