I’m sitting on the couch. I’m watching Two and a Half Men, which by the ratings makes me about 30% of the population. I’m feeling very male. I sniff under my arms for re-assurance. I’m glad I showered this morning. I’m almost tempted to get a beer and put my feet on the coffee table. But would I dare? It’s a glorious, well-crafted worship of ‘blokes world’ (see it on CH 31) without the tits and hotted up cars.
Yes, it’s hopelessly sexist. Yes, women are only recreational devices, stalkers, cleaners or ex-wife harpies. Charlie, the owner of the house, elder brother and ‘great guy who gets laid more often than eggs’ hero, is talking to his ‘you’re a wimp if you have kids’ brother and he’s using terms like ‘boner pills’ and ‘like dude, tell summon who cares’.
And I think about this, as I’m mulling over how to put a Guerilla Guide twist into my article in our ‘digital’ edition.
Charlie is supposed to be American ultra-elite. Look at his ‘ideal’ lifestyle. Living right on Malibu Beach California, works in music. Writes jingles (could own an ad agency – hey?) Multi-millionaire, single, 40 something, white, middle class, talented, good-looking,
if you like tall dark and handsome. Charlie Sheen is not exactly portraying a struggling up and comer, the deserving guy who’s got talent but needs a lift out of social obscurity. He’s portraying the back-bone of America. Their social leadership. And here’s my point. He talks street talk. Yes, it’s white middle class street talk, but never the less, it’s not perfect English and it sure isn’t Australian PC corporate talk.
And there you are wondering, as you sit in your nice corner office over-looking Sydney harbor or Adelaide harbor. Sitting there wondering if the English your legal team has just sent back to you is putting the emphasis quite right on those banner ads you’re about to run on Facebook.
No matter how well strategised those ads are, if the language is half as bad as most of the ads run in Australia today, you won’t get the desired impact. They are not written in an English we, the public, use anymore.
Australian advertising on-line gets shit-house results. The bench-mark/gold-standard for web site visitation to conversion is 14% – Roses Only. Amazon gets 10% sales to hits. What does your site get? 2%? One?
No wonder we’re still trying to convince boards that digital is better. The language is so bad coming out of ad agencies (and marketers) that I’m surprised any sales get made at all. No wonder the best stuff is purely visuals. You can’t stuff them up anything like as easily.
We in marketing land in Australia are at a major cross-roads. We are losing contact with our customer base. They are seeing (you tube) videos, watching TV shows, hearing radio announcers, speaking with people on the street or at the shopping centre and their language is one direction. Then the punter turns on the box or hears ads on the radio, and the marketers making those ads are talking another language completely.
The language that works isn’t a ‘learning experience’, it isn’t a ‘productivity gain’ it isn’t ‘choice’. It’s only choice if it’s used by Maori to describe the desirable. As in when you are told you have been given half a dozen Scallops with your chippies and you say ‘choice bro’.
It so isn’t the crappy, mamby-pamby stuff you hear pandied across your office’s meeting tables every boring day of the week. It’s real language. Spoken by real people. It has mistakes in it and repetition and the sentences don’t have subjects and the replies don’t match up and the words tumble over each other’s speech.
I don’t care how right on the money your marketing department think the wording is, how legally correct the lawyers in compliance find the wording. The public simply do not understand it. Yes, it occasionally makes sales. But they only turn on and focus on the ad when they absolutely have to buy that car or that widget cause the last one’s gone to God. The poor public have to de-construct what corporate Australia is trying to say to them to actually engage with us.
The public are speaking 21st century mid-pacific English and most of your ads are mid – 20th century middle class Australian English. There’s a long way between the two. Whole words mean different things. What does sick mean? What does bad mean? Or soft? Gay? Blonde? Mad? Nasty? Fat? Dirty? To be nasty is to be a) very sexy b) bad tempered c) cheap and tacky. Even blonde old me can give you at least three opposing meanings for all of them.
As we talk about digital marketing over the course of this article, and while you read the rest of this, the leading publication on Marketing in Australia, keep this bit of data firmly in your over-worked, over-educated mind: all the theory stuff means absolutely nothing if you don’t use words the punters will understand.
Get control of your communications. Manage your legal team. Soften up your board to the idea of speaking like their customers, or continue to drive them away.
‘But it doesn’t make sense’ I hear your board saying. Look at it from the public’s point of view: Would you listen to someone shouting at you in Swahili? Nup, you’d walk off as fast as you could.
Now, assuming you have the power to get some or all of your communications written/ recorded in the same language as your customers speak, let’s just for a moment talk down and dirty digital.
Advertising online: Digital is very dirty
The most interesting thing for me about digital communications is that the power has gone back to the people. (Yes, I hereby confess to being a closet believer in democracy, sorry Ruddy and Turnover.) And because the people now have control over what they watch and what they think about, they can tell all those smarty-pants control-freak types they have always hated, to go fuck themselves. They can tell their teachers, their parents, the snotty well-spoken rich kid who played chess at lunch time, everyone they hated to go fuck themselves. And they can do it so easily. They just watch and do what they like, instead of doing what WE want them to do.
Communications in digital land is so lollies in the supermarket. The public can’t help themselves. 10 year olds kids with money in their pockets and no parents around to tell them not to buy all that sugar. They go for the easy, the fun, the stupid, the gross, the revolting – the things they really fancy.
Trying to get the public to go for sensible, well-worded ads that are just so and have a punch line and that your accounts department think are good, is basically like trying to get ugly, smelly, recently divorced men to make the bed properly. Why should they care?
It’s your problem Miss Marketing Manager to get them to listen to/react to your ads. If they aren’t exciting (and insert whatever basic instincts you think would be appropriate to assume here, please) and well, basic, then they are gone.
Whenever we do banner ads, we stop and say to ourselves ‘is this dumb enough’? ‘Is this on the edge enough’? If your mum would approve, the public won’t even see it. It will go past their eyes like wallpaper.
Think of the emails you actually send on to your mates. What is it you send on to Kyles, Cirsty and Samantha? The nice stuff?
Go for vomit, boners, naked desire. Violence, humiliation, greed and lust. You could add in, for good measure, a bit of sheer envy and some nasty druggy gossip. Learn from tacky women’s magazines. They know how to talk to women – when they get it wrong they all lose their jobs cause the circulation goes down the toilet. You have to have effective communications when the public has the ability to turn off.
I’ll make that point again another way. They can turn off, so you have to turn them on.
Digital may be dirty, but it’s not dumb
Digital, whether we’re talking digital TV, digital web, SMS, MMS, QR codes, I don’t care if we’re talking implanted silicon eye-balls on tram seats, digital is informed. It’s uber smart. It’s individual, identifiable, measurable, and trackable. It is therefore also 100% accountable. That you can now track customers by buying habits and psychology as well as straight identity and demographics, makes this age absolutely marketing nirvana. When I was studying marketing, literally before most of you reading this were born, there was no such thing as accountability. Sure, there were lots of theories, but no actual figures. No identifying who likes which ad. Today, if an agency is not organizing that sort of feed-back for your campaign, they are, by definition, years behind where your competitors all are.
They are reading your thoughts, Hal
I remember being briefed by a whacko born-again Christian who made us sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (ten years ago, ten yr ctt I can talk about it now – Nannannanah David!!) about his plan to generate artificial intelligence to get into customers minds via their PCs and track their motivations, so he could pump them with ideas of his own making. We rejected the ‘deal’. I remember thinking at the time that his ideas were sick. They are now common place. It is happening today via cookies and cute little micro-programs and you have no idea where this data about you ends up. They are reading your thoughts. But do you care? Only if you have something very nasty to hide.
If some organization had enough people with time on their hands to track my scattered ramblings, I’d be more amused than anything else. But do most reading this really like the idea of having their simplest, silliest thoughts in someone else’s hands? Oh, yes, I forgot, they do already; twitter.
The world is art – good or bad
There are thousands of I.T. departments out there in corporate land who now effectively have control of companies communications. They are deciding the content of banner ads, websites, MMS, SMS’s etc, and they are doing it because they have always wanted to be creative and can use jargon to make you think they have to do the work. You or your agency can talk till you are blue the face about needing to align the mainstream branding with the on-line work and they’ll ignore you and put up some ad that looks, says and effectively is from another head-space than yours.
This reflects on the world as we know it in a strange way. Our visual world is becoming uglier. The art we see, most of which is advertising, is becoming worse. The I.T. departments out there, who are now in effective control of most company’s face are not trained in design or have any appreciation of communication disciplines. They are, we should not forget, the dweebs in the corner who no-one would talk to at lunch time at school and they have grown up nasty and twisted. They like art like manga (Japanese violent mags) and tattoos. They think comics are well typeset. They do crap design cause they don’t have the ability to do anything better.
And your company therefore ads to the mess that is generated by every back-yard web designer and stay at home dad who’s knocking up their own site on his ageing PC.
All communications are art. We should stop to consider if we are hurting the public’s eyes. In years to come this will be considered an ugly age. The 1970’s, for all it’s garishness; flares, bright shirts, big hair, at least had beautiful advertising.
Crossing cultures requires non-verbal skills
On the subject of art, this is the only thing that works on people who don’t speak your particular brand of corporate semi-english. (Anybody not working at your company.) Art transends language cause it uses visual clues. Sure, it’s often more subtle, but it can be as direct, can be as easy to ‘get’. But it requires more skill than just pumping out words that sound right to you. Look at your advertising/ corporate communications as art. If you take away the words, does the punter get the message anyway? Then consider this – more than 1 in 5 Australians don’t speak English at home. Most of them have to translate everything you write into their native tongue just to think about it.
Expectations are out of line
Many marketers are trying to put their company’s expectations of accountability back onto the pubic in bizarre ways. Some advertisers want the public to acknowledge they have received their messages.
I know it sounds really sensible that you would like to know who’s received the SMS and can prove back up the line if the supplier has actually sent them out to the correct target market, and that you’ve got all the 100,000 punters you have paid for, but it doesn’t work. What’s in it for the punter? Nothing. Do they acknowledge they have seen your Outdoor ads? That they have been sent your post card?
If you are going to want feedback, give them a reason to provide it and keep your questions to one or two only. This is the case with any form of feed-back, from check-out quizzes to EDM’s (out-bound emails). No-one is going to spend hours answering an SMS while they are driving across town.
Words are cheap. Art isn’t.
I notice on one of the web marketing forums I occasionally look at, that besides the fact that about 70% of brands say they are spending 10% or more of their budget on mobile marketing, many are troubled by MMS. The perception that MMS (moving ads sent to your phone, if you’re not sure) is ‘hard to use’ has grown from 14% in 2006 to over 30% in 2008. In other words, with more use, more marketers are turning off.
This is despite their obvious rise in popularity and that they are definitely one of the key future elements of mobile advertising. They are ‘hard to use’ because, shock horror, they take a bit of work. Even if they are only 10 or 20 seconds long, MMS need real input for them to work. You can’t just get the I.T. department to knock up something on power point and think the public will respond. Putting aside the obvious need for an offer or some sort of incentive to respond, they have to be clever, brilliantly simple, hopefully witty and beautiful. Like any form of TV style ads, don’t expect them to be dirt cheap. If they are, they usually look it. You need to get your board’s head around the idea that they are little TV ads and they need similar budgets.
Digital is everything, everywhere
There is no advertising done today that does not involve digital in it’s development. Except for local papers, letters and outdoor, most of them actively involve digital entirely. (And those media are rapidly scrambling to have a digital element at the messy end.) Don’t give digital vs. not any consideration. When the web became popular 20 years ago it was as if we had discovered the wheel – there is simply no way you can go back. Unless of course, if electricity becomes really expensive ….