Andrew Bloch Frank PR

Opinion: The cure for bad advertising

Andrew Bloch, Frank PR‘s co-founder and group MD, argues that people have had enough of bad advertising. So, is it time for advertisers to take a lesson from the comms industry?


There appears to be a growing trend for brands churning out, not just bad ads, but ads that are so poorly conceived they are generating negative backlash from the very audiences that they are seeking to engage.

It is hard to believe that companies, especially the big well-known ones would spend so much time and effort, not to mention money, on ineffective and poorly thought out marketing activity. One would assume that experienced marketing execs would know how to create or approve effective ad content.  You would assume they would be able to determine what is good and bad.  You would assume they would consider how their audiences might respond to the work.

Unfortunately, you only have to look at a handful of recent disastrous ad campaigns to realise that these assumptions are often incorrect.

The public is fed up with bad ads


In a vote of no confidence for advertising, many ads are ignored completely.  Consumers are bombarded with thousands of commercial messages a day.  They put up “bullshit buffers” to deflect these commercial messages, and brands are having to work much harder to try and engage them and penetrate these buffers in order to get noticed.

It is this desperate effort to grab attention and generate engagement that is putting brands under pressure to come up with something interesting, often leading them to push through poorly thought through work that runs the danger of generating backlash and ridicule.

In a desire to achieve “talkability”, many ad agencies go out of their way to create campaigns that will get them talked about.

We live in an age where gender, race and sexual orientation remain highly sensitive topics and it is becoming increasingly challenging for brands to generate buzz without offending. What they often fail to consider, is the impact of social media and the magnified propensity for consumers to seek out unintended, yet with hindsight, fairly obvious undertones.

“Word of mouth” needs to be carefully considered


Brands must understand how to deal with the lightening-quick speed of criticism that can emerge and grow on social media. Audiences are more polarised than ever before, and are much quicker to proclaim moral outrage. Social media means that angst is now immediate and actionable.

What’s unfortunate is that unless ad agencies take a more integrated approach to their advertising and work hand-in-hand with communication experts from the PR industry, we will be having the same conversations again and again.

The ad industry needs to work with comms people who will be able to better reflect the cultural points of view and reactions that their campaigns will generate. Often their strategy is good, but their execution is poor.

They need to avoid self-referential broadcasting of messages and not become so encased in their own “brand bubble” that they forget people outside often have different points of view.

PR insights are the key to good advertising


What matters most is that brands can cut through to the people who will buy their products. If your target audience is engaged, but some of the non-targeted are offended, it’s still “job done”. But, you must truly understand your audience to make sure you’re saying the right thing to the right audience.

To do this, you need to take an integrated approach to brand communication.

To avoid offence is to condemn advertising to safe, easily forgettable and often bland campaigns. The brain is built to ignore the old and focus on the new. Courting controversy is proven to deliver results.   Outrage can often be stickier than sentimentality, and it often pays a much higher reward.

The key is to build content that generates “talkability” while also avoiding mass backlash, ridicule and brand damage. To achieve this, you need a good PR agency that has your back.

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