Has advertising become a waste of time?

Has advertising become a waste of time?

Well, let’s face it – most people hate advertising.  For the most part, it interrupts, it clutters, it annoys and you can’t ever really get away from it.   Facebook may now just as well be called ‘Ad-book’. We’ve got video and display advertising, banners, pop-ups, pop-unders and so many companies now know so much about us as individuals, advertising can sometimes feel well, a bit creepy.

There are exceptions.  A headline grabbing billboard.  A funny radio commercial.  And let’s not forget the Super Bowl where people have come to expect great advertising – if you’re in any doubt, have a look at some of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time.

Love it or hate it, most people accept that advertising serves a commercially necessary place in our consumption of news, entertainment, social updates and use of public spaces.  So if that’s a working hypothesis for advertising in our daily lives, then advertisers should be filling all that juicy, wide-open space with meaningful stories and compelling messages, crafted by their well-chosen agencies.

With so much media choice, depth of insight into consumers and state of the art technologies that can raise production values through the roof, we should surely be in another ‘golden age‘ of advertising where we’re in awe of the products and services that are on offer.

So why has advertising become so eye-rollingly bad?  And why is it that most advertising has set aside the words ‘meaningful’ and ‘compelling’ and replaced them with ‘meaningless’ and ‘noise’?

Yes. Really. 

Meaningless.  Noise.

How many ads have you seen over the last couple of years that have been stuffed full of clichéd headlines or taglines (or both) that nobody listens to or much less, believe?

What’s actually worse than all this ‘we care,’ ‘we’re here for you,’ ‘we’re in this together’ tripe, is that the end result is often more disappointing than the advertising itself. In fact, things are so bad with excruciating on-hold wait times, out-of-stock items, absence of knowledgeable staff and (if I might share my own specific example) my ‘we’re here for you, we care’ bank has had one – yes just one – teller for the past year, making in-person banking almost impossible.

So you have to wonder, why do advertisers bother? 

Well, instead of thinking about advertising in isolation, advertisers need to focus on their experience (or lack thereof) and diverting advertising dollars to fixing their broken brand promises. Consumer expectations have never been higher and I suspect the tolerance for the ‘because of Covid…’ excuse is at an end.     

Strategies must shift from excuses to solutions. From ‘cant do’ to ‘can do’. From meaningless ‘we care’ messaging to ‘we’ve fixed this, and we’re back’, and revitalize their battered brands by ‘surprising and delighting’ consumers with better, faster service, easier solutions, better products and improved experiences.

And if that can’t happen, then perhaps advertising for those advertisers has indeed become a waste of time. But for brands that can answer that call, there is perhaps a new, golden age of advertising that awaits them.

Let’s hope so.

Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else.

Photo: Paul Welsby
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