Recently, tone-deaf marketing has progressed beyond abject creative.
Barely a day goes by without a brand being accused of being tone-deaf. Sometimes it’s race (no-one will forget H&M’s young black kid in a horrendously labelled hoodie); sometimes it’s gender — while there are countless instances of crass female objectification in advertising, we men also find ourselves on the receiving end of stupefyingly stupid ads. I reserve particular ire for Tiletoria’s billboard on the N1 heading into Cape Town, which proclaims “husbands buying tiles must get a note from their wives”.
Drown ’em in it
But lately, tone-deaf marketing has moved into the era of senseless saturation where we’re exposed to the same jaded messaging for products we have no interest in (or, worse, have already bought).
I can picture stressed marketers brainstorming how to make customers buy their product. “Let’s drown them in it,” they say. “Billboards, TV, radio, print. Oh, and that internet thingy; we can get some reach out of it, can’t we?”
One of advertising’s cardinal rules — and, as an intern, it was drummed into me and doubtless countless other young admen and adwomen — was that you need to flight your creative seven times to incite response. I didn’t give too much thought to it at the time, accepting it as industry best practice.
Disproving the rule of seven
But, after seeing about 700 ads in the past week from an auto company that’s chosen to follow my movements around the internet, I decided to research the rule. And what did I find? Nothing.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was exposed to even more car ads flighted in the margins of the websites I visited. Between the increasingly desperate appeals to buy a new set of wheels, I encountered many blogs speaking of the sweetspot of seven but no original attribution to the likes of Wanamaker, Bernbach or Ogilvy.
On my journey, I did stumble on some turgid academic studies. Thankfully, they were pdfs which gave me temporary respite from adland’s excesses. This one, The Shape of Advertising Response Functions Revisited: A Model of Dynamic Probabilistic Thresholds, runs to 11 pages of theory and calculus which kept the auto industry at bay for at least half an hour. Somewhere between the argument as to whether a Single-Regime Concave (“Base”) Model is better than a Single-Regime Parsimonious S-Shaped Model, I deduced that no-one really knows what the ideal advertising frequency is.
But I do know what it’s not. And that’s continual saturation.
It just smacks of piss-poor advertising. While it would be a gross mis-generalisation to say that adpeople are lazy, it’s clear many are. And the internet’s given them an opportunity to remain fixated on their navels until lunchtime while bragging about the unprecedented levels of reach and awareness they’re generating
The fact is, all too many of them are wasting their clients’ spend. Self-styled Ad Contrarian, Bob Hoffman, has written extensively about fraud in the industry. But, for every clever Armenian intent on fleecing Procter & Gamble out of a few cents, I’d warrant that there are a couple of inept schmucks masquerading as digital marketing experts.
While fraud annoys me, incompetence in advertising really gets my goat — especially when it achieves a double whammy of squandering money and alienating the very people it’s designed to attract.
In the underworld, to cap someone is to bring a rather abrupt end to their existence. While I’d love to do that to the digital savants looking after this one particular card brand, I don’t really fancy ending up in jail. So, I’d rather point them to Wikipedia’s page on frequency capping.
If they read it, perhaps we’ll see more Bookmark awards handed out for online media in 2020.
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