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  • Edward Bass

Where Advertising & Art differ - and why that needs to change (Part 2: Long-Termism).

In the first part of this article I introduced my thoughts on why advertisers need to adopt some of the methods used by other creative industries, mainly as a result of the squeeze of new mediums that don’t allow for as much room for advertising and the opportunities afforded by social media where marketing messages have the opportunity to go toe to toe with movies, games and music videos in the now ceaseless battle for human attention. 

Here’s some thoughts on action brands can take:

Vision & Identity 

Of course the need for brand identity is nothing new but as someone who has to review a great deal of decks and documentation covering both these and brand values I feel that too often there is a serious lack of ambition at play here. Essentially the ‘what’ is often defined in terms of identity (although rather too often this can be a set of generalist emotive terms or buzzwords) but the actual ‘why’ is far less clear. 

In my opinion this comes about because of the absence of a long term vision beyond the brands commercial objectives, which themselves are not at all appealing to consumers. Furthermore the need for this vision becomes even more vital when you consider that upcoming generations are starting to show a strong preference for values and experiences, sometimes over material goods. Decoupling themselves from short term goals and shifting their focus on the further horizon also gives brands a stronger platform for creativity and opportunity for uniqueness. 

There are already strong examples of brands developing and delivering long term vision, for instance Unilever’s stance on sustainable sourcing which has been their focus for over five years now and, given their potential to make a real impact here, feels like a suitable choice. Certainly environmental and societal focuses are an appropriate choice for some brands, however other goals such as freedom of expression, liberty, creativity and generosity may suit others.  

So why not aim high here? It is said that older institutions often tend to think in terms of centuries, I personally don’t feel that it is too much of an ask for established global brands to start thinking in terms of decades. 

Borrow moves from Creative Industries 

Creative industries commitment to longer term thinking is part of their success in the attention economy - TV shows and Movies develop story and character arcs for the purpose of maintaining audience interest, just as a music artist will evolve their style or genre in order to stay ‘fresh’ to audiences. Certainly brands have adopted the language of this wider creative world increasingly over the past decade but not the methods, and that is to their detriment.

The easiest way for advertisers to steal moves from this sector (and thus a better share of human attention) is to reposition their thinking away from the medium and consider: 

‘What if this brand was a movie franchise?’ or ‘What if this campaign were an album?’ 

I’d even go as far as to say inviting screenwriters, directors, music producers, novelists and actors to the table could help shape more effective methods. 

Audience First Insight & Data

Working in the insight and data space, I naturally feel compelled to make a case for the role this can play in developing 'long-termist' creative thinking for advertisers. EntSight's work in the audience insight and intelligence projects for both brands and entertainment companies in the past five years has given us a unique view of how the needs and approaches of each differ, and how they can learn from one another.

There is a marked difference in how Entertainment companies such as Netflix, Universal Music and Disney collect and utilise data compared to brands and one that is key to their success - ultimately the focus here is more on a balance with audience preference and behaviour and interaction with owned properties, whilst brands continue to focus on the latter.

In the battle for attention deeper audience insight is absolutely key - certainly understanding how your customer action in-store or on a website are key to optimising UX but that kind of 'owned data' is of limited use when it comes to developing better advertising creative and messaging.

The sooner brands understand the key difference between analytics and the audience intelligence used more effectively by entertainment companies the sooner they'll see an improved shared of audiences attention - simply by the fact they are providing more relatable and resonant experiences.

I understand all of this idealistic, I understand it takes focus and effort that is often hard to sustain, especially in larger organisations but I’m convinced it is the only way advertising can evolve and retain relevance beyond just being part of the worlds wallpaper or an occasionally annoying background noise.

The future is bright, just as long as the future is well considered.

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