What If We Reimagined Advertising?

“Reimagine” is one of those brilliant words we’re on the edge of killing through overuse. It happened before with “disrupt,” a word with specific, powerful meaning, which then became press release filler, synonymous with “modern,” “funky,” “bold” and “new.”

It will be a great loss because there is no more powerful technique in the world.

Reimagination happens when we forget all known constraints and start anew. It’s not an improvement, or a redesign -- it’s literally blowing it all up. I love it.

It’s the opposite of incrementalism. What typically happens is that design solutions tend to converge and follow an evolutionary funnel. We establish boundaries for the design, and we optimize designs to a solution. Sony Discmans became thinner, cheaper and had better battery life. Cars became smaller and more efficient petrol engines, floppy discs got cheaper, credit cards got chip and pin, high jumpers got better at the straddle jump.



Then there was a paradigm jump. Someone established that these understood parameters that focused the design didn’t need to be there. We then moved onto the eras of iPods, electric cars, memory sticks, Apple Pay and the Flosbury flop -- entirely new ways to solve the same problems, far superior, and with new and different boundaries.

The most profitable companies on this planet are massively correlated with the amount of product differentiation they offer, which in turn correlates beautifully with reimagination.

Uber didn’t provide a better taxi service by understanding the industry -- they simply blew up every barrier that ever existed, focusing on user experience and taking massive, quasi-illegal moves to bypass regulation.

Apple makes products that do things nobody knew were possible, nobody knew they wanted. There is no greater reimagination than creating something that didn’t exist before.

Alibaba ignored the assumption that as a retailer you should own the stuff you sell. Airbnb ignored the assumption that you need to own the accommodation you rent out.

Yet for all the power of digital transformation, we’ve seen very little change in all of advertising. Most banner ads look very much like press ads of the 1700s, pre-roll ads are just TV ads online, Spotify ads are identical to radio ads. It’s beyond my comprehension that we have not seen a new ad format since the 1950s.

Marshall McLuhan said: “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” He could not have more precisely described the way we have innovated using limitations of the past. We are bounded by "things that have always been this way" and "this is how the client liked it" and "we can measure it like that" and "but that's all we can buy."

However, the limitations of the past make no sense:

Why are TV ads 30 seconds long?

Why should pre-roll videos look like TV ads?

Why should a banner ad click to take you to another page?

Why do we buy media by media channel when modern media channels don’t make sense?

Why don’t we target the over-50s? They have more than 70% of the wealth?

Why do we think of mobile phones as a form of display advertising only?

So I’d like to lay down a challenge to the advertising industry. If we’d never known advertising before and we were to start from scratch today, what would advertising look like? Where would it be placed? How would it be bought? What would a call to action be? How would you connect with people? How would you plan media?

I’d love to see advertising re-imagined. While I know we alone can’t change an industry, boy would it be fun to try.

3 comments about "What If We Reimagined Advertising? ".
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  1. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, December 4, 2014 at 9:25 a.m.

    Fantastic challenge Tom.

  2. Jacqueline Lichtenberg from Sime~Gen Inc., December 4, 2014 at 2:04 p.m.

    In this article, at the end, is the following paragraph:
    So I’d like to lay down a challenge to the advertising industry. If we’d never known advertising before and we were to start from scratch today, what would advertising look like? Where would it be placed? How would it be bought? What would a call to action be? How would you connect with people? How would you plan media?

    What's wrong with this paragraph? The article challenges us to re-imagine advertising, yet the questions are constrained by the assumptions advertising has used to get this far.

    If you want to "re-imagine" the advertising industry, start from the beginning - the very beginning.

    What is the real purpose of advertising? (clue: it's not to "make a profit").

    Go read the wikipedia articles on Public Relations, and the books and historical origins of that line of thought. PR is all about handling people as "masses" -- hammering individuals into a single mold, creating herds and stampeding them.

    But what do those individuals want? They want to be individuals, not members of a herd.

    Look at TV entertainment. In an hour, about 42-44 minutes are used to "tell a story." Viewers want to be told a story, a whole story, a story they can sink into and concentrate on. Advertising is an interruption, a painful abortion of the continuity.

    The advertiser takes the position of the Adversary to the Customer -- and then tries to convince the Customer to part with money. That is ridiculous.

    An Advertiser with something to sell needs to speak to Shoppers, not people settled in to have a continuous, uninterrupted and pleasurable experience. Viewers aren't Shoppers.

    Advertisers have to learn not to change the subject. It's rude.

    Here's my take on what advertisers do wrong on Social Media -- by changing the subject.

    It wouldn't be just "fun to try" to change advertising. It would be immensely profitable. But first you have to stop being an adversary alternately beating your customer with a club and rewarding them with a 4 minute tidbit of the story they are trying to enjoy.

    And here is more food for thought about the business model of the artist-writer-content-creator vs. that of the manufacturer/seller of goods and services.

  3. Rick waghorn from addiply, December 7, 2014 at 11:26 a.m.

    If anyone wished to re-imagine the world of advertising they could do a lot worse than to listen to the words of Cindy Gallop; she would blow the current 'top down' construct up and start again, from fresh. From the bottom up.

    And put the consumer first.

    That advertising needs to be for my good; its not about the old broadcast model of good advertising. Looking for a medal at Cannes; rather its about making advertising that is relevant, useful and appropriate to me.

    And if that relevance includes making it local to me, so much the better.

    Eric Schmidt made the point in his keynote to DreamForce 11; that the winning platforms of the future needed to be mobile, social and... Local.

    A fact that a 'top down' industry struggles to grasp.

    How would I do it? Cut the algorithms out of the local loop; empower local SMEs to place a mobile 'Message' simply in front of their mobile audiences - and open the same rationale and ability up to national brand seeking to make themselves useful, to me, locally.

    Its a simple truth if we were all faced with a blank piece of paper and the chance to re-imagine a whole industry.

    Who would build from the top down?

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