With the ever-increasing importance of branded content, earned media, sponsored editorial, forums and the first-hand opinions of ordinary punters through social media, where does that leave poor old upfront, paid-for traditional advertising? Won't it increasingly be seen as so openly biased in favour of the brands it features that it's hardly worth paying attention to, let alone believing?
Well, my boy, I can see why you should think that. You are, after all, still quite young and susceptible to anything new and a bit anarchic. But I’m prepared to bet you a Tracey Emin to a book of Green Shield Stamps that you’re not only wrong but wrong by 180 degrees.
As the disciples of behavioural economics never tire of reminding us, we seldom – if ever – make standalone judgments. We choose a £16 bottle of wine not because it costs £16 but because it costs less than a wine costing £23 and more than a wine costing £12. Introduce a wine at £29 and we’ll probably find £23 entirely acceptable. Just about every evaluation we make, of just about everything, is relative. All brand positions are relative. We couldn’t place a Waitrose without a Tesco, a Telegraph without a Mail, a Ryanair without a British Airways.
The same is true for credible sources. We trust the BBC more than we trust a party political broadcast, and we trust Which? more than we trust advertising.
And we trust editorial more than we trust advertising. That’s the great strength of much public relations. If an independent magazine speaks well of a product, it’s rightly believed to carry more conviction, more persuasive power, than an unashamedly partial advertisement.
But over the past ten years or so, something interesting has been happening. The internet has allowed the lowliest of citizens to publish their opinions. Anonymity is common. Few facts are double-checked or scrutinised. Not all the reviews on advisory sites turn out to be authentic. Brands, sensing the chance (in that giveaway phrase) to get in under the radar, pose as real people. And, as always, the great unregimented army of the public soon begins to smell rats.
Marketing people are always going on about savvy consumers. They’re right: consumers are. And they’re learning to be wary of what they find on the internet. They think much social media has been infiltrated by undercover agents. And because all things are relative, and because the £29 bottle of wine makes the £23 bottle of wine cheaper, good old traditional in-your-face advertising will become – relatively – more trusted. A recent study in the US showed that getting on for 60 per cent of potential car-buyers found TV and press ads their most trusted sources of information, as opposed to 7 per cent for social media. If disillusionment with the internet as a credible source continues, used-car salesmen can expect to become respected citizens.
Everybody knows that an ad is an ad. They know it was paid for and they know who paid for it. They know it’s going to put the best case it can for whatever it’s promoting. They also sort of know that somebody somewhere has run an eye over it to check for things like honesty and accuracy.
How odd if the upstart so often portrayed as traditional media’s nemesis should instead turn out to be their most effective authenticator.
I received the following question in 2008 and drafted my answer immediately. Owing to pressure of events, however, I’ve only now found the space to include it. My apologies to the anonymous correspondent.
What do you think of the name Adam & Eve for a start-up? And, probably more importantly, are they talking out of their arses with their offer?
In my opinion, Adam & Eve is an inspired name for a new agency and virtually guarantees its success. I foresee it building its business and its creative reputation almost immediately. It wouldn’t surprise me to see it becoming such a desirable brand that, within five or six years, say, it became part of a highly beneficial merger with a more established brand.
PS. Mature reflection suggests that all the above would also have been true had the new agency simply been called after its able founders.
"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore’s Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.Telephone (020) 8267 4919
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