Break the bubble

Break the bubble

Marketing’s ivory tower

Bob Hoffman, writing in his blog the ‘Ad Contrarian’ a few months back, highlighted how much of marketing operates within a bubble, out of touch with real people and what’s happening in their lives.

Bob pointed out that on the evening earlier this year when the final episode of Mad Men was screened across US TV, a night when it seemed like every brand was going full out to fill the available airtime with ads paying homage to the series and blitzing Twitter and social media with more of this well into the next day, on this night when we in the industry got so excited about what was broadcast, more than twice as many US households were actually at home watching 60 year old re-runs of I Love Lucy.

Whilst this is an entirely US example, it’s not an experience that many of us are probably immune from here in Europe and the UK. How often does your gym send you an email about its great kids facilities, when it knows yours have left home? Why does your flag carrier airline write to invite you to use your points for a free Economy flight when it can see that you’ve only ever travelled in business for the past five years.

I am going to start screening you out

We operate in an age of intense information availability about the people who buy our products and services, but having that information can be as much of a burden as it is a blessing. Especially if we don’t act on that knowledge and use those insights appropriately in the conversation we have. It’s a bit like meeting the same bloke in the pub, that you’ve met before. If he always asks you about the same things – where do you live? what do you do? which team do you support? – then you start to feel like he’s not really interested. I told you last time we shared a drink that I don’t like football but you ask me again and so I think you don’t really care.

It’s the same with brands and how we interact with them. Keep asking the same questions and I start to think you’re not listening to my answers. Equally, if you don’t tailor the message to what you now know about me, then I’m going to start screening you out. And here lies ‘the rub’. Gone are the days when advertisers controlled message delivery. Now ad skipping, blockers, and the ability to screen messages out has put people in charge more than ever. True we could always ignore ads in the past but now we can actually stop them being displayed. And trying to shout louder or screaming in more elaborate ways isn’t going to work – not in a world dominated by ad blockers.

Creativity as the answer

The solution to this challenge that many are suggesting is an improvement in creativity and advertising quality. But where does that improvement actually come from? How do you improve creativity and ad quality (across all media and channels). Our hypothesis is that you need to understand what’s actually happening in peoples lives and act on it in a more appropriate manner.

If you’re the gym club and your customer hasn’t used the childcare facilities, then why not ask them if they’re relevant before you try to suggest they take advantage of them. Or better still use the data you have, and many brands have a wealth of customer insight simply though social media, to make your conversations more relevant and meaningful.

Perhaps the utopia we should be seeking is a situation where, rather than try to force our way into peoples lives, we first try to understand people in ways that mean we can tailor messages and communications. That way people might actively want more from the brand. The situation where people welcome the brand because its messages are relevant and meaningful and don’t take liberties with the relationship.

Not everyone gets invited in

But not everyone wants to be engaged with brands. Why would you want a ‘relationship’ with your frozen vegetable brand? Just make sure they’re on the shelf when I go to the supermarket. Does anyone really want their car insurer to try and be their ‘friend’? What most of us probably look for is low premiums and the re-assurance that if we need to make a claim it will be hassle free. So the notion of being invited into a consumer’s life isn’t for every brand out there. But those high involvement categories – holidays, cars and hobbies for example – are ripe for this way of thinking about the brand relationship. By putting the consumer in control you potentially build extra layers of trust and involvement. I love it when my favourite cycling brand sends me email and video stories about what they’re up to and the adventures they’re having. For me cycling is a high involvement category and I crave more from the cycling brands that recognise and respect this.

Keith SammelsKeith Sammels

What all of this calls for is that we don’t let ourselves get wrapped up in our own marketing bubble. That we get out of the office and spend more time interacting and understanding what’s really happening in peoples lives and recognising how the products and services we sell have meaning and relevance to them. Then we’ll understand why real people are more interested in classic TV re-runs than watching the latest ‘glamification’ of our own industry.

If you would like to stand a better chance of getting your brand invited into your customers lives please contact LAW Creative at or

And remember it’s always better to be invited than to try and gate crash your way into the party!!