Put The Magic Back In Advertising

Recently, I was judging an advertising industry award show. There were over 200 submissions competing for the best media plan of the year covering dozens of categories. Many of the submissions lacked meaningful results or lacked interesting and motivating consumer insights — typical of shows I’ve judged recently.

Just about everyone included metrics, liked impressions served, videos completed and earned media value, which are mostly weak success metrics and short-term KPIs. Most also lacked a big idea, the kind of idea that makes consumers smile and encourages talking.

Few submissions were remarkable. Several where exceptional and those won. This experience made one thing clear: The magic that makes a huge idea is severely lacking in this business. It's because we’ve been spending so much time optimizing the things we can easily control and not spending time on the harder things, like big creative media ideas.

For years, Wall Street has bemoaned managing quarterly results. Now, it’s our turn.



Companies have said it drives short-term decisions at the expense of creating long-term opportunities. Amazon has famously bucked this trend and is now worth $1 trillion. For a while now, any brand that has a convertible site-side event has been optimizing to short-term sales, often at the expense of the big idea.

Whole ad tech verticals have been built to improve lower funnel conversions. We can all learn a thing or two from Amazon, which has put innovation at the center of its vision.

I remember when campaigns had a clear media point of view. How a brand should behave in media and how media should be used to shape perceptions was clearly articulated. Discussions around context were of strategic importance because context helped create brand understanding and reinforced a brand’s positioning.

We used to talk about a brand having a media "signature" that was special to it. I don’t hear us talk about that much any more. Instead, I hear us talk a lot about capturing demand and leveraging intent signals to drive revenue.

These discussions around hand raisers are important because they help clients understand how their investments are driving revenue. Over the last few years, given advancements in technology,  we’ve gotten successful at understanding how a media investment directly drives sales.

But since we’ve spent so much time optimizing the lower parts of the funnel, we’ve compromised media creativity.

Clients have always wanted to understand how media drives sales. At best, it was hard to connect sales and media investments, but now we can show how a particular impression contributes to a conversion. That kind of knowledge is power, and it makes media planners really valuable, so the industry has doubled down on data.

Big ideas, the magic that use to drive the industry, is harder to prove out; it’s harder to attribute.

Since the industry, including clients, are predisposed toward measurable media — remember Peter Drucker’s famous quote "If You Can't Measure It, You Can't Improve It." — results matter.

We’ve focused on optimization innovations and been obsessed with precision targeting. All that brain power and mental focus to prove media drives sales came at the expense of the big media idea.

There is something amazing that happens when consumers experience great advertising and the results of that experience are not always immediately apparent. But they change the hearts and minds of a society. 

Brand love isn't optimized in real time. Brand love takes time, and it’s often messy.

Today, we want to know how the campaign will end before it starts. (In a lot of cases, we can predict performance with a high degree of certainty.) But often, you can’t predict how big ideas (ideas larger than just one campaign) will change the world. And real marketing power exists in those big ideas.

Let’s not forget to take risks that change the world, while optimizing to the end of the quarter. Let’s strive for the big ideas that can drive real business transformation and impact culture. And also be magical.

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