The Consumer Is Not Your Employee

I just read an open letter to the advertising community from a man in his late 20’s. Basically, he asked the industry to stop making him work so hard to buy their stuff. After all, he’s busy juggling a job and family. He doesn’t need another job. He wants information and an easy way to purchase.

Is his complaint a one off? Is he a kook, disgruntled, unhappy? I don’t think so. In fact, I think he reflects a growing opinion that we need to pay close attention too.

Just a year ago, P&G rocked the ad industry when they announced they were going to allocate 30% of their entire ad spend to digital and social outlets to better target consumers. A year later they reported a decline in sales of 8%. They concluded that their practice had limited effectiveness and are now shifting money back toward television.

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Not many people are talking about this, but that doesn’t surprise me. The industry that invented value in likes, shares, interactivity (if that’s a word), engagement and conversations, would never acknowledge a ‘conversation’ that would threaten its very existence. They have, however, spent millions of dollars and years slamming traditional advertising.  No surprise there. Remember, this is the same industry that tells us Millennials don’t want to be sold to but are certain they want to be brand ambassadors. Hmmm…

I also realize it’s fairly idealistic to think new marketing practices will change anytime soon.  Unfortunately, it’s going to take more P&Gs and more consumer complaints. When it hurts enough, we’ll change.

Until then, we’ll remain addicted to complication. We’ll make people watch things, make things, share things, comment on things, engage with things, interact with things, post things and re-post things.  But we won’t ask them to just go buy things. It’s as if we’re sitting in some secret diabolical little back room somewhere laughing our asses off at ‘what we made them do this time.’ (Insert evil laugh here.)

The entertainment space (that I work in) is just as guilty as anyone in this practice. For example, I saw a few promos for a new show. The spots were great and they got me hooked. I couldn’t wait to check the show out. Then, about 8 minutes into the premiere, they put up a lower third graphic asking viewers to check out a web-site about the show. They literally used the word “NOW” in their graphic. As in, stop watching this show and go to this site instead. I scratched my head. Seriously?  You spent all this time and money getting me to check out your show and now you want me to do something else? Can I just watch the show please?

Am I suggesting we abandon social and digital channels altogether? Absolutely not! There are millions of eyeballs glued to certain sites and apps. It would be foolish not to take advantage of them IF they’re home to your demo, if you create advertising that speaks to them and if your creative actually sells.

What about the brand culture? What about it? Brand culture (like Nike and Apple for instance) grows organically out of a history of delivering on a promise.  Cultures are the culmination of earlier efforts, not a first wave of attack.  They’re a modern day, hyperactive water cooler. They can’t be invented and shoved down the consumers throat with a trendy hashtag or a funky app. They should build themselves, effortlessly and be absolutely free.

At the end of the day, marketers are judged by sales. All the likes, site visits, shares and comments mean nothing without sales.  Because unlike trends, selling never goes out of style.

To Your Success!