Wednesday 9 November 2011

Advertising’s Social Contract Is Fucked

That’s why nanny has departed for Waitrose

I will never, ever shop at Iceland. I wouldn’t eat food from Iceland during a zombie apocalypse, I’m certainly not going to do it while Waitrose is still around to cater to my petty middle-class whims. As a consequence of this hideously bourgeois lifestyle choice, I do not want to see another advert for Iceland as long as I live. Not that I expect to live very long.

Hello, yes, this is dog

Every time I see an Iceland advert, it’s a waste of my time and Iceland’s money. Yet if I watch TV on a Saturday night, perhaps as a punishment for the many crimes I have committed during the week, then I’ll see over nine thousand Iceland adverts. They will all be awful, they will make me hate Iceland even more and make me hate the entire concept of advertising at the same time. Please stop wasting my time, I am already very good at doing that.

Logically, targeted adverts are better. Logically, not having my time wasted is better for me and not having their money wasted is better for advertisers. Logically, I want to see Waitrose adverts and Waitrose want me to see Waitrose adverts. But it just doesn’t seem to work like that in the real world. 

Any colour, so long as it’s wack

Advertising is the mass-production of salesmen. When the industrial revolution and the assembly line made mass-production happen, the same thing had to happen to sales. If you have a million doohickies in a warehouse, you’d need to have a veritable fleet of door-to-door salesmen to offload them onto the general public.

Hello dog, this is, umm, eagle? Hawk? Falcon maybe?

So instead, all that lovely human-to-human connection was replaced by a poster summing up the benefits of Doctor Monroe’s Particular Ointment For A Range Of Ailments. Then some stuff happened and radio and television and finally the entire industry just gave up caring and made the Muller advert. Do you remember anything at all? Do you? You do? Then buy yogurt!

Not only this, but also, the internet! The internet makes it possible for that one-to-one connection to become a thing again. There is no longer the absolute requirement to have one message for everyone, like say, WERE YOU ONCE A CHILD? THEN BUY YOGURT! Now diversity and personalisation is possible again. I never have to see another Iceland advert again, because I’m me and advertisers can show me adverts for me, and I can marry Waitrose and great. But it just doesn’t seem to work like that in the real world.

Screw you guys, I’m going home

As soon as I start to think that I’m having adverts targeted at me, I get angry and shake my fist at the godless sky. How do they know who I am? Who told those people that I am me? How dare they, how very dare they? I suddenly don’t care that someone gave a shit who I was and sent me a personal message just for me, I care how the hell they found out who I was in the first place.

Oh look, how adorable! BUY YOGURT!
So you should ask me first, right? You should ask me if it’s ok to show me personalised adverts just for me, lovingly crafted for my personal eyes. The problem with that is that you’re advertisers. You’re the worst people in the entire world. I trust advertisers less than I trust bankers. At least they have the common decency to point at me and laugh as they set fire to some money with some more money, rather than pretending to be my best friends ever, then selling me yogurt in the most creatively bankrupt way I can possibly conceive of.

The problem boils down to this. If you track me, without telling me you’re tracking me, then I get scared and I hate you and I wish you were dead. If you ask me if I want to be tracked, I say no, because I’m scared and I hate you and I wish you were dead. So if you show me adverts for just everyone, that’s awful. If you show me adverts just for me, that is also awful. So what to do?

When you get to the end, do it over again

Remember where all this started? With a knock at the door and a display of highest quality pans or a vacuum cleaner with powers quite out of the ordinary, madam. Advertising is the mass-production of the salesman. The salesman, see he was a man. A person. A human being. He wasn’t a brand, he wasn’t every nostalgic IP imaginable being whored onto my television set to get me to buy fucking yogurt, he was just some guy.

The plan is simple, gentlemen. We kill the Batman!

I like men’s tailoring. I can’t afford to like it very much, so I read about it on the internet and imagine myself striding into Anderson and Sheppard to order a selection of bespoke suits. While that would be the height of luxury today, go back a couple of hundred years and that’s how all clothes were made. By a person, just for you. One day last year, I decided to throw my credit card to the wind and go to Mr Jonathan Quearney of Windmill Street for a jacket. It was made just for me and it is marvelous and I love it in a way I love nothing else I own. 

A couple of months ago, he contacted me on LinkedIn and asked if I’d write a personal review of his business. I did so and with great gusto. I was overjoyed to say exactly how much I loved that damn jacket and how much I’d recommend his services. I didn’t engage with his brand, I wrote a little piece about how great he was. It was like going back in time, except with the internet.

rip mr gadaffi

I’d be amazed if a whole bunch of you weren’t following the Shippams Paste Twitter account. It was set up by just some guy and, it turned out, had nothing whatsoever to do with Shippams Paste. He’d picked up over nine thousand followers in his two weeks of existence, and, I dare say, he’d shifted some paste. The guy behind it wasn’t being honest about his real identity, he was pretending to be the world’s most inept social marketer.

But check this out. He wasn’t interrupting anything. There was no advert. There was no targeting and no brand guidelines. There was a guy, called Ben, tweeting about stuff and also #paste. And I, along with a whole damn bunch of other people decided that we would choose to follow him and read what he had to say about a range of fish based sandwich spreads that I would never otherwise have considered buying.

He was a person. And people, just some guy or girl, standing there and asking you to buy a thing is the most effective way of selling that there has ever been. Not brand ambassadors, not carefully coached PR spewing machines, just some person saying what they think. Like Steve Jobs did.

If you want to sell me something, then you, personally, should sell me something, Not your company, not your brand, you. That’s the power of social media. It’s a bunch of people, talking to each other. It lets us rediscover how things used to be, lets us remember how millions of years of evolution have shaped us to be, lets us remember that we’re just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to buy some crab paste.

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