Why we need to reinvent the ad business and discover the art of advertainment.

If Walt Disney ran an ad agency, how much more successful would it have been than Leo Burnett, JWT, O&M or Saatchi’s?

It’s an interesting question and you may be quick to answer, “What does Walt know about advertising?” But here lies the first mistake we make, we assume that what we need to know about is advertising, when in fact what Walt really knew about was how to capture our imagination, to make us feel good, and most of all, how to entertain us.

And for the record, Mickey Mouse is one of the most recognized brand icons in the world, so maybe he actually knows more than we do.

Ogilvt, Burnett, Walt

When you look at the broader creative industries, advertising actually occupies a small percentage of it, and not one at the top. But what makes it different form almost every other creative disciplines is it cannot sell what it produces to the public. Simply put, no one will pay for it except clients.

And survey after survey shows that the majority of the public hates the majority of advertising. Who can blame them, even those of us in the creative end of ad industry can’t help but despair at the rubbish the majority of clients/agencies subject the public to. Junk? It’s actually more pollution!

How differently would we approach advertising if we actually had to sell it? It’s a brief I often set students, to produce an ad, using any medium, that the public will pay for. Which means they have to like it – there’s a novel concept!  Forget ‘intrusive’ or ‘disruptive’ techniques, try entertainment.

Wow, that instantly challenges everything they have been taught, but it focuses them on the outcome not the proposition and they start to dig into the techniques and approach of the entertainment industry.

Todays ads now compete not just with other ads but millions of moments of entertainment from professionally made work to home videos. Even the most watched ads, Evian dancing babies and Dumb Ways to Die, still fall short of many bizzare home made videos (usually featuring animals and kids) and way behind pop videos.

So isn’t it obvious, if we want to make better ads, that do better, we better start learning from others.

That Advertainment Folks wide

Looking forward to the future, we need to not just evolve but re-evaluate and reinvent advertising. Because fundamentally, and looking at it pragmatically, it simply doesn’t work. If you disagree, just look at the numbers: 0.5% response rate is considered good, 5% great (digital gets about 0.01%) – these are industry figures by the way. Put another way, that’s 95% failure rate.  If we were in any other industry, we’d be out of business. Imagine trying to sell a medicine that only cured 5% of people? Or a car that only worked 5% of the time? Or a parachute that only opened 5% of the time?

Founder of Unilever, Lord Leverhulme, is quoted as saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the problem is I do not know which half.”  I wonder what he’d say if he knew it was nearer 95% wasted?

What would happened if the 10 greatest minds in the ad industry sat down and said, “How can we deliver a 95% success rate?” To date, that’s never happened. Generation after generation comes into the ad industry and just accepts the status quo rules. And those of us, few in number, who challenge the status quo win over few supporters. Human nature being what it is, most people prefer the way things are to the way they could be.

So starting form the controversial position that we need to wipe the slate clean and start again, we need to reinvent advertising. Of course this isn’t as radical as you think, when the Wright brothers tried to build the first plane to fly they followed conventional wisdom and a year later woke up to a simple fact, none of the current wisdom actually was right. They even owned a book titled ‘How to Fly’ written by a so called expert – except the author hadn’t actually ever managed to fly.

So they started from scratch and invented many of the current theories of flight. And of course made the first ever flight in the Kitty Hawk. We need to do the same, to learn to fly.

But we don’t have to look far to find inspiration, the world of entertainment is well established with many learnings, rules and experts who have success rates way above our ads. So why not tap into them and creates ads that actually entertain people – welcome to the world of ‘Advertainment’.

Of course this is not a first, the origins of the phrase ‘Soap opera’ comes form the days when companies like Unilever made TV programmes around their products.

One of Britain’s greatest creatives was the late John Webster (BMP), who believed that a good ad entertains first. He made many great ads that are pure entertainment, but sold well too. After his death one comment made about his talent was, “It was a shame Webster picked advertising, if he’d gone into TV he’d had created programmes that would have reached millions of hearts and lasted generations.”

The recent purchase of Droga5 by entertainment giant William Morris Endeavor reinforces a trend towards advertainment. It also suggests that if we, the ad industry, don’t embrace it, the entertainment industry will do it for us, just take Creative Artists Agency, who created one of Coke’s most successful ads of all time, the polar bears, and last year’s Cannes winner for Chipolte.

I, and many others, believe that with so many other changes going on within the industry – the dominance of big media groups, economics, data, technology and digital – now is a great time to stop at the crossroads and look in a new direction. To look at the outcomes – to create work that is as clever and creative as the best entertainment – in fact,  so good we could even charge people to watch them.

Droga5 many be one a of a small number of agencies already heading that way, but in reality it’s only when the giants that dominate our industry change their ways, along with the corporate brands they serve, will we see the end of ‘dinosaurvertiisng’ and the birth of a new generation of communications. And that’ll be advertainment folks!