This article was originally published with The Manila Times on February 14, 2019.
“The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife,” said David Ogilvy, the gentleman who founded Ogilvy & Mather.
Here’s why that doesn’t hold true anymore.
I say it all too frequently: I live in a world of seconds, five to intrigue you enough to stay your hand from clicking to the YouTube video you were going to watch; 15 to 30 if it’s a television commercial; a second or two if you happen to be in the bus glancing at my billboard, or my bumper sticker. We work and design and plod and travail, nose to the grindstone, to get your attention, keep it in a grip, even if only for seconds, before other channels of information, what the industry calls ‘points of contact’, distract you. I need my earworm of a jingle ringing in your head when you wake up in the morning. All this in the hope of convincing you to buy the product, pay for the service, believe in the advocacy, vote for the candidate or worry for the country.
In seconds, millions must be sold, products must fly off the shelf, reputations must be strengthened. In seconds. But first I need to extract that thoughtful ‘hmm’ from you.
To produce those short-lived messages, we spend hours and days shooting, editing, copywriting, reviewing, revising. To produce a 30 second commercial, we commission men and women marked by many years of experience, scarred by mistakes and lessons remembered, and we ask them to bother over the littlest of details.
To check if we have done well, we darken the room, sometimes pitch black, freeze the frame, 20 or so sets of eyes pour over every pixel, and frame, argue over colors, levels of sounds, timber and tenor of the announcer’s voice.
My thirty seconds, what I was allowed to work with, is probably — realistically — 10 or 15.
The family no longer sits in front of the television set, agreeing to watch a program, intently. Television is background music; now, more than ever, a commercial has to work harder, has to be clearer, in less time. Heads are down, reading other screens. The subtle, the classy do not work. The complicated message, the longer storyline, they die the second it hits air.
If you were wondering why ads are so much louder these days, well, now you know.
Yes, the customer has a comprehension problem, and the first filter is time.
Oceans of information
It used to be simpler then — television, radio, newspapers and magazines — throw in a billboard or two — and you’re known and heard and selling and ringing cash registers. With the superabundance of news sources and contact points, you choose what to read, watch and listen to. You edit; but the reading, watching, listening are hardly undivided or thoughtful.
There’s too much information and too little time to consume, and there is not just one ocean, there are oceans of information. We’re not just overwhelmed; the word Pew Research used was “fatigued”.
On every single billboard and screen, on television and radio and on all your email addresses are news and information and various iterations, and interpretations and analyses of the news and information. They don’t knock on your door, they seep into your day and world, via Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and whatever channel or aggregator or news source brand you rely on to keep updated and connected.
I am certain you have already started disabling notifications, app after app after app.
You’re no longer scrolling down screens to the point where you were last, because you just can’t. There are hundreds of new email messages flooding your inboxes everyday, and that doesn’t include the thousands that get filtered as junk. You have long decided to leave thousands of letters unopened.
Because there are channels galore, and the day is not any longer, we make do with our 24 hours. That creates the consumer need to simultaneously use various media forms simply to keep pace with events around them.
We call that SIMM, for simultaneous media exposure. No matter how much we want to glorify multi-tasking, simultaneous media consumption simply means you’re skimming; you’re understanding little; you’re making do. And as a way to handle the gamut of channels, you pay attention to one medium more than others. At certain points in time, as you consume them — a television commercial, the message of your friend that popped into your phone’s screen, mail notifications on your laptop, your attention swings between foreground and background points of contact. You will be wise to equate the comprehension of your reader, viewer, listener as weak, and needing assistance, stresses and underlining.
You could say that at no other time in history is creativity and the ability to shape messages more important, to make a difficult proposition easy to swallow, almost pre-digested.
In part two, we discuss other factors that obstruct comprehension of advertising messages.
The author is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists and causes, and co-founder of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.