Curious and Curiouser

By Marshall, Caroline | Management Today, May 1997 | Go to article overview

Curious and Curiouser


Marshall, Caroline, Management Today


As the consumer becomes more cynical of advertising techniques, agencies are trying increasingly unusual ways to attract attention for their clients, says Caroline Marshall

A swarm of bees, a sailing boat in a stormy sea listing violently from port to starboard - only the advertising industry, it seems, could go to such lengths to keep the product (in this case, a car) out of the picture.

Far from confusing consumers, Ford's first TV ad for its trendy new Ka was designed to coax consumers into wanting to know more about the car. For if you looked very closely, the bees' buzzing modified itself into engine noise, the boat's mast momentarily became a windscreen wiper and all was dutifully revealed in later stages of the campaign. Hence the ad industry jargon for this type of advertising tactic, 'tease and reveal'.

The use of tease and reveal tactics is now standard practice for launching cars. In fact, teasers now pop up so often that (along with the white-coated 'expert' presenter and the 'yoof' language of teen-oriented ads) they have become something of an advertising cliche. That such a ruse is now standard practice shows how the industry has changed. It is not just a reflection of advertising agencies' ability to sell clients more and more quirky ideas. Getting the consumer to notice, let alone be convinced by, the ad requires increasingly extreme tactics.

In the past, the major opportunity for a brand to gain a competitive advantage was simply to outspend the competition or to come up with better ads, or both. Now, insiders say, advertisers will do almost anything to hijack the attention of consumers.

Iain Jacob, the international director at Motive Communications, the media arm of the prominent advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says: 'For years the media discipline has been bound up with conventional wisdoms that are now failing to deliver genuinely effective communication. Advertisers cannot rely on the rules of television usage that applied to a four-channel environment in a 40-channel satellite home.'

It is not just the extra TV channels that are muddying the water. In the UK, an average individual is exposed to over 1,000 commercial messages a week. Add to this the avalanche of other information you receive (e-mails, voice mails, junk mail, unsolicited faxes, the Internet) and then think about how many brand messages you remember. Chances are you will remember the ad campaigns that either irritate you or intrigue you because of the environment in which they appear.

Neat media strategies like this, however, are of limited advantage when it comes to hijacking the attention of some of the groups whose awareness is most valued (and who, as agencies love to point out) are the least keen to offer it.

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