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Fame, Please!


After reading the latest Paul Feldwick book ‘Why Does the Pedlar Sing? What Creativity Really Means in Advertising', VMLY&R Poland’s Anna Klamecka asks if ads should be more popular, famous, and fun again

Fame, Please!

Do we want to be too ‘serious’ and therefore the ads created today are neither popular nor attractive? Or maybe it is creativity that has become an non-negotiable dogma that makes us create a message that is attractive mainly to other representatives of the advertising industry? Paul Feldwick, in his new book ‘Why Does The Pedlar Sing? What Creativity Really Means In Advertising?’ critically evaluates the condition of contemporary advertising and reminds about the need to return to the sources that allow building strong, recognisable brands. 

Yes, advertising is a serious business, so we must invest our efforts and budgets to get tangible results. Fads and niche trends are something we should avoid, that’s why ‘It is time to rediscover the fact that advertising builds brands best when it is entertaining, popular and memorable, when it is not just a pitch, but a performance.’ Advertising is meant to be entertaining and memorable. Simple? Simple. 

Known for his previous high-profile publication – ‘The Anatomy of Humbug: How To Think Differently About Advertising’ – this is not the first time Paul has spoken out on the essence of advertising. His many years of experience in qualitative research, heading the BMP strategy departments, DOB Worldwide and the jury panel of the IPA Effectiveness competition allows him to assess that we often fall into the traps of one of the two styles of building communication. The first is a rational salesmanship model that focuses on communicating product attributes. In the second one, we succumb to the pressure of specifically understood creativity, which results in complex and niche concepts, interesting for a narrow group of people working in the industry. 

Arguing that today’s (and award- winning) ads are neither popular nor effective, Paul points out that we want to be so innovative and unique that we forget what the very thing that helps build strong brands – the classic narrative models that attract and keep the viewer’s attention. 

What is the key then? The awareness that we are not creating a work of art or ‘just’ advertising. ‘We are putting on a show’ – and fame is the main factor that determines brand recognition. It is not its values, brand essence, brand purpose or – more and more sent to oblivion – distinctive features. The same fame that determines the popularity of a celebrity or TV show is a feature of strong brands and its creation should be the goal of every emerging advertisement. 

Paul is not the first and only author to emphasise the importance of fame – he stands in line with the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s mental availability idea, Les Binet, Peter Field and the System 1 agency, which lists three aspects that determine brand choice: 

  • Fame (‘if a brand comes readily to mind, it’s a good choice’)
  • Feeling (‘if a brand feels good, it’s a good choice’)
  • Fluency (‘if a brand is recognisable, it’s a good choice’)

A strong brand – apart from offering physical availability or product quality – is the one that evokes a wide network of associations, positive sentiment and communicates through distinctive, memorable, iconic assets. We are under no illusion that in an environment where brands differ little or nothing, it is the scale and form of their communication that becomes crucial. 

The drive to professionalise advertising is a remedy for the attitude that ‘everyone knows marketing’. That's why we distance ourselves from the tricks of the entertainment industry or celebrities and influencers who shine on the red carpet. Where do these insecurities and undermining popularity as a key aspect of advertising come from?  Historically, advertising seems to have had the same complex as photography at the beginning of the 19th century. As a new medium requiring neither talent nor competence in the opinion of painters, photography was not accepted by ‘serious’ artists. Therefore, at the beginning of its existence it tried to imitate painting as much as possible or played a servile role towards it, and only with time it emancipated itself and gave artists more freedom. The pressure to be more ‘serious’ made advertising question the practices of the singing pedlars mentioned by Paul, the creators of medical shows or the giants of the entertainment industry such as Phineas T. Barnum. A trace of this cut-off can be seen in the statement of many advertising classics, including David Ogilvy; ‘Don’t sing your selling message. Selling is a serious business.’ 

The history of advertising is not only a testimony of complexes, which - according to Paul - the industry is still struggling with today. It is also the story of erasing women’s successes. Seen for many years as the anti-reference of business success, the Sunny Jim message, created for the Force brand by Minnie Maud Hanff and Dorothy Ficken, in fact generated not only gigantic fame but also an increase in sales. The concept was discredited by the Calkins and Holden agency, which took over the brand accounts and changed all of its elements, leaving only the name. It was discredited effectively, since the marketing director of the Western Clock Manufacturing Company wrote in a memo to his directors: ‘I would not recommend any so-called ‘clever’ advertising or humorous copy…for instance like the Sunny Jim campaign’. However, the idea changed by the new agency was unable to maintain the fame earned by the previous team. As a result, the campaign was suspended, and the brand was sold. What is interesting, the original communication survived in the UK, where it brought the brand considerable benefits. This is a lesson that proves that once created fame cannot be taken for granted when striving to build long-term success – it must be consistently sustained in order to fulfil its function. 

According to Paul, the problem of today’s advertising industry is the way we use the word ‘creativity’, which we associate with something esoteric and perceive almost as a dogma. So what kind of creativity do we need then? The kind of creativity that is lever for effective communication and results from an understanding of the business strategy. Creativity that can be discussed and questioned. One that is open to the process and the resulting changes. We need to stop treating it as a synonym for innovation or originality for its own sake. 

Building popularity is based on the mechanism common to a TV show, a music band, and an advertisement. Content that is fun and entertaining should be created on the basis of the right balance of two elements: familiarity and novelty. The former responds to our ingrained psychological need for security, the latter satisfies the need for excitement and variety. The predominance of each element can contribute to failure, resulting in a form that is too bizarre or too boring. According to Paul, an example of a perfect balance is Honey Monster – a concept created by John Webster for the Sugar Puffs brand and successfully developed over the years. It combines surprising elements, such as the giant, fluffy monster calling the starring Henry McCee his mother (Tell’em about the honey, Mummy’) with the down-to-earth setting (kitchen) and the traditional role of an actor describing aspects of the product. 

The professionalisation of advertising – especially in the area of effective research – and the drive to make it more scientific as a discipline are essential to the growth of the industry. Let’s not forget that we are not always welcomed – regardless of whether it is a TV screen, a computer or a smartphone scrolled while riding the tram. So, let’s try not only to create commercials, but first and foremost the show that you will not want to miss. 

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VMLY&R Poland, Mon, 11 Oct 2021 16:21:35 GMT