For many years, when you studied the apparent business model of large international advertising agencies you could compare it to a factory, where the product was the creative output. The creative department flexed its muscles, and the most important thing was to be clever. When the advertising got outrageously crazy and eccentric, it meant the agency was probably losing the account, and so would aim for ads that won awards but didn’t necessarily sell the product.
Additional revenue streams for ad agencies were ancillary services: media buying, strategic planning, and particularly qualitative and quantitative research. Clients and agencies were always trying to measure return on investment (ROI) but the techniques available at the time were primarily pre-testing and were Stone Age compared to today. In the UK, where I started my career, choosing the target market was based mostly on socio-economic factors. In America, market research also relied on other lifestyle indicators.
The old world of advertising was very big and overstaffed. Mad Men is true in some respects. We would have large meetings. On one side of the table would be all the people from the client side, and then there would be an equal number of people on the agency side of the table. There could be vast numbers of people on every project. Commercial production prices went through the roof. In the UK, if you began a commercial with the description “It’s a sunny day,” it automatically meant the commercial would need to be shot somewhere sunny in Europe, since the UK couldn’t be relied on for good weather! Those were very different times.
The Keys to the Kingdom
Nowadays, with so much incredible technology in everyone’s hands, advertising is a much leaner enterprise. Unless there is an in-house creative team, it tends to be a smaller group of people making decisions.
With savvy online content creators having access to data research which is better parsed and displayed, clients themselves are more knowledgeable about their markets and are paying closer attention to the competitive landscape.
Additionally, it is now common for clients to have all sorts of tools at their disposal that allow them to track their efforts on their own. With Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, etc., clients demand more accountability than “that is a great slogan, let’s cross our fingers!”
Unfortunately, this ability to measure so well has diminished the importance of print which can be harder to quantify, although at Ashworth Creative we can track print results with considerable accuracy and our clients are reconsidering print advertising.
The good news is that new technologies have led to more video content than ever before and its effectiveness is also measurable. From an ad agency perspective, this is great news because video really persuades, motivates and moves product.
An Embarrassment of Content Riches
Everywhere you look, every second of people’s lives is being taken up with communication tools. We have reached capacity or even saturation of marketing. That makes it hard to cut through the clutter because people are accustomed to seeing marketing everywhere, and therefore become message immune.
This is a challenge that we advertising agencies face now: how do we figure out smart ways of penetrating the sea of advertising on behalf of our clients?
Make ‘em Laugh (or Cry or Think)
One thing that has not changed is that people still want to be entertained. Bombarding potential customers with a shouting pitch person no longer works. But if you increase the entertainment level in marketing, people do pay attention. Entertain them or move them to tears, or impress them with facts! Whether it’s a chihuahua who likes tacos or an insurance ad that starts out as a silly movie trailer, whatever you can do to make people walk away thinking will give your product some share of their mind.
No Instant Gratification
When clients have access to so much information and so many tools for measuring their success (in Google Analytics you can literally watch what people are doing on your website in real time!) they can develop the expectation that things are going to work faster than they really can. Because they see every dollar ticking by, they can forget that people still need time to reach a critical mass before converting into paying customers.
On occasions when clients are reluctant to stay the course long enough to see a campaign work, we counsel them to wait, give the effort a chance and then pivot once we have results. When you can see every transaction, sometimes you don’t see the big picture.
Scaling Down is a Win/Win
Changes in technology and the evolution of marketing has been great news for smaller advertising agencies like Ashworth Creative. The big agencies are suffering to a certain degree. The speed of new technologies means staying limber and moving a large beast is slow going. Having a fancy address and a huge salary overhead has little or no bearing on an agency’s ability to deliver results. And that can mean great savings for clients.
An agency like ours can make the same impact as a large one, whereas once you had to be big to reach big.
Some companies will try to do advertising in-house, but if you don’t have a genuine, experienced creative team, it is a lot harder to stand out and be different.
Sometimes a smaller agency is better at helping to engage consumers in a dialogue because there is less of a factory process to go through.
The Future of Advertising
It is always hard to predict the future. I don’t think anyone knew how much the business of advertising would change so quickly when social media platforms popped up. But some things seem to be right around the corner, and one of them is Virtual Reality (VR).VR allows companies to create an alternate world filled with images that respond to the movements of their potential customer.
Here at Ashworth Creative, we are excited to begin helping clients in this format because it may help to solve a marketing problem that has become evident: people may become interested after seeing two-dimensional images of products, but they still prefer to try them on and interact with them before making a purchase. VR might go a long way towards closing that gap for very personal purchases, like cars and furniture for instance.
Experiential marketing like this has a way to go, but it is happening.
Another trend in marketing is the websites themselves. Recently our CEO, Eve Ashworth, wrote an article entitled Are Websites Worth the Investment? and one thought I can add is about the evolution of websites is the return of customer service. It used to be that our clients were looking to their websites as an alternative to having a direct conversation with the customer. But the user experience was not ideal. You’d go on websites, and it would be extremely difficult to find the telephone number. And they wanted you to submit info via email form and then prove you were a human being etc. This did not leave a great impression with consumers – in fact it infuriated them. Our clients expect that the website will be part of the conversation, not a replacement for everything else. Businesses are starting to realize that if they want to engage with the customer, they must make their phone numbers available.
Other opportunities that we see in advertising is that it’s much more mobile. People are using their phones to search and connect with businesses, and they often want a one on one dialogue there as well.
Additionally, there is a whole new crop of consumers that prefer to do everything via their mobile device and tolerate, or even welcome, the use of text marketing.
The way that people purchase everything has completely changed in a short amount of time. Only four or five years ago if you wanted to buy dog food, you would drive to Target or a pet store. Now people will open the Chewy or Amazon app on their phones and order it in seconds.
Services are also entirely different now and often can be conducted via mobile devices including doctor consultations. Whatever it is that you’re selling, mobile will be a part of your future.
Advertising is constantly changing, and so it should! It keeps us engaged and excited to continually discovering new ways to help our clients spread the word about their goods and services.