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Relevance rules in the new age of advertising

Advertising in mass media is, by definition, spam – it appears without our permission.

Therefore, so the received wisdom goes, in order to be acceptable, “good” advertising must be entertaining.

When I kicked off in the business in the early 80s this was the trope that made the most sense.

“People don’t watch TV to be sold – therefore – entertain ’em!’’

Honestly. It made sense at the time. I bought in. Completely.

It made perfect sense. I loved British skit comedy. Grew up on The Two Ronnies, Monty Python, The Goon Show, Pete and Dud, Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Max Headroom, followed through with Fry and Laurie, Black Adder and Black Books, the list goes on.

The ads I admired were the likes of the Heineken campaign: Heineken refreshes the parts other beer cannot reach. I have a book in a box somewhere called Thirsty Work and, if I weren’t so dashed idle I’d pull it out of my storage locker. If you are of my vintage you’ll know that’s a D&AD winning Carlton Black Label Beer reference.

In New Zealand this ad style informed terrific campaigns such as Speights’ ‘Southern Man’ and, at a stretch – via postmodern irony – the Tui campaign (I love them both).

But let’s cut to the chase. Things have changed. What matters now isn’t interruption and its corollary, entertainment apology.

I recently reviewed James Hurman’s bookThe Case For Creativity. I bagged it. Not because it’s badly written – it’s not. It simply misses the point. It seems to refer to the advertising of a golden era written from a gilded cage.

Advertising today is about relevance and utility. You can find whatever you want on the web, even old brand ads. Advertising as an interruption becomes more and more annoying and, therefore, less relevant and less effective.

The ads people in advertising love – clever, aesthetic, crafted – mean a lot to them (and I like them too) but they don’t mean a jot in commercial terms. I’ve talked about the significance of Google’s Adsense in previous columns. Zero creative. Billions in revenues.

If you work in advertising and want to keep your job or you want to have a career, you need to think seriously about the how advertising will evolve.

Whether or not the things we create are persuasive (or good) will no longer be the preserve of creative directors on annual junkets to Cannes.

Measurement will be the most significant thing in advertising. The things we create will be more significant to the people we are talking to.

Copy will be tested in real time and, if it doesn’t convert to the desired result – or if we learn something new from the process of communicating by listening to the responses – the content will be changed on the fly.

We will be busier than ever. It isn’t the end of creative advertising. It is just the beginning. The genteel rules will go out the window – waffling about craft will be pointless, as the crafting will be continuous, commoditised and counted.

There simply won’t be time to stand back and admire ‘the work’, because the work will never be complete. Constant contact will be a Sisyphean task. Tiny, fragmentary communications will replace bombastic, boorish business bullshit.

There is a contemporary trope that everything digital wants to be free. This will disrupt the models for production as it has for media (never mind the halving of TVNZ’s commission – how do you make money from media that is free for all, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter?).

When a kid with a Canon D5 DSLR, Final Cut and After Effects can make a beautiful, slick message for $500 on their laptop, who needs film and video production companies, post-production companies or, dare I say it, caterers? How are you going to measure up in the new era? If you can’t think of anything, it might be time to consider retiring to your vineyard in the Hawke’s Bay and watching your Mad Men DVDs on a constant loop – your work here is done.

David MacGregor is a co-founder of Idealog, creative director, brand product development at BrandWorld, and has a finely tuned bullshit detector. follow him on Twitter: @joegreenz.