rock the boat to stay afloat

ship in harbour

Advertising’s purpose is to share news with people, in the hope that it will influence their attitudes.

So if the news is unremarkable, or if it doesn’t influence its audience, what’s the point in advertising at all?

‘Safe’ serves no purpose here: messaging or creativity that takes no risks will make very little difference.

And as I’ve observed before, if you don’t make a difference, why bother at all?

*Update: more useful thoughts on risk and reward in this great post from Seth Godin

Many thanks to ffffound! for the image, which originally came from here [oops, the original page seems to have disappeared].

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7 Responses to “rock the boat to stay afloat”


  1. 1 Herdmeister May 13, 2010 at 18:34

    Nice idea but is that really what advertising is for? Or how it works? Is there more to it perhaps?

  2. 2 eskimon May 13, 2010 at 19:31

    Hi Mark, welcome back!

    I see where your challenge is coming from, but thinking about it again, I’d stick by the assertion, as long as it’s literal.

    To me, ‘advertising’ – a broadcast approach to informing, entertaining, or educating people – is mostly a news function. It’s all about telling people things.

    Yes, brand communications are a broader discipline, but advertising is just a subset of that (agreed, this all begins to sound a bit pedantic and semantic, but it’s an interesting discussion nonetheless).

    As for influencing attitudes, I know there’s plenty of noise out there at the moment about which leads – behaviour or attitude – but that feels like another semantic discussion about the word ‘attitude’.

    Ultimately, I believe that most of our actions are cognitive choices, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always rational or predictable.

    This discussions could easily go in a few different directions, so here are a few more related provocations:

    On the attitudes vs behaviour topic, you might want to challenge the Classical Conditioning vs Reasoned Response post.

    And as for the concept of sharing ‘news’ (and by ‘news’ I mean anything that changes an audience’s perceptions of something), I’ve long believed that advertising (and even broader brand comms) always needs a message.

    But I recognise these are subjective viewpoints, and I’d love to test those interpretations in light of other opinions.

    So what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  3. 3 brandconsultantasia May 14, 2010 at 09:10

    A provocative post – great image too and although the ‘here’ link doesn’t work, the ‘fffound’ one does and the work there is worth 15 minutes of anyone’s time.

    I think you may have unleashed a monster here. I’m a big fan of advertising but not of the one size fits all (same message to every demographic in every country), mass market carpet bombing of consumers via traditional media and channels approach still favoured by most ad agencies.

    Today, with all the technology, data and channels available to us, I believe it is borderline criminal that advertising agencies continue to recommend the above approach.

    Quote, “So if the news is unremarkable, or if it doesn’t influence its audience, what’s the point in advertising at all?”

    There is no point! It is as simple as that. But it may be too late because advertising agencies have persisted with the outdated model above, consumers pay very little attention to advertising anymore and if they do, they don’t believe what the advertisers tell them in the ads anyway!

    Here in Malaysia, 84% of respondents to a survey carried out by a daily newspaper said they don’t believe what advertisers tell them in ads.

    Advertising agencies have dug themselves a very deep hole that they are going to find it hard to dig themselves out of. Unfortunately they’ll probably use advertising to do it!

    • 4 eskimon May 14, 2010 at 10:39

      Hi Marcus, I think you might be right about the monster… but that was the intention!

      I fully agree – the ‘traditional’ (literal) advertising model is broken. We need to understand that depending entirely on a ‘one-night stand’ approach to marketing will never let us progress to a more meaningful relationship with the people who matter to us – more on that in yesterday’s post.

      People have learned to ignore advertising that’s irrelevant to them, so it no longer serves its purpose of ‘sharing’ anything. If we genuinely want to connect with people, we need to understand what’s going to engage them – on their terms.

  4. 5 Rob May 14, 2010 at 12:29

    I know exactly what you’re saying … but I don’t think being ‘brave’ is the answer either.

    The reality is bravery implies a leap into the unknown and whilst some clients may appreciate that approach, many – especially in Asia – don’t.

    The secret, as I bore my poor teams to death with, is that if there is literally nothing of interest to communicate [and I mean that in terms of what ‘real’ people will react to, not marketing folk] then the goal is to create sound twisted logic.

    In short, what on initial exposure may sound like ‘being brave’ [or in client speak: stupid] suddenly becomes perfectly sensible … reasonable even … once you have explained, demonstrated and provided evidence to the contrary.

    Of course that is harder to do … but then any planner who thinks they can get clients to do interesting stuff without giving economic reasons to back it up is either [1] dreaming [2] living in the 1950’s or [3] working with clients who may soon experience ‘financial difficulties’.

    I do not support the P&G model of any news is good news … the World’s changed … and we have to create news that is inherently energising, involving and economically, culturally and emotionally beneficial.

    • 6 eskimon May 14, 2010 at 14:09

      Great stuff Rob – I think the fine line between bravery and conviction is one we need to consider more carefully when we structure a planning rationale.

      It’s not just a case of justifying why the ideas work for the brand, but how the idea is actually going to make a tangible difference to the audience and their world, as well as to the brand’s bottom line.

      That doesn’t necessarily mean researching everything to death for ‘concrete’ predictions though – Jim Carroll’s superb post on BBH Labs the other day demonstrates why that model’s broken too.

      Rather, it means being very focused on what we’re trying to do. And that means moving away from thinking about ‘making ads’ and thinking much more about what we can do to share value and meaning – through whatever means possible.

  5. 7 Rayner Seah May 14, 2010 at 23:15

    Very interesting post that you have posted here!

    However, I will never fully agree to any of the above points mentioned, nor disagree. They are very subjective and might have been raised through different experiences. These points above will definitely hold true on different contexts.

    Based from my own experience as a consumer, i believe that whether advertisements should take a ‘literal’ approach or a ‘peripheral’ approach would very much be dependent on the nature of the product.

    i personally dont fully agree with the fact that most of our decisions are cognitive based(or at least for me). There are instances of impulse purchases and many instances of impetuous consumers that base their decisions on emotions and subjective norms. The rise of ipods, the hello kitty craze, the unexplained preference for $5 starbucks coffee over $1 cafeteria coffee, just to name a few, seem to challenge the assertion that purchases are usually cognitive based. PErhaps, there is a deeper meaning to cognitive decisions which one may argue for.

    advertisement do not always take a literal route because of this. They know that certain products (especially low-involvement FMCGs) have only one way to maintain sales. I.E through top-of-the mind product recall. Hence, they ‘rock the boat to stay afloat’

    Just because the consumers dont believe what the ads say does not necessarily mean that they are not influenced SUBCONSCIOUSLY…

    I may be wrong btw…. Ha just looking from another perspective


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