An Awesome Ad You’ll Never See

Recently when we’ve been playing Pandora, listening to kids songs, Christmas music, Korean pop, our playlists have been interrupted by an ad with Bob Dylan and an old school robot voice talking about rapid learning and song writing. It’s not bad. Interesting, not annoying. But who the ad is for and half of the message is kept a secret. You’ll never know who it’s for. If you were to watch the ad you’d see it was from IBM and about their HAL like super computer system Watson. But that’s the problem. It’s an ad that relies on visuals running on a streaming music service. It’s not the first ad like this I’ve ‘seen’.

The reason this is interesting is the ad is actually pretty awesome. It’s an interesting story, there’s no hint of sales, there’s humor and emotion, and at the end I’m genuinely curious what IBM’s Watson can do. Wasn’t it the chess master computer? Doesn’t it evoke the near omniscient HAL from 2001? And it’s doing creative things now, and learning? Very cool. IBM is keeping pace with tech and messaging – they know how to tell a story.

This is more of a story of good ads used in the wrong places. The ad industry is suffering from a lot of things in the wrong places. Advertising, as it exists and is commonly practiced, is broken. You might have the greatest ads possible, but if people are not experiencing them, they don’t work. This visual ad running on a streaming music service is obvious, but perhaps less obvious are interruptive ads running all over the place that people have trained themselves to ignore. It’s even questionable whether static and broadcast ads work anywhere now. We can easily say they don’t work on the web, but do they work on TV, radio or in print? Maybe they did work at one time, but now people want entertainment and engagement. They want to be excited and be part of the story. Marketing can’t expect consumers to be willing, passive consumers, they need to expect participation.

Judy Gombita (@jgombita), a senior hybrid (social) public relations & communication management strategist I follow closely on Twitter, posted about Brad Wakeman (@BradJakeman), President, Global Beverage Group @ Pepsico, and the article about him in Advertising Age (@AdAge) where he criticized ad agencies and their broken methods at the Association of National Advertising’s annual “Masters of Marketing” conference in Orlando. Graciously Brad even jumped into our discussion to help me understand what he was thinking a bit more.

The article quotes Brad saying things like “Can we stop using the term advertising, which is based on this model of polluting?” I’m fairy sure there were a number of people in the audience who had no idea what that even meant. I’m reminded of the classic Dudley Moore movie Crazy People where seasoned ad execs try to make ads differently and it’s harder than they think.

What are ads polluting? Does the industry know what’s going on and plan to change?

Ads are typically interruptive. They break the narrative. They pollute content you voluntarily seek out. Often they aren’t sharing information in a relevant way. Even if the subject matter is the same, ads typically inhabit particular areas where they scream for attention, and are easily ignored and skipped manually or programmatically. DVRs easily skip broadcast ads, if people even bother with broadcast – many people I know rely solely on Netflix & Amazon Prime. Browser ad blocking is prevalent and spreading – it will be included by default in Apple operating systems.

In another Tweet thread on mobile advertising Rusty Williams (@rustyw), a founder of multiple tech co’s including AnswerStage, Delphi, Scorebeam, KnowledgeVision & Prospero, showed me IAB’s view of the future of mobile advertising. Sadly, it’s more of the same. Interruptive ads without a role in the narrative consumers are engaged in, but this time they’re slightly different sizes, or they interrupt us in different ways. No, that’s not what we need.

Brad’s talk in Orlando was about innovation, disruption and diversity, and that’s exactly what advertising needs. We don’t need to see the same banner ads or ad gate ads that feel like a necessary penalty. We’re a society of consumers. We shop for fun. We spend more than we should. You don’t have to force enthusiasm on us to buy. Bring us in. Involve us in the narrative. Get us excited, and we’ll buy, and discuss, refer and contribute.

The IBM ad that I picked on earlier is actually a good ad, just in the wrong place. It’s the beginning of an interesting story. I’d like to see where that goes. At this point I don’t see a continuity of the narrative that draws people in, to easily and comfortably understand the cognitive power of Watson. The allure in the ad is Watson is easy to connect with and offers relevant input. I’d like to see that on IBM’s site.

The goal of marketing should increase visibility and awareness, and introduce potential customers to the company. After the introduction a dialogue should reveal what the company can do and what the customer needs. As confidence and comfort is built the opportunities for the company to help are revealed, until sales are able to ask – can we help you? That is the shape of modern sales in an era where consumers are knowledgeable and can communicate with vendors instantly. For marketing to relevantly fit into that sales model they have to get people interested and talking. Essential to that is creating an interesting narrative that customers want to be part of.



developer, writer, speaker

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