In any economy, that needle isn’t going to move itself
“We need to move merchandise.”
That was all our client needed to say as she dismissed our proposed ad campaign.
She was a marketing director for a major line of home appliances. And every time we met with her she knew, to the very unit, how many were sold at each big-box chain the previous weekend.
Now facing a slight sales downturn, she was worried. Gone were the clever brand ads. In were promotional, dollars-off ads and more money for in-store announcements and videos on TVs in the electronics department.
Some might call it panicking. Some might call it smart marketing. But it was a stark reminder of what really matters to clients.
These days, the ad industry and its clients are part of a schizophrenic economy, with many businesses doing well and others struggling. Our creative work, tonally and tactically, reflects that duality.
Does economic anxiety make clients and agencies more conservative in their approach? Is the creative work better when companies are feeling flush and confident? Or is it the opposite? Do companies who feel they have nothing left to lose become more creative or less?
Call it a sales funnel, call it a customer journey, call it whatever you want — brands either grow through increased sales or they die. It means helping customers decide, making purchases easy, and keeping them satisfied.
Then again, some brands have taken their eye off the ball. I recently read where a marketing VP at Budweiser declared that the beer’s “brand health hasn’t been this high in more than a decade.” Supposedly, that was due to their embrace of so-called “purpose-driven marketing.” Yet a quick Google search reveals that Budweiser’s sales have been down this past year. So “brand health” sure sounds like a useless metric to me.
The reality is, too many brands have trouble making an actual case for themselves. Too much work falls into one of two stylistic camps: Either in-your-face weekend mattress sale-type advertising or a pile of content that looks pretty but says little about the brand.
The choices aren’t going to get any easier. With Toys “R” Us being a recent casualty, the retail world in particular remains a minefield. Brands that supply major retail stores are perpetually caught in the middle, having to adjust for a price-sensitive marketplace that’s physical and digital and direct and opaque all at once. I have a feeling the advertising is going to look and sound more urgent — and less bearable.
That’s going to be a problem long-term. Brands, however, aren’t thinking much about the long term, especially when a business-shattering earthquake always lurks around the corner.
Still, the smart marketers will understand that growing their business is always a priority, and their marketing and advertising should reflect that. It also means understanding that a customer journey, silly term that it is, doesn’t always end in a sale. There are a lot of forks in the road, U-turns, and quicksand along the trail. That’s no reason to get desperate or banal with the work and make every ad scream "buy now."
It’s time to double-down on the real purpose of advertising and marketing by making the best appeal possible to consumers — with honesty, and a little levity when possible.
Do that well, and more people will feel good about the purpose we serve in the world.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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