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Apple’s 1984 is perhaps the greatest Super Bowl ad of all time. Aired twice, it tapped into the cultural zeitgeist to communicate its company vision that no “man” is subordinate to machine.
Given the rapid adoption of ChatGPT, Apple’s vision is timely(timeless?) As the industry questions whether AI will steal creative jobs, and OpenAI’s CTO, Mira Murati says AI should be regulated, it’s worth noting that technology typically creates more jobs than it displaces. To paraphrase the ever-relevant Rory Sutherland ‘half of the advertising job titles today didn’t exist 20-30 years ago.’ His advice? “Be good at more than one thing.”
Cultural zeitgeists flux, technology advances rapidly, human behavior adapts, but human nature remains unchanged. Rather than look at people’s behavior, marketers might be better served by examining the underlying motivations. Dave Trott reminds us, “People may change from horses to cars, but the motivation for travel remains. They may change from letters to phones, but the motivation for communication remains.”
If human nature isn’t changing, what is?
Ben Evans’ annual trends analysis dropped recently. The New Gatekeepers captures what matters in tech from a macro view. In the context of this newsletter, one slide, in particular, stands out.
“The defining story of the last few decades in advertising,” writes Faris Yakob, “has been about adapting to fragmentation.”
This fragmentation adaptation challenge is often framed as a media problem (i.e., more media, more content, more ads). Media and culture have fragmented, but the deeper problem for marketers is the fragmentation of fame. Faris Yakob writes, "the communal stages they [brands] can buy access to keep getting smaller.”
Making brands and products famous is – and has always been – the driving purpose of effective advertising. But achieving fame is expensive and increasingly more difficult.
Despite repeated comments over its advertising prices, the Super Bowl provides huge access to fame. How this access is used matters. Rory Sutherland says that poetry is “making new things familiar and familiar things new.” At its best, advertising is poetry. It taps into underlying motivations, creates novel brand associations, and builds fame through repeated familiarity.
On the other hand, as Les Binet & Sarah Carter write in How Not To Plan, “relentless pursuit of novelty leads to wasted money. Advertisers spend precious management time developing new ideas. And ROIs fall as people are subjected to a flurry of inconsistent campaigns.” Great creative work doesn’t “wear out.” It is a myth. Memories decay, but great creative work doesn’t.
And yet, when people collate what the industry produces, we see similar stories: sameness, not salience; bland communications, not brand communications; and disposable creativity, rather than enduring distinctiveness.
This collation of creative output provides a more visceral lens to the “brand building investment vs performance advertising” conversation – which has re-emerged.
Recent data from System1 Group, referenced by Mark Ritson, showed that “long-term ads can also have a significant short-term impact,” while short-term ads do not deliver in the long term. Building on his philosophy of “bothism”, Ritson supports reframing brand-building ads from ‘long-term’ to ‘lasting’ impact.
Responding in his newsletter, JP Castlin points out (again) that any “positive long-term effect must first have a short-term impact.” Research shows a positive sales ‘carry-over effect’ that diminishes over time (and so must be reinforced).
BCG published new research highlighting the lasting costs of cutting brand spend. BCG found, “Regaining lost market share requires a future investment of $1.85 for every $1.00 saved from near-term reductions in brand spending.”
Deloitte’s Brandworth research (an analysis of 24,000 brands across 21 sectors) paints a similar picture (brands have worth – invest in them).
So long-term lasting ads can be tremendously effective, and brands should be wary of chasing ROI and efficiency gains as an end. With every penny scrutinized in the current climate, it is worth remembering that, in the pursuit of fame, it is often ”the perceived extravagance of an advertisement” that works. Efficiencies within advertising should not strip back its impact - but it should serve growth, innovation, and fame. How do marketers balance these conflicting goals – cost savings and growth – to invest with confidence?
Diageo’s CEO Ivan Mendes and Kiel Pieterson, VP of Planning are both on record talking about how efficiencies have helped them reinvest in their core for more growth. In particular, using CreativeX technology has helped “reduce the cost per 1000 digital ad views over the first half of the year by 50% compared to the same period the year prior.”
Similarly, Nestle’s Global CMO, Aude Gandon, was interviewed in The Drum with CreativeX Founder & CEO Anastasia Leng. She says the project with CreativeX is a way of increasing investment, adding: “We are doing it smartly so that, when we do do it, we know it will contribute to our growth.”
Brands build businesses. But more companies are hiring performance CMOs.
Which brings us full circle.
Marketers build brands; tech doesn’t. AI can help them drive growth and build brands, but marketers are not subservient to it.
Writing about ChatGPT, sci-fi author Ted Chiang points out that one cannot achieve any degree of creative excellence without first producing and learning from terrible first drafts. Understanding how sentences are put together – what words work where – is an essential part of becoming a brilliant writer.
The same is true of advertising.
If advertising at its best is poetry, then poetry builds brands. Poetry takes feeling, empathy, and the ability to make creative choices that speak through omission. Poetry means understanding what words work where.
Technology can help frame and automate the operational boundaries for creativity to thrive - for poetry to be made, but it can’t do the human bit - the poetry. Technology can alleviate some of the fragmentation adaptation challenges that technology has created. As Aude Gandon points out in her interview, “The shift and evolution of media at the same time as the complexity of Nestlé meant we needed a way to give guidance and a framework.” AI and technology help marketers understand what creative elements can go where. It gives marketers and creatives “the space to talk about the creative again.”
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