Op Ed: Gareth Kay on the Great Lack of Trust (in Advertising)

By Matt Van Hoven 

Gareth Kay is one of our Op Ed writers and today he’s got a piece on Trust, or the perceived lack thereof, in advertising. Perception is reality, folks. Here is his last article.

Time to stop the fireworks

A little while ago Agency Spy published an Op-Ed about what should be at the heart of advertising and marketing communications &#151 trust. There’s no doubt that this is something the industry is in short supply of. Every year we see a growing number of Americans distrusting and actively avoiding the stuff we make, and all the evidence suggests we’re pretty rubbish at doing what we’re meant to be doing &#151 changing people’s behavior.

Some conversations recently (particularly with the incredibly smart Ian Fitzpatrick of Almighty) have got me thinking about what may be behind this failure. And all of them lie in the prejudices we (‘the advertising industry’) tend to have when developing and evaluating what makes a great idea.

The first is about our desire as an industry to create spectacle. Take a quick look at the award shows or the trade press, and the campaigns that get the gongs and the plaudits &#151 Sony’s Balls, T-Mobile’s flashmob at Liverpool Street station and this year’s Cannes Grand Prix film winner for Phillips, to even lauded digital work like Uniqlock &#151 tend to be those designed to create immense spectacle. It seems we’re in the business, more often than not, of producing fireworks.

Now clearly spectacle has been a powerful force in culture over time, but it’s one type of execution and a type that feels increasingly at odds with a more intimate and invisible culture. We’re getting better but we’re still not very good as an industry at celebrating small, relatively invisible things but increasingly these are the ideas (think Nike+, Fiat Ecodrive, even iTunes and the Obama campaign) that are driving culture, that seem to thrive in an increasingly digital world and are able to change behavior.

Click continued to read on.

More: “Op-Ed: What Social Media Revolution? By Gareth Kay

The second prejudice is our belief that communication, whether a monologue or dialogue, is always the answer. We’ve built an industry that is very good at talking at people but rather poor at doing things with people. We’ve always been very good at hawking a business’ agenda but rather poor at realizing that the most effective ideas tend to come from ideas that solve a problem for a business and for people at the same time by doing something together. There’s precious few examples of this but perhaps the best recent examples are the Obama campaign and the emphasis it placed on the self-organization of neighborhood meetings, and the Haagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees campaign. This is a great case of a brand doing stuff with people by having a social mission, not just a commercial proposition.

Third, we now seem to be obsessed, thanks to social media and its self-appointed ‘experts’, that every brand needs to become a friend. Now I don’t know about you but I really don’t want Charmin, or most of the brands in my life, to be my friend. I just want them to do their job quietly and invisibly. Sure, do something remarkable enough to spark a conversation but don’t try and be my friend. The truth is brands really don’t matter that much to people, certainly far less than they matter to us and our clients. People are far more interested in the baseball score, what their boss thinks of them, what they’re going to have for dinner tomorrow night than they ever will be in a brand. We need to get humble and understand our place in the real world. Fast. And that means doing lots of small, incremental stuff and not trying to occasionally wow people with a dramatic gesture.

As a result of our prejudices I think we’re at risk of increasing irrelevance. We’re using old rules of communication that feel increasingly inappropriate as culture becomes more intimate, great ideas become more invisible and we value actions far more than words.

The one piece of work that got me really excited this year was Poke London’s BakerTweet. Essentially, it’s a live Twitter feed from a bakery (the Albion Cafe) that tells you what’s being baked and when it will be ready to buy and eat in the store. It’s about as far from the usual firework we rush out to salute as you can get but it just feels like an idea that I might just give a damn about. In fact, Poke’s philosophy (“small, simple smart [and social]”) is one we could all learn from. It would be great to see more of us getting excited about work that lives up to this.