Ad Value

by Jessica Ramesh

Mark Tungate, author of the book ‘Adland, A Global History of Advertising,’ talks to Figaro Digital about the impact on the industry of the digital revolution and discusses the implications for content, creativity and the way agencies operate

The world’s first advertisement is not recorded, though we can imagine that at some point in the Neolithic period, one enterprising stone-grinder may have lined up an innovative strategy for sharing mammoth meat. Marketing has existed for as long as commerce and, though the technology and the psychology have evolved, the most basic tenets have remained constant: it’s about providing consumers with product information designed, in the broadest sense, to make their lives easier, and to provoke an emotional connection with a particular brand.

From Mad Men to the millennium

Mark Tungate is a Paris-based journalist whose book ‘Adland’ (published by Kogan Page) tracks the global history of advertising. It’s a comprehensive account which moves from Manhattan in the 1950s to London in the 1980s and on to the global, networked environment in which all now reside. En route Tungate tracks the relationship between advertising and popular culture and chronicles changing attitudes – in the boardroom and the living room – to the meaning and mechanics of marketing.

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Since the turn of the millennium, the advertising industry – like the rest of the media – has been wrestling with the myriad challenges presented by the digital revolution. So how does Tungate view its impact?

“The first point to make is that campaigns are a lot more integrated now,” he says. “There’ll be a big idea at the top and that’s broadcast through different platforms, including social media. Initially, I think a lot of agencies were slightly frustrated with platforms like Facebook because you could create a fan page for your brand, but the content still had to be constantly refreshed with new video and so on, which almost means going back to a conventional advertising model and just using Facebook as the platform.”

The difference with social media, however, is that brands are placing themselves in a much more intimate, personalised arena; where once an ad appeared in print, on a billboard or halfway through ‘Coronation Street’, now a brand’s marketing material might be competing with messages from users’ friends and family in their Facebook news feed. What does Tungate make of the changing context in which consumers encounter advertising?

“It depends,” he says. “As a Facebook user myself, my eye tends to slide over advertising content because I’m looking for something that’s meaningful to me. On the other hand, it’s all about creating a dialogue. If you’ve ‘Liked’ a brand, you’ve at least shown an interest in it, so you’re legitimising it to come back to you with more information. In that respect it works. And there are brands that do attract a great deal of genuine fandom. In the book I refer to Kevin Roberts at Saatchi & Saatchi who coined the term ‘lovemarks’ to describe ‘brands that inspire loyalty beyond reason’. Facebook is a great place for that. Twitter as well, because if the brand is doing it properly you get a kind of behind-the-scenes view of what’s happening.

But these things still rely on old-fashioned skills. The Twitter feed only works if the person running it knows how to tell stories. In that respect the core skills of advertising are still relevant.

“What advertisers like about all this is they can encourage users to participate with brands and help them create content. A couple of years ago Heineken were encouraging people to take pictures of bottles in unusual circumstances and post them on Heineken’s Facebook page. That’s an interesting way of getting consumers directly involved in a branding effort which you see a lot of now, and it would never have happened before social media. It’s a way of getting people to express their comfort with a brand and become part of that brand’s history – part of its advertising heritage. If people are doing that in their daily lives with a brand, it shows that the relationship is well developed and solid.”

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Convergence and diffraction

Back in 2006 academic Henry Jenkins wrote an influential book analysing the post-millennial media landscape entitled ‘Convergence Culture’. It was a view from the crossroads – or more accurately the multi-lane intersection – where old and new technology collided.

There Jenkins offered a definition of convergence which highlighted the significance not of hardware, but the tendency towards greater interactivity between consumers and publishers and the way a single message (or film, or TV show) was distributed through different channels. In his book Tungate suggests that advertising in the digital age is about diffraction rather than convergence.

“What I mean by that,” he says, “is that a campaign can now spread across many different media channels without losing any sense of the overall, guiding idea. If the central idea of Coke, for example, is ‘happiness in a bottle’ how can you express that idea across as many platforms as possible to hit your target audience? The more touchpoints you have the more of your target market’s attention you have. That’s what I mean by diffraction. It’s not about everybody converging on one central point in the home or on a mobile device. It’s now about reaching people on as many platforms as possible – some traditional and some digital.”

Making the funnel fun

In fact, notes Tungate, some of the most innovative campaigns today are those that straddle the digital and physical realms in ways we could barely have imagined just five years ago.

“There can be a fun, gamification element to this. I’m thinking of things like the Adidas shop window at Nürnberg in Germany. When the shop’s shut at night, the window is overlayed with a digital display. You can interact with it and view different kinds of sneakers by moving elements of the display around with your hands. The shop window becomes a screen. If you want to buy something you connect with the window via the wi-fi connection on your phone. It’s a fun, interactive element that really appeals to people. It’s advertising, but it’s also a game.

“Things like that present a very seductive way of encouraging people to buy. To a certain extent shopping has always been about entertaining the consumer. There’s a theatrical aspect to department stores and the whole notion of shopping as a form of entertainment. Even in the digital environment that’s the case. The more fun and interesting you can make that experience, the more willing people are to buy, and the less they’ll notice the price. The luxury industry has always been very good at disguising its margins by making the shopping experience so pleasurable that people are willing to spend 500 euros on a handbag – and that’s partly because they’re delighted to be in this amazing store surrounded by beautiful things and good-looking people. If you can make the digital experience so much fun that consumers don’t notice or mind what they’re paying, you’ve got something.”

And so to the future. Towards the end of ‘Adland’, Tungate describes certain sections of the twenty-first century ad industry as in danger of “looking like a fat kid playing tag with his nimbler opponents who are tantalisingly out of reach. It will end up looking red-faced, exhausted and undignified.” It’s a vivid image. How can agencies mitigate against ending up “red-faced, exhausted and undignified”?

“Well, in the old days you knew that everyone watched a certain TV show at a certain time, so you put your ad there. Or you knew that a certain type of person drove down a certain road, so you put your billboard there. It was a much more sedate and considered form of advertising. My theory, and the thinking underpinning that metaphor, is that advertisers now have to find their consumer first. They constantly need more research on where consumers are and how they consume content.

“There was a sense while I was researching the book that there’s a certain amount of panic in the industry. And it shows itself in different ways. You’ll notice that the Cannes Lions Festival of Advertising is now the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Now, you could say that’s just because they wanted to create more categories, but it’s also because advertising agencies are saying, ‘Are we even advertising agencies anymore? Aren’t we just creating stuff which is sometimes advertising, but could be a film sponsored by a brand? It could be anything.’ That’s what I meant by the ‘fat kid’. You need an entertaining idea that will federate consumers around it – something so enticing that consumers will congregate around you, rather than you having to worry about which platforms they are on.”

The entertainment exchange

So how does Tungate view the notion that brands – and by implication their agencies – now need to look towards the entertainment industry for more relevant creative models?

“I spoke recently to a guy called Olivier Altmann, who’s Chief Creative Officer at Publicis here in Paris,” says Tungate. “And he said his advertising agency is almost more like a film production company now. In other words, you have a product, a 30-second spot, or a longer piece of branded content online which is anything between three and 15 minutes. That’s the main feature, if you like. Then, within that, you’re looking at creating characters who might Tweet or do interesting things on Facebook. They might even become characters you could sell in store, the equivalent of Iron Man or Spiderman. Olivier was saying that the advertising agency model is becoming more like the Hollywood model, where you create a universe with characters, then create merchandise around that and use different media and platforms to tell the story in different ways.”

It’s a long way from Mad Men’s Don Draper spinning the Kodak Carousel. Or is it? Then, as now, advertising was a form of storytelling and the most successful stories are still animated by a single, clear, easily understood idea that appeals to the emotions.

“Your core idea now has to be enticing enough that consumers want to come to you,” says Tungate, “and not feel that they’re being interrupted in their daily lives. That, I think, is the interesting challenge for the future.”

‘Adland, A Global History of Advertising,’ is published by Kogan Page.

Article by Jon Fortgang