Ads Won’t Go Away. So Now What?

Mostly everyone involved in intelligent conversation about marketing and advertising can arrive at the inevitable conclusion:

Advertising, regardless the medium, is here to stay.

That much is certain. What remains uncertain, is how the players doing the advertising continue to do it, and how the consumer is influenced by said advertising.

Though the conversations vary widely from AdLand totally disregarding the feelings of consumers, to brands still thinking crowd-sourcing ideas is a way to involve consumers and therefore create a loyal base.

We believe that between those two schools of thought, therein lies a balance.

Yes, we do believe that AdLand does an incredibly horrible job at not only gathering research and feedback from consumers, but using the data it collects to create simple and powerful advertising campaigns. There are some brands that do a terrific job, however those handful of brands and agencies are unable to speak on behalf the under-performing majority.

Yet, we would do our marketing colleagues a massive injustice if we didn’t declare an opinion we have repeatedly share for close to a decade- sometimes the consumer is just plain wrong. Yes, consumers can make bad decisions, make decisions based on irrelevant or misinformed information, or could even use (or intend to use) the product in a way it wasn’t intended. So if the consumer opinion is wrong or doesn’t reflect what the brand wants to do, it is no wonder that a brand or agency would junk the information it received.

So, now what?

Well, it depends. The rumbling within AdLand between the agencies and client-side marketers (brands) is only getting louder. The issue of gender discrimination in the advertising world is blowing up (with hopefully the ethnicity issue after) and those ‘thought leaders’ are falling from grace. It seems that AdLand needs to get its own house in order before it fixes how it operates.

So, it goes.

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Sparks Fly Over Media Transparency Report

For about a year now, there has been focus on media transparency between brands, agencies and media companies. The biggest issue at hand is that brands are concerned that they are not being told how their money is being spent, nor do they know exactly how much media they are buying.

This all stems from a talk from a notable advertising figure who claimed that “rebates”, money a media company gives back to an agency, has been going on in the industry for decades.

And the sirens in BrandLand went off.

So then, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) created a joint task force to see what could be done to make sure the partnership stays honest.

At least, as honest as it can be.

That’s pretty much as amiable as it got.

Towards the end of January 2016, the 4A’s released a “Transparency Guiding Principles of Conduct” article, which it believed satisfied much of the arguments over transparency and ceasing the actions of rebates.

The ANA was not pleased. So much so, the ANA quickly demanded the 4A’s to remove all ANA association with the article.

The 4A’s aptly did so.

Now the good stuff. The ANA released the final report done by K2 Intelligence on the prevalence and scale of rebates and media transparency.

The 62-page report is, in short, pretty damning.

Naturally then, the 4A’s promptly parried with its own article saying how one-sided and shadowy the report is the day it was released.

The fact that the ANA and the 4A’s are going at each other only confirms the disconnect the K2 Intelligence team refers to at the end of its executive summary:

K2 found evidence of a fundamental disconnect in the advertising industry regarding the basic nature of the advertiser-agency relationship. In general, advertisers expressed a belief that their agencies were duty-bound to act in their best interest. They also believed that this obligation – essentially, in their view, a fiduciary duty – extends beyond the stated terms in their agency contracts. While some agency executives expressed similar beliefs, others told K2 that their relationship to advertisers was solely defined by the contract between the two parties.

After the 4A’s released its statement of disapproval, the Chairman of the ANA released a letter to the ANA membership defending the report, and countering the 4A’s opinions of the report.

It is about time we have a strong conversation about the client/agency relationship. Though people may view this as conflict, this can actually help the relationship grow stronger if the sides are willing to hear everything out.

Conflict isn’t a bad thing, unless we choose not to do anything about it.

So the ANA has this report, and the 4A’s has its Guiding Principles of Conduct. Based on the K2 report, it seems that we all have to take a step back and lay down a foundation.

First, when a brand and an agency work together, what behavior is expected?

Once that question is answered, then they can revisit their positions, and start ironing things out. Because it seems that the agency world believes that its hired to do the work, do the work well, and call it a day, while the brand world wants more commitment and wants to ‘see behind the curtain.’

If that’s the case, then no wonder there’s mistrust and the question of transparency. In this scenario, agencies don’t believe that transparency is part of the game, while brands are wondering when agencies are going to start playing.

It seems like the ANA and the 4A’s are on different pages. But now that they know that, they can start working towards a common goal.

“Desirable Difficulty” And Why We Should Care

First, what does the phrase, “desirable difficulty” even mean?

The phrase comes from the education and psychology world. It suggests that if we make encoding, that is, interpreting information from one form into another, a little harder for the learner, then the learner will force themselves to start processes in their brains that will encourage long-term retention and learning.

It makes sense. We as humans tend to remember concepts that we really worked hard on; items and information we struggled to retain or learn but finally ‘getting it’.

Sure, this is important for teachers and psychologists to know, but why do we as marketing professionals bring this up?

It’s simple- it deals with consumer behavior.

When businesses and brands prepare something new for consumers, the common thought is to make it as simple and easy as possible. The easier the consumer can understand and use the product, the better product adoption is going to be.

And in a sense, that’s true. But we argue, though adoption for a simple and easy product is good, we believe that adding a little bit of difficulty to ‘product mastery’ could possibly increase the brand’s chances of creating loyal customers.

How so?

An easy and simple product doesn’t provide any real reason for the consumer to continue to use the product. Yes, it lowers the switching costs and risks for the consumer, but it doesn’t instill any real ownership or work for the consumer to consider the easy and simple product as valuable.

But, imagine if the product or brand made it just a little difficult for the consumer to use the product, getting the consumer to think about how to get the full use of it. Not too hard for the consumer to opt for the Path of Least Resistance route, but hard enough to create the ‘Ikea Effect’ Dan Ariely and other behavioral economists have discussed in detail.

Some examples for adding Desirable Difficulty-

-Making the consumer put the product together
-Having the consumer go through a series of steps to activate the product
-Forcing the consumer to give the product a name, label or number
-Having the consumer pass a test or tutorial before using (short, 3-5 question quiz)
-Intentionally making the UX a little hard to navigate

Should all brands and products do this? By no means. Commodities cannot survive with this strategy, but some products, especially in the digital and mobile realm, could reap significant results with this strategy.

Just something to think about.