How I learned to stop worrying about and love advertising

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I love advertising. It’s the child of creativity and business, and probably one of the favourites too (it supports itself). Have you ever watched Mad Men? You should watch Mad Men. If you clicked to read this article then I know you’ll appreciate it.

Anyway, I engage and/or look at a lot of media over a lot of mediums every day, which all feature a deluge of advertising. Some good, some bad. Well, mostly bad actually. And this makes me sad. If you ask someone whether they like advertising the response will likely be negative. Even if an advert sticks in a head, it could be for the wrong reasons.

Let’s take a look at why advertising, particularly in new media, could be on the way down, how to make it better and argue that traditional print and outdoor advertising will exist beyond other paid-for channels.

Radio advertising

Word of mouth is possibly the oldest marketing channel, and radio lends a million ears to one voice. But when was the last time you listened to a commercial radio station – and were you engaged with the radio at the time or did you turn it on for background noise? Advertising is often selling a product by inducing a feeling, one which is aided by visual props, cues and actions. Images can offer many interpretations and narratives, speech tends to merely present one.

Television advertising

Television adverts of the yester year are a memorable thing, especially growing up and living in a time before the internet. The potential to reach millions of homes with short narratives to communicate messages with both voice and moving image used to be significant. But now we have a rise in paid-for television services such as Netflix and Amazon prime, which are funded by subscriptions. The television is perhaps now no longer the main source of in-house entertainment, and throw in the access to pirate television/movies, it wouldn’t be unfair to predict that the influence of television advertising is waning.

Digital advertising

Digital advertising is everywhere. It’s easy to produce, simple to implement and also has very low production costs (especially compared to other mediums). Additionally, being able to measure impressions, clicks and direct sales from adverts gathered through analytics (which if interpreted correctly) can lead to some marketing innovation for marketers.

But a lot of online advertising is disruptive in a way that is inconvenient and annoying. I no longer visit my local newspaper online as it is a minefield of click-bait, fireplace adverts and pop-ups (which should have been eradicated by 2017). There has been a rise in recent years in downloads of ad blockers for internet browsers, Youtube adverts can be skipped five-seconds in, emails are easily ignored and you might even be aware of an emerging trend of spending less time online and undertaking digital detoxes (like the good old days).

Literally anyone can assume the title of marketer and throw together a photograph, a link and a sentence to then put £40 on a post to feature in social media feeds for a week. You don’t need a qualification to be a marketer, but you do need the understandings and talents of visual analysis, copywriting and content production to be a good one.

Print and outdoor

By its very nature, print and out-of-home (OOH) advertising is static. Yes, you can animate a video billboard or advertising hoarding but it’s necessary that the piece be bold, noticeable, and have the potential to be iconic. Along with good visuals, there has to include a clear and concise call to action. It has to be simplified, concentrated and direct. Instantaneous communication.

Print and outdoor advertising are undeniably hard to ignore. It is a focal point of a city centre, something to stare at on the morning commute. An accompaniment to sitting in traffic, or something to read in a waiting room.

This form of advertising is expensive, but that’s to stop assumed marketeers getting in on it. It’s prestige, it’s exclusive. It’s a plateau. It’s the Apple of the marketing world, the Rolex of advertising.

You can’t measure the impressions as accurately as other forms, but its influence and footfall is massive. In 2016, the British Journal of Photography teamed up with JCDecaux to showcase “Portrait of Britain” on digital screens across the country. Rather than taking place in a traditional photography gallery for its patrons, the exhibition was seen by millions who wouldn’t usually engage or even browse at the work.

CREDIT Portrait of Britain, British Journal of Photography


I don’t want to disregard new media and advertising streams. Creative content should work whatever the medium. But a constant trend I have noticed is that the vast majority of advertising is bad. Adverts are meant to be disruptive but they only really work if they’re creative, clever, and if none of these, nice to look at. Although the Advertising Standards Authority holds brands accountable for their messaging, unfortunately there’s not much of a standard for their quality.

Natural and organic reach will grow with a strong message. A large budget won’t shift a weak one.


Further reading

You can’t ad-block a billboard

How does advertising address ad-block?

JC Decaux retains its traditional channels

Some conceptual approaches to discourse on advertising


Post by David Langham, Marketing & Communications Executive

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