Do we even need advertising anymore? [a thought experiment]

Thought experiment:

What would happen if brands stopped advertising and, instead, put their marketing budgets into doing anything but advertising?

Earlier this year, a friend of mine and I won a Silver National ADDY for a campaign — #TrashcanTakeover — that was really an inside joke we played on a car dealer.  

The dealer had purchased ad space on a bunch of trash cans around Philadelphia, printed ugly ads that seemed to pop up on every street corner, and pissed a bunch of people off in doing so. There was negative press, and one person went so far as to blow up one of the trash cans. 

But in all that ugliness, we saw opportunity — to make a statement that people would notice.

On behalf of the brand I was managing at the time, we bought 18 of the trash cans and commissioned original works by 18 local artists, replacing the advertising on cans with works of art. The brand earned tons of press, we removed some of a public blight, a bunch of Philly artists got some great exposure, and we won a national award for the project’s impact on social media.

Whole thing cost $25,000.

Disney, who won the Gold in the same category, spent probably 50 times that sum in advertising the opening of Toy Story World. And I’m sure it gave some of the parents — whose children were the target of the campaign — absolute headaches. Many of them likely would have gladly replaced Buzz Lightyear’s face with an original Banksy. 

And, how effective was the Disney campaign? It’s been some time since Toy Story World has opened, and I haven’t seen anything indicating that the business has been an overwhelming success — either in general or as a result of the advertising. All of that money won an award, but was it well spent?

If imagined a different way, maybe all that content and noise could’ve actually DONE something … rather than produce something integrated and all-encompassing, but ultimately forgettable.

The experience has made me very curious. Adweek reports that more than $205B was spent on advertising in 2017. I’m certainly not — as a proud marketer for a publicly-traded retailer — suggesting that’s a bad thing. On the contrary, there’s potential to do some really interesting stuff with that money. 

If we’re all able to choke down the instinct (or mandate) to advertise our products, and instead just turn the whole ship around and work exclusively to add value to people’s lives (on behalf of our brands), just think what we could do with all of that money and the creative firepower it would fuel.  

Who knows.

Yes, we did a good job to create positive brand impressions with an opportunity that presented itself in the marketplace. And that’s advertising, in its own way. But advertising as we know it, as we think of it, is so formulaic right now — what are you doing on TV, what are you doing on social, what are you doing OOH, how are you activating, blah blah. I’m not sure it works anymore unless the creative is truly excellent. 

I’d love to see that creative used to do more than sell shit. 

What about you?

 

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Tom Wingert is the Manager, Mavens, at lululemon. You can reach him at twingert@lululemon.com.

 

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