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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Don’t Call it Advertising, Call it Redemption

Don’t Call it Advertising, Call it Redemption

Posted on November 16, 2011 and read 6,257 times

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chrisbaylis Don’t Call it Advertising, Call it RedemptionChris Baylis
Tribal DDB Amsterdam

I’ve just completed a mountain of work. Or was it a volcano of work – we clambered up the steep slopes of effort whilst account men, test groups and anyone with half-a-say hurled lumps of molten opinion at the creative work. We’ve created a 360 campaign, or maybe it’s a 720 campaign – after all we seem to have done everything at least twice. But what was interesting about this process was that everything traditional felt a bit forced. Traditional advertising feels like cooling lava, once red hot and powerful, now slowing, solidifying and cooling. Whereas the activation ideas, the “Subservient Chicken” style thoughts, the “Will it blend” type thinking leapt off the page – sparked, crackled and ignited our imaginations with possibilities and potential.

It’s hard to fall in love with TV and Print anymore. We know where it’s been (I have the photos to prove it) and we know where it’s going. Does everyone else feel the same? I personally don’t watch a lot of telly, but last Christmas I sat around with the in-laws watching utter crap, as you do, and every time a commercial break came on, someone in the room lunged for the TV remote and pronounced ‘I fucking hate advertising’. Not what you expect to hear from a 71 year-old grandmother of three. But the feeling was echoed by every generation in the room. Advertising is bollocks and we all know it.

Or is it? Is ‘advertising’ simply being asked to do the wrong job under the wrong name? People don’t hate brands, they just hate advertising – the way it talks to us, interrupts us, tries to make us do things we’re not really into. If brands were people we’d tell them to go away. We like people who tell good stories, know interesting things, take us to new places – not people who prance around talking about nothing but themselves and trying to sell you something you don’t need.

So what should advertising be doing for brands? How about this for starters…advertising should be earning forgiveness. In the words of Monty Python, “how should we earn forgiveness?” And in the words of my Nan, there are more ways than one to skin a cat. Take a look at what Patagonia have been doing lately? They are actually telling their customers to buy less. It’s not green washing – it’s genuine. If your clothes are a little worn out and need repairing, send them off to Patagonia and they’ll fix them. That’s nice isn’t it? It’s empathetic, considerate, and thoughtful – all the qualities we like in people but brands seem to discard in pursuit of the quick buck. There are other ways of course.

Here at Tribal DDB Amsterdam we manage to escape the confines of ‘advertising’ a couple of times a year. We get work out of the door that feels grown up, treats the audience like real people and not consumers. Take the recent Obsessed with Sound work for Philips. It’s a big interactive piece that allows you to play with the orchestra; and people are doing it in their droves. Most are spending around 10 minutes with the work, some are spending over an hour playing with something innovative and are enjoying themselves within a new, original and deep experience.

Through creativity and craft, we’ve earned the right to be in their space, the tone is respectful and we are forgiven for trying to sell to people. But in these recession-laden times some clients are increasingly pulling the plug on what we think of as creativity and going for what they think is a low-risk approach. They want to be direct – and by direct you can read unimaginative, pushy or what we call ‘addy’.  It’s actually a very high-risk approach. It’s like a single guy out on the town who has decided to park all his experience, all his stories, all his charm and has chosen instead to go up to random women, ask if they are single and then ask them to go home with him. He may get the occasional immediate result but he will be damaging his image, alienating his audience and if everyone in the room knows each other (i.e. they are connected socially) together they will construct a picture of him as a sleaze-ball.

Brands are like single guys looking for dates. They need to use everything in their arsenal to stand out and charm their audience, and they should remember that everyone they talk to also talks to each other.

The best ‘advertising’ slips in under the radar disguised as utility (something useful), entertainment (not art) or a service (not annoying). It doesn’t look like advertising, it doesn’t behave like advertising – because, actually, it’s not advertising. It isn’t product shots, it isn’t voiceovers, it isn’t big logos and it isn’t all about landing messages.

What is it? It’s a mix of empathy, charm, wit, polish and earned forgiveness – or is the word redemption? If your advertising is not earning forgiveness/redeeming the brand for cluttering up the world by being something worth talking about – don’t bother because you’re only going to leave people reaching for the off switch, the close button or the ‘delete this app’ function. Your brand will be remembered as the desperate guy with the rohypnol who isn’t afraid to use it, and your audience will be covering their drinks, shuffling away and won’t be going home with you.

  • Lyndon Lawrence

    An excellent article. Thank you for writing this. 

  • Guest

    Digital this, digital that. Blah blah blah. Obviously the finess of print is beyond someone that has never actually done any before. People enjoy a snippet of advertising in their life if it’s done well whatever the media. Activation ideas are a great way to get people on board, but… you’re actually only attracting people that are already interested in what you’re selling anyway.

  • Chris Baylis

    That’s a very personal response to a thought-piece that is written to have a point of view. As I have actually put my real name at the top of this, I’m curious why you haven’t done the same, even though you chose to be quite rude.

  • Guest

    Ah. The mystery of the digital world :-)

  • G.Steele

    Same ol’ put downs we’ve all heard before.
    Paranoid digital agency attacking traditional media to promote the latest piece of work.

    What was that piece about anyway?
    It wasn’t as smooth as Classic FM, or watching a snippet of the proms.
    But what was it for? I am not aware of any Philips sound based products.
    Nor was I made aware.

    Anyway, it seems that style takes precedence for this advertising agency.
    Or should I say ‘Redemption Agency’?
    Delivering us from the sins of traditional advertising?
    The same traditional advertising that pays for all the wonderful programs, radio shows, music and articles we enjoy digesting.

    To use the analogy mentioned in this article, I don’t mind being shown a few things by a guy who is buying the drinks.

    But I don’t know what to make of the guy who taps me on the shoulder, asks me to come outside to see his orchestra.

    It’s cold, the orchestra clumsily jolt out through my broadband, i’m wondering what i’m doing here, I look at him.
    He shrugs his shoulders.
    I go back inside.
    I need another free drink.

  • Chris Baylis

    This was not meant to be an attack on traditional – which Tribal also do btw. Traditional advertising is great when it’s done well. I think the point is that not many people are doing it well because they are not being allowed to because of money, recession etc. And as I aslo said in my piece, there is more than one way to skin a cat. The point is actually asking brands to think about how they talk to their audience. That’s all. 

  • G.Steele

    It’s hard to fall in love with TV and Print anymore.

    We know where it’s going.

    Watching utter crap.

    ‘I fucking hate advertising’.

    Advertising is
    bollocks and we all know it.

    Just a few sentiments that led me to believe otherwise.
    And now you tell me your place also does traditional?
    Hopefully it achieves more than your expectations.

    I’m sure that brands do think about how they talk to their audience.
    I know that mine does.

  • Chris Baylis


  • Mike Bayfield


    Digital paranoid about traditional advertising? 

    As the vitriol of these responses reveals, it’s quite evidently the other way around.

    A thoughtful, engaging piece and a lot of the points you make about creating interesting stories that people want to interact with, apply equally to ‘traditional’ advertising too. 

    Just because most of them are saying “fancy a shag? Well, do you mind lying down while I have one,” doesn’t necessarily say the medium is broken. It’s still possible (I think) to make ads that people talk about down the pub. It’s just maybe that with digital we’ve got so many more tools at our disposal to create engaging stories, and often for a fraction of the cost of TV.

    And anyway, it’ll soon be Christmas so we should all be nice to each other. 

  • G.Steele

    D -

  • Gareth Owen

    hahaha! ‘finesse of print!!!’ go make me a flyer, bitch x

  • Gareth Owen

    You can list the good advertising campaigns EVER created, on the back of your hand – the shit ones would go around the world several times. Advertising is crap and the only people who don’t think so are the ones who work in it.

  • Eric Woning

    I don’t completely understand the analogy…. Who is the guy who is buying your drinks?
    Traditional Advertising? Are they buying my drinks? In what way?
    Please don’t tell me “advertising” buys the programs….. ask any consumer – they don’t see it that way: they see it as the thing that interrupts me while I am watching/listening (/reading.)

    Moreover – people CHOOSE to go to the website to experience the orchestra thingie (haven’t done it yet so cannot describe it.)
    So it’s someone who probably has heard from someone else: you should go see this thing here… it’s quite cool – and the other person answering “well… haven’t got anything better to do right now anyway”

    Regarding advertising being bad… just hear what people say about online advertising. It’s worse than TV thanks to the often appalling quality and the enormous quantity of annoying move-stop-move-stop to attract attention.

  • G.Steele

    Very true, Gareth.
    But let’s not pretend digital is the savior.

    Whether it’s online or on paper.
    Most people who work in advertising make shit all day long.
    Compromising for cash.

    The only way they can feel good about their work is by attending award ceremonies they pay to be in, or through writing articles about themselves.
    Pompous self promotional twaddle.

  • Eric Woning

    I think in general that people would find TV advertising less annoying if a) the volume would not suddenly rise an absurd amount (no not in Db – but in perceived volume) and b) if the commercial blocks would not be so F-ing long. (they are getting longer each 2-3 years due to extra demand)

    His piece is more on how advertising should not feel like advertising (Not a new thought, David Ogilvy already coined up quite a known phrase on that one) and more like content.

    Seeing how often good advertising is watched online (the most viral movies often are TV spots or more lengthened versions thereof) means that it already is content…. if done right. 
    Hell…. there even are programs in which you just see great advertising.

    The problem with most offline ads is that they are too ad-y.
    Digital has both the great, as well as shitty, quality that someone has to actively do something to work: they have to go to a site, click on something etc. etc. (traditional bannering not counted – as it too is very Ad-y) – so it intriscally has to be content to work.

    I think that was the gist of what Chris is trying to say (please correct me if I’m wrong)

  • Anonymous

    Interesting article.

    There’s a lot going on right now in terms of banter about how the future (and present) of advertising belongs in the digital realm. It started with the web, moved on to mobile, meandered along to apps, and now the banter is a hybrid inclusion of all three against traditional.

    Lest we forget, as well as being a space for creatives to bring dreams to life, it’s also part of a healthy economy. Always has been. Always will be. Without print advertising, magazines and newspapers would be double (or more) the price. Same goes for TV and the internet. You think your cable/internet bill is a rip-off now? Advertising pays a generous portion of the bill for democracy.

    There are 2 likely scenarios when the dust settles after all the banter: 1) With traditional/intrusive advertising being passe, the price of consuming media will be passed to the consumer (a.k.a. your future cable/internet bill will make your current cable bill look paltry), or 2) traditional (or similar to traditional) modes of interruptive advertising will continue to exist to benefit the world economy and prevent it from sinking deeper into recession.

    And yes, because all advertising is essentially a sponsored donation, it’s intrusive. It’s a distraction. Anything that’s sponsored by a marketer – whether it’s a commercial or a news article – will feel like a hard sell. It’s a side effect of any free market. My guess is the evening news in Cuba is free of intrusive commercial distraction. No form of robust media is immune to being tainted by their sponsors. It’s just that the digital space is all young and pure and untainted as of yet. Give it time.

    Chris, good point about creating advertising using interesting stories that people find engaging, but it isn’t anything new. It’s an old formula that will continue to be relevant. There was a renaissance of this in the 1960′s ushered in by Bill Bernbach (the B in Tribal DDB) and history is repeating itself once again.

    And as for what Patagonia has been doing lately? That’s news to me. And it’s likely because they aren’t interrupting people the good ol’ traditional way. To be honest, if a company is attempting to earn forgiveness through advertising, it means they’ve done something morally or ethically reprehensible. And they would be better off investing their money in R&D or corporate restructuring rather than advertising. Something a little more than skin deep. Asking for forgiveness through advertising sounds like groveling; like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    If you want to interrupt people for a moment and attempt to change perceptions, entertain or enlighten…advertise. If you want to ask for forgiveness…go to church.

  • Chris Baylis

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. Of course you’re right, maybe next month I’ll argue the other side :)

  • Anonymous

    No problem:) Thanks for the thought-stirring article. Definitely a great topic for discourse!




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