The Theory of Advertising

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If you have read my most recent post (“3 Minutes, 3 Seconds”), you will be familiar with the colleague whom I featured.
I tend to talk through my ideas on the industry with this individual as a sounding board, and when I say ‘talk through’ I mean we savagely argue until people begin to tentatively reach for their desk phones to slowly tap in the extension for the HR department.

As he will also feature in this post I feel the need to give him a quick introduction; he’s unaware of his presence in my blog so let’s give him a pseudonym, let’s call him Neil.

Neil is an analyst like myself but with more experience, more wisdom. He is wiry and slight. He’s inconspicuous but observant.  To liken him to an animal, he’d be a cunning Fox, to a beverage; he’d be a sharp whiskey. Finally, but most importantly; Neil hates advertising (ironic, given his job).
He feels it is a multi-billion pound industry centred on manipulative pretty pictures and bright colours. Neil see’s the world in ones and zeros, he’s a purist who delivers his views with an air of Cruella de Vil.
In this sense, Neil provides our immediate team with a nice balance. He is the perfect counter to my doughy-eyed romantic view of advertising, if I’m Mulder he’s definitely Scully, and it is this balance which brings me to my latest story…

As we progress through February, we enter one of my favourite times of year; film awards season! I absolutely adore movies, so the categorisation and exploration of the “best of the best” brings me huge pleasure. The wonderful Baftas are complete, so we move to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences… the fabled Oscars!
It is at this point in the story that my love for film and my passion for advertising collided like a high speed train crash.

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It all occurred yesterday when I was reading an article in Ad Age entitled “How Data Analysis Was Used in Oscar Race”, it explored how film studios like “Focus Features”, are using social data and analytics techniques to reach and woo members of the prestigious film academy.

“How!?” I hear you cry, when the approximate 6,000 members of the Academy are not publically declared by name.
Studios are applying intelligent solutions to this problem, they’re compiling as much information as possible about the members, for example; it is known that the majority are over 60 years old and comprised largely of males residing in the United States. The layering of similar intel forms a proxy, a “type” or “version” of person which the studio can then target with ad communications to promote a film which they have in the running for an award.
As many of you will know, this theory and practice of “Market Segmentation” and audience targeting is Marketing “101”, it is the foundation of the communications industry and is a frequent feature of my day job. But when I read about this being applied to members of the Motion Picture Academy, something jarred, something didn’t sit right. For the first time in my career, I thought… “advertising doesn’t have a place here, this is wrong”.

As you can imagine, Neil had an opinion. I angled my screen towards him and said “what do you think about that?”. His initial response was underwhelming, “yeah, so?”.
“This is wrong!” I barked, “…the Academy Awards aren’t about persuasion via advertising, they’re about a level playing field, a group of distinguished experts selecting the champion, its art, you can’t slap up billboards and fire out social media ads to persuade these people!”.

Neil then ominously arched his neck to one side, releasing multiple crunching noises and I suddenly felt the need for a gum shield. “How is this different?” he asked, “…how is this example different to how we spend our days researching and defining types of people to target for our clients?”.
“That’s completely different” I replied, “that’s commercial, that’s the free market, that’s fair game, the Academy Awards is art, you shouldn’t pollute it with persuasion”.
“Film is a business, like everything else” Neil said solemnly, “they’ve invested biblical sums of money in their venture and they want to make sure that is returned”.
The argument continued throughout the morning, on the way to meetings, over coffee and through lunch. Ultimately, the result was, we were both right… and stubborn.

I used to think Neil was being hypocritical because he worked in advertising but wasn’t an advocate of it. However, after reading about how the very techniques I use every day were being applied to an area where I felt they had no business to be, I find myself feeling a little hypocritical.

I love my industry, and every single person is a potential target depending on which brand I am working on and what idea I am trying to communicate, but I suppose I need to ask, where do I draw the line?

In truth, I don’t know, but in my opinion we shouldn’t apply the theory of advertising to everything.

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