Anand Halve

The schizophrenia of advertising

It could not have escaped any one's attention that there are two kinds of advertising in evidence these days. Not that a dichotomous view of 'types' of advertising is unprecedented; at one time, the classification of advertising used to follow the logic of Hard sell vs Soft sell messaging. At other times, the categories were defined as being Emotional vs Rational in approach. Even Creative vs Effective (a split sponsored, not surprisingly, by agencies that did NOT produce 'creative' advertising. Until Ranjan Kapur and Piyush Pandey at Ogilvy, put an end to this false divide.)

The categorisation most popular today is, Long duration vs Short duration. (Of course this implicitly is also a YouTube vs broadcast TV division.) So on the one hand we have seen advertising that is 'several-minutes-long'. The genre, if you will, was I think kicked off by the Google 'Reunion' film. More recently, we have had long duration mini-movies in this genre from Fortune cooking oil, Pepsi and KitKat; no doubt there are others that I have missed. And on the other hand, there continue on air, TVCs in the classic-30-second format that fmcg brands have followed for several decades. The protagonist has a problem which, no matter how trivial it may be, is presented as one that is so monumental in its potential consequences that left unattended, threatens the future of mankind. Think of pimple marks, dirty toilet bowls, stains on a shirt, rough hair, a cockroach in the sink, a less-than-sparkling-white shirt (or teeth), a dirty set of pots and pans... well, you get it.

But while many of these divisions (e.g. Emotional vs Rational) were often artificial, the most recent division indicates a fundamental schizophrenia in how brands look at advertising. Or, more correctly, at how advertising works. Communication, after all, is based on a 'model' of how advertising works. The fmcg 'problem-solution model' was probably most notable in the way P&G approached advertising. It came from the conviction that 'products solve problems'. In this view, if you had a good product, all that advertising needed to do was to show prospects that the brand fixed the problem. It continues to be the model of choice for a lot of fmcg (and other) brands. Of course the logic of proving the superiority of particular brands is becoming quite esoteric with claims based on strange ingredients (e.g. 'flavenoids') and stranger actions (e.g. 'vibrating molecules').

Undoubtedly, there is a product reality beneath the appeal of some iconic brands such as Harley-Davidson or Apple. But there are other, fast growing categories, where it is difficult to believe that there is - or can be - any rational or product underpinning: fashion brands, perfumes, beverages. And an audience getting more and more affected by ADD (Attention Deficiency Disorder). Which are just two of the several factors that have led to a situation in which brands are moving - with hope in their heart and YouTube on smartphones - towards telling 'stories' to engage with prospects.

But therein lies the rub. The old-school struggles with putting an ROI number on 'engagement'. What is the coefficient of market-share-change of 100,000 views on YouTube? How much is a 'forward' worth in rupees? And how does one connect the consumers' heart to the brand? Clearly the 'have problem, will solve' approach is not a formula that works universally. But at least it gave marketers a model of how advertising worked that allowed them to create communication around it.

And that model seems broken. Young women are unlikely to buy a Zara dress because you tell them that it is made from fabric that is 'a long-chain polyglycol combined with a short diisocyanate'. So the problem today is that no one is sure what is the model of how the new consumer thinks. And thus how to manage communication. Freud said, "The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'"

He might have added...'or for that matter, a new-age consumer.'

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