Ayan Banik
Guest Article

The consumer is a goldfish...

... But don't blame your mediocre ads on their short attention span...

Today's millennials have the attention span of a goldfish. Therefore, they don't have time for such old school gibberish like insight, idea or storyline. It's all about being seen by the right people (native ads) in the right light (aspirational, youthful and raring to go and conquer the world). Let's not intellectualise anything and come to the point (product usage) as quickly as possible. Millennials hate anticipation and intrigue. They lose patience and they will skip you.

The consumer is a goldfish...
When we start the creative process with such parochial thinking, no wonder this is what we end up with - a success recipe for eye-grabbing communication:

Create 4-minute stories but tell them in 8 seconds, starting with the logo

Imagine what happens to our audience's interest level when the opening frame of any communication starts with the brand logo at the top right/left hand corner and remains constant.

If viewers lose interest in the story after 10 seconds, then why not just do 10 second ads? Because when we let the cat out of the bag, we've already killed all intrigue whatsoever. Not to mention the appalling confidence we have in our own creative output to begin with.

Dumb it down

Another common ailment is dumbing down the communication content (by avoiding interesting/complex plots using non-linear formats) for the benefit of the viewer's comprehension.

As marketers and ad guys, we have every right to think that we are the smartest people on earth, but we don't have any right to think our consumers aren't. If we get it, they will get it too. Once upon a time, David Ogilvy had famously said, "The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife." It's time we paid heed to it one more time.

Celebrity is the idea

Get as many celebrities as money can buy and then let them do some really inane/ridiculous stuff that you and I will never do in our lives. Anything sells in India from ridiculous films to ridiculous ad films. And the icing on the cake - get them to tweet our campaign link using their own handles. A great tick on the social media plan.

Celebrities are at best a good start to a great story. Use them for what they can do rather than who they are. E.g.: Paul Harvey's voice in 'God made the farmer', Jean Claude Van Damme in Volvo or Robert Carlyle in Johnnie Walker.

Glorified product demonstration

Had it been about flying an airbus or driving an earth mover, it's understandable. But a glorified product window on how to eat a burger or switch on an AC? Even kids don't need that stuff. We have moved beyond the 80s and 90s, when every product (from a Pepsi to a Levi's jeans) was a whole new experience, and so it needed to be glorified.

Today, every first world brand worth its salt is available in India. The mere presence of it is no longer new news. Moreover, Gauchais Reaction is more applicable in real life (in the now and present) than in the 'reel to real life.' Then why spend so many sleepless nights over creating the perfect consumption 'Aha moments'?

Emote in mute

Emotions lead to great stories. But can we emote in mute? Like an inner laughter or a hidden tear? In the day and age of Facebook & Instagram, that's what every creative director is told - tell an evocative story that works equally well even with the mute button on. Even pantomimes need a background score. Isn't the very premise self-defeating? Who is the king? The consumer or the media platform?

People will go out and buy headsets in loads, just to watch great content. When we create compelling communication, the rest is taken care of. Let's try and keep it that way.

Time to wake up and smell the coffee.

We conveniently blame our viewers' shorter attention span to justify our mediocre and at times below average content.

Long ago, the maverick advertising genius, Neil French, through the XO Beer Campaign social experiment, proved to the world that there is nothing called a long copy or a short copy. People read what they find interesting and they skip what they don't. Period!

Similarly, viewers will watch what they find interesting and will skip what they will find boring or stupid.

To be remembered or just to be heard?

If we keep shoving all our smartly packaged content down the throat of our hapless viewers, they will be forced to see it, but definitely, they won't remember any of it. So, they won't talk about it either. (Read make it viral). Forget about buying our product or service.

To my mind that's a very scary proposition. Because the role of communication is being limited to creating product awareness only. Nothing else. The product is selling on its own. Awareness as a metric has been created by lousy ad guys to justify their salaries.

If we have to create brand differentiation, build brand imagery or garner brand loyalty beyond reasons, then we have to engage with our audience. And all we have to do is bring back the

3 simple tenets of great story-telling:

Pique the audience's curiosity - Introduction

Stir their imagination - Development

And then create tension - Derailment

This has been the arsenal of great story-tellers from stand-up comedians to novelists to script writers. Anyone can curate content from the internet. But real story-telling is an art. We don't teach our marketing friends how to sell their products. So why learn from them how to create communication? We are all in the business because we know our stuff! There's no harm in listening to the marketers, the researchers and the media platform owners, but as an agency, we should have the last word when it comes to creative development.

Summing up with the age-old BBH mantra, this time for our own sake - 'Get them to buy. Don't sell.'

(The author is head, brand strategy, Cheil India)

Have news to share? Write to us atnewsteam@afaqs.com