Rising above the advertising clutter

Information overload is the new normal and being doubly creative is the way to get your brand's voice heard

People wearing face masks walk past an advertisement following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Shanghai, China January 14, 2021.

People wearing face masks walk past an advertisement following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Shanghai, China January 14, 2021.


Never before have so many demands been made on our attention. As a direct result, never have we been more effective in blocking out information we don’t think is relevant. This places a unique demand on advertisers: create content that can cut through the blinkers we put on to maintain sanity in a constantly noisy world.

As Yousef Touqan, chief innovation officer, Leo Burnett, MENA, said: “Thanks to the power of this 200-gram bit of glass [a smartphone], we have access to the entirety of human achievement – every book ever written, every movie ever made.”

He continued that when he was an 18-year-old lad in Amman, he had access to two TV channels. “Back then, to catch my attention, you only had to be the best across two channels. Now, you have to be the best in the world.”

Careless advertising is out. It won’t be criticised; worse, it just won’t be noticed. The way we deal with constant overload is to put up filters. Consider this: Dubai’s main thoroughfare, Sheikh Zayed Road, is full of 150-foot banners. Quiz any Dubai resident, and they’d be hard pressed to tell you of one they recall, despite driving that highway every day.

‘Worse than goldfish’

The basics of a competent ad haven’t changed. It needs to be easily recalled, simple, succinct and not confusing. It should have a call to action. For print ads, a provocative image, strong headline and tight copy are the bare minimum. Outdoor advertisements need to be light on words and heavy on imagery.

The problem is that in our information intensive world, competent ads simply aren’t enough. They are drowned out. As Touqan said: “The average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds. Research shows the average attention span of a modern connected human is now eight seconds. We’re worse than goldfish.”

This is the audience the modern advertising person has to address. This audience doesn’t take well to intrusions and interruptions. In fact, as Touqan added: “The longest four seconds of anyone’s life seem to be the four seconds before you can skip an ad video on YouTube.”

What makes an ad tick

So what makes a successful modern ad? It’s a tall ask. They need to be compelling, take advantage of a specific moment that their audience will connect with. They need to tell a story and they need to be entertaining.

Take one of the most successful ad series in 2020. Lockdowns and border closures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a serious blow to the global travel industry. Many people across the world were forced to put their travel plans on hold indefinitely and shelter in place.

Online travel site Expedia took this opportunity to tell a story to which many could relate. In a 30-second stop-motion commercial titled ‘Let’s take a trip’, the company showed a couple using household items like sheets, cushions, tables, sofa, and books to recreate holiday experiences in their own living room.

It reflects the situation and mood many people are in – cooped up at home with nowhere to go, but the grocery or pharmacy – but it also gives them hope that someday, they can travel again. Since its debut on YouTube in September 2020, the commercial has raked in more than 8.7 million views.   

Consider other online successes, such as the legendary Oreo “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet, which used a Superbowl power outage to excellent effect, and was retweeted thousands of time. It wasn’t an ad, but it won more eyeballs than primetime slots.

In an age of social media, ads have to respond fast and tap some element of the zeitgeist – specifically if they want to reach the millennials that rule the digital world. For Generation X, good old-fashioned ads in the glossy pages might still have allure.

Advertisers, take heart. Social media upsets the apple cart, and allows innovative new brands short on budgets to out-manoeuvre established behemoths. This is a good thing.

But even so, print and outdoors aren’t dead. They are a sense of legitimacy that millions of web banners don’t. In fact, the rumours of print’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Consider that Google still spends money on print ads.

So what does the modern ad need? Regardless of format, it needs a head. Even more importantly, it needs a heart. Audience connection is everything in a vastly crowded world.

Note: This article was originally published on Accelerate SME and it has been republished on Zawya with full copyright permission.

Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. The content does not provide tax, legal or investment advice or opinion regarding the suitability, value or profitability of any particular security, portfolio or investment strategy. Read our full disclaimer policy here.

© Zawya SME 2021

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