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Experience is the answer to disposable advertising

By Adam Fulford

Currently, our industry seems hung up on quantity over quality. We’re forever chasing more views, more clicks and more impressions. But is this the best way for brands to get bang for their buck? Chief strategy officer Adam Fulford makes the case for bringing back authentic customer relationships.

Last week in Cannes, Peter Field and the IPA launched a report showing a dramatic fall in the effectiveness of all IPA case studies, and perhaps more surprisingly, those that are awarded are no more effective than non-awarded campaigns.


It signals a shift towards short-term ‘disposable’ creativity and measurement that is entirely prevalent in the industry.  Whilst we make nods to long term brand and business transformation, as targets loom and budgets are cut, the focus inevitably falls on short term tactical campaigns.


In many ways advertising is broken.


The promise of programmatic relevance is not being delivered. Most of our industry seems entirely focused on delivering eyeballs at the lowest cost. Quantity, not quality. Performance over posterity.


Even when we shift our emphasis to longer term objectives, we simply move media spend into brand as a panacea for creating a truly engaging brand experience.


Adidas announced last month that it was shifting its focus away from short term brand metrics to a longer-term focus on brand health, citing: “The pressure to perform means the bulk of Adidas’ spend is going on short-term activations”. The problem is, their shift in focus was simply a shift in advertising spend.


Field and Binet’s earlier report for the IPA, ‘The Long and the Short of It’, has had a lasting effect on our industry’s approach to brand building. Stronger brands undoubtedly mean stronger short-term performance. The assumption though, is that in order to achieve that halo, one should spend more on brand to achieve a magical 60:40 ratio. 


There’s something in nothing.


Andy Kirk gave a fascinating presentation on ‘Absence, Emptiness and Invisibility: The Design of Nothing’ recently. In it he talked about the importance of understanding the ‘why’ behind a lack of data.  One example he gave was that if one plots where immigrants end up living in New York, the reason that there is a big space in central Manhattan isn’t because they’re priced out of the market (or worse not welcomed there), it’s simply Central Park.


My point is, if we only look for an optimal balance between brand and performance spend data, we’ll never do anything other than move the needle between these two points. We need to take inspiration from brands that break the rules, brands for whom there is lower or even no brand spend information.


We can shift the gears.


In the latest Proximity Experience Effect Study, we reviewed the relationship between brand value (YouGov) and brand spend across over 100 brands. There was, predictably, a direct correlation across a number of different industries from banking and financial services, to retail and technology. 


However, it also showed that in each there were brands whose customer experience allowed them to dramatically shift the gearing in this relationship. CompareTheMarket for example spent 49% less per year than MoneySuperMarket to achieve 91% brand value – showing the power of the Meerkat. IKEA also outperform the category, spending 30% less than the average and achieving category leading brand value.


It’s been proven that customers who have the best brand experiences spend 140% more than those who have the poorest experiences (Harvard Business Review). The effects on efficiency stretch across the purchase funnel with good experiences increasing Brand Awareness by 1.6x, Orders by 1.6x, Average Order Value by 1.5x and Repeat Purchase by 1.9x (Forrester, Feb 2018).


We need to find our true purpose again.


To fix advertising, brands need to go back to basics to find their true purpose. Placing the customer back at the heart of an authentic relationship. 


Nike do this well. As well as throwing money at advertising, they invest in their experience.  More than this, they do it in a way that feels core to their brand; authentic not appropriated.  The addition of a foot scanning function to its app, and Virgil Abloh’s new Nike store in Chicago is another testament to this. They take their digital/personal/physical service model and add a dose of sustainability and personalisation to the mix.


After reading the IPA report someone much smarter than me said, “I quite like that we have more data than ever, yet it is still human emotion that drives the decision making, which is of course perfectly rational.” Thanks Ronnie.