Has advertising lost the WOW! factor for the X factor?

Are we seeing a move towards a popular style of advertising? Ads that are more like TV programmes, YouTube videos and pop promos? Often one off executions that seek instant popularity and PR?

Advertising use to pride itself on a clever strategically based idea, the WOW! Factor. But now we seem to be moving towards the X factor. Ads that as one commenter (Darian Watts) on Brand Republic called them ‘NOT AN AD’.

Times have changed and we have to accept that quality culture has been replaced by popular culture. No one is going to pretend that X Factor is classy or creative TV but the public love it and it tops the charts on viewers. Just as they prefer junk food to decent food.

We live in an age where consumers consumer rubbish rather than quality, depressing for those of us who would prefer it other wise. Art is out, popular entertainment is in, which challenges many values of our industry. Ideas, the traditional focus of our creative end of the industry, are smart but not necessarily entertaining to the masses. Maybe because we are an industry full of middle class educated people we forget that the man in the street prefers funny and novel to something that stimulates their intellect. It begs teh question, has adland drifter too far away from the masses?

I’ve always argued against the concept of the idea is every thing, after all what’s the idea in the Mona Lisa or a piece by Bach? Does the Simpson’s have an idea? Are Eddie Izzard’s jokes funny because of an idea? We like all these things because they emotionally stimulate us, they make us feel good.

YouTube has had a dramatic effect upon communications, and not just the ad industry. It has redefined entertainment, and as anyone can now be online playing their guitar, doing crazy things or showing off their skills, the public entertainment industry has grown a million fold.

But on YouTube even total trash can get top numbers. A man dancing badly was (for a period) the most viewed video. Marketing experts may like to note that it didn’t result in people signing up for dance lessons, raising the issue of quantity over quality. There is little artistic quality about anything in the top 20 most viewed.

In the NUMERIC SOCIETY, a term christened to highlight our obsession with numbers, hits look very attractive but in reality (rather than the virtual reality the web provides) it means sod all. Hits do not mean sales. But sadly many people get excited about Facebook members, YouTube views and Twitters without evaluating the true value.

There’s a great quote all marketers should remember, “Don’t make the measurable important, make the important measurable.”

We’ve seen a spate of ads, if they can be called ads instead of videos, that tap into TV or YouTube like culture. Gorilla (Cadbury) was certainly a great success and managed to rise above the trash.

But what about the Yeo Valley rap or the Ikea dancing in the kitchen ad? Both well over 30 seconds. Are these really ads or are they representative of a move closer to TV culture (NOT AN AD)?

The Yeo Valley video certainly feels like something you’d find at the end of a comedy show, while the Ikea dance video you’d expect on MTV. These are two examples of many but they seek to illustrate that the ad industry needs to broaden its view of what advertising is.

I remember Chris Palmer once saying “we’ve in the entertainment business” and he was right. On the flip side most ads aren’t clever or entertaining, just bad. Yeo and Ikea videos may not be strong on big ideas or long term strategy (how do you follow a farmers rap?) but they are very entertaining, gained loads of PR, are very popular and will certainly win over a good percentage of the public and their related Facebook sites will be full of ‘gushers’ (people who rave about every thing they like). And as we consumer emotionally, rather than rationally, they work in a different way.

If we are honest, no one tunes in on a Saturday night to watch the ads (in fact apps like AdBlocker are among the top downloads). ITV gets the popular taste, while Channel 4 appeals to the minority taste. For too long Adland has been Channel 4, now it needs to get more ITV.

But the danger is that if we move too far towards other areas without reinventing or improving them clients will ask the simple question, “Why do a I need an ad agency when I can get the TV company to make me an ad?” Could Ikea have just gone straight to any promo production company and got the same outcome? Could Yeo Valley got ITV to make its rap?

Few would argue that ads should be entertaining rather than boring which begs the question, why are the majority so lacking in any entertainment value? It was David Ogilvy who said, ”No one buys from a dull salesman.” We need to accept that we are moving into the age of popular advertising, but as we do as an industry we need to offer clients added value not just an alternative to traditional ads.

My favourite entertaining ad of the moment (and one based on a TV series) is the Specsavers’ Mr Men. As a ‘gusher’ would say, “amazing, fantastic, simply the best ad ever!!!”

  • Chris Arnold

    Worst ever X factor auditions – very entertaining!
    Robert Unwin, dubbed Chicken Factory man, earnt the title of worst ever auditionee in 2006 for his high-pitched rendition of Aqua’s Barbie Girl . Despite not getting through to Boot Camp, Robert became popular on YouTube.

  • Chris Arnold

    Did you know that Mr Men was created by Roger Hargreaves a creative director of Chetwynd Haddons, an ad agency? He couldn’t draw real people so he drew them like these. One day when they were clearing out a cupboard they found loads of storyboards for TV ads all featuring early versions of the Mr Men characters.

  • http://www.pandora-au.org/ *** ru

    One day when they were clearing out a cupboard they found loads of storyboards for TV ads all featuring early versions of the Mr Men characters.http://www.pandora-au.org/

  • http://www.raypoetry.blogspot.com Ray Morgan

    I’m not sure I understand this comment:

    No one is going to pretend that X Factor is classy or creative TV but the public love it and it tops the charts on viewers. Just as they prefer junk food to decent food.

    Is this indicating that X Factor viewers only eat junk food?

  • Alex

    This post has a lot of great points, which are well articulated – but the spelling and grammar are atrocious! Before writing a scathing post on popular culture and lack of interest in intelligent ideas, it might be prudent to ensure the writing is 100% perfect.

  • Chris Worsley

    more than likely Ray as they certainly like junk forms of ‘music’

  • Ray Morgan

    That’s a shame. I watch X Factor purely as entertainment but I certainly don’t eat junk food or listen to ‘junk’ music. The two don’t always go hand in hand – that’s a rather blinkered view.

  • http://happycommuter.blogspot.com Jeremy Davies

    The point is that just as people eat junk food junk food because it’s quick, easy, tasty and not too virtuous, TV talent shows provide a bit of light entertainment, a short-term thrill and escape from the worthiness of daily life.

    As for “entertainment value” it’s really a question of relevance. A drum-playing primate might be right for someone munching a chocolate bar in front of Youtube, but could Churchill get away with it? There’s no need to extol the features of a bar of Dairy Milk, but when it comes to car insurance, benefits are as important as branding.

    And having worked at a promo house, Chris, I wouldn’t worry too much. Focus on the strategy – most of them think positioning is something you do in the bedroom.