Is this really the case? Should we look at the audience for the output of Madison Avenue as these unsophisticated buffoons who can be that easily manipulated, or are they something deeper than that? The advent of the digital age, was at first seen as just another platform for more of the same type of messaging, but with the development of rating websites and feedback loops, advertisers have seen that their audiences had teeth and could bite back, if their promise fell short of expectations.
The audience for advertising is now seen as wanting a two way street and a conversation with the advertising organization. This can lead to budgets increasing, as more and more companies move away from the notion of marketing towards relationship management, and the resources that can involve.
If we look at how advertising and branding have developed hand in hand down through the years, we see a movement through the different needs identified, from giving a "one line" definition of the benefits of the product such as OXO Cubes, "Dissolve at once", to deeper psychological offers. As perceptions of the audience changed, advertisers picked a broader brief of the problems the product or service could solve, concentrating more and more on social needs. Products and services became the means of solving all our needs. They would make us the envy of our peers, more successful in the eyes of our parents and children and more attractive to the opposite sex. They also became more focused on younger consumers, credited with the invention of the teenager, and defining new opportunities for expenditure, such as Coca Cola's reinvention of Santa Claus, boosting Christmas sales. Advertising's push crossed gender roles, making purchasing decisions the realm of different sexes and opened new markets with different products, such as the rise in male grooming products.
Marketers and advertisers often cite this as their response to changing values within the societies they respond to. However, this view is very simplistic and does not take into account that the purchasing decision is made by an individual and not a conveniently invented demographic grouping,making our lives easier. The consumption of advertising should not be seen as a means to an end, as a mere means to generate sales. It should be seen as an experience in itself. It is a co-created experience, in which the individual plays a major role. The consumer of advertising brings their own psychology into the experience and buys an experience by making the purchase at the end of the process.
A lot of advertising sets out to paint a picture of perfect people enjoying an idyllic life based on their consumption of a product or service. This was very naively pictured in the 1950's showing the square jawed father, his flouncy skirted wife and their two perfect children, named Scooter and Marcia. The idyllic picture continues to this day, with slightly different models of the perfect nuclear family. The idea being that the consumers would aspire to the images presented.
When we look at these images, we see the intention of the advertiser to display a perfect version of the group they are aiming at based on the persona, including their own habitat and real life references. However, as consumers are more and more bombarded with this kind of advertising and live more and more in the virtual world, is this process still relevant? Does the audience still use the references of their habitat, or do they see themselves as advertisements in their own right?
I would argue that the individual in the twenty first century sees themselves, not only as the persona they want to portray and who they actually are, but also as a pre-created advertising persona. This has been developed through a lifetime of consumption of these images. This other strand of developing the target for any marketing campaign, value proposition or advertisement should be taken into consideration prior to the purveyance of any message. The advertisement should not be seen as showing them how they can conform to a perfect picture of a social norm, but should be seen as a means for the audience to portray themselves in their advertisement persona. The interaction should be flipped, with the audience defining their own image rather than an image being thrust upon them. They should gain the benefit of seeing themselves in that additional part of their personalities. This will be a true means of defining empathy with the target market.
With this in mind, advertising and marketing are far from dead and should not be considered as something that can easily be replaced by customer relations management, in order for the consumer to feel part of the process. New technologies are giving organizations more and more opportunity to put the audience at the centre of an experience and organizations should bear this in mind.
There are challenges ahead, but there are also great gains to be made. The experience can be enhanced. The message should stay the same, but the platforms can be changed, enhanced and improved to engage people in a creative immersive way. GO FORTH AND MAKE IT HAPPEN!
Written by: Dermot O'Reilly and Bernadette Clancy, Innovation Specialists at Solutions Consultancy Ireland.