People young and old are becoming more aware of the role advertising plays in their lives. This is a good thing because the internet has brought the advertiser and consumer closer than ever. No longer is the marketing realm confined to static magazine inserts or two-minute TV slots. Brands are sponsoring events, generating discussion, and taking part in all kinds of crazy activity in the name of generating brand awareness.
Because of a growing understanding amongst people that they are ‘being marketed to’, advertisers have had to turn down the volume on their own material. Instead, storytelling is becoming more of a central feature than ever for advertisements and marketing videos alike.
This is the stuff of now and of the future – delivering big and unique ideas and tapping into emotions and dreams. It’s all about marketing that is so enchanting you forget there is a price tag.
But another trend is also gaining in popularity, and its the complete opposite of subtle – meta-advertising. This is marketing that is entirely self referential in quality, it involves a complete renouncement of subtlety, its a reaction against traditional advertising and a nod to the increasingly self-aware and savvy minds of the audience. Meta-advertising has the power to hold our attention, to make us laugh, be original and creative. But its most important and powerful attribute is honesty (or the appearance thereof).
1. Internet Memes – “Look how desperate we are!”
Internet memes have many forms. Images and videos are the most common, but they can be something as simple as a misspelled word. They convey some meaning or concept in an easily recognisable, digestible and more often than not humorous way. Some memes become templates that are continuously altered, but retain an original, implied meaning or association.
However, when it comes to marketing a service or product, it’s pretty difficult to intentionally start and spread a meme without making your marketing purpose fairly obvious. Attempting to cloak the original sales idea behind the meme so that people become subliminally persuaded is much harder these days.
Instead, the brand pokes fun at itself and through this technique displays personality, originality and a fun sense of humour.
I think Oreo do this quite well. The company uploaded this picture – an alteration of the “actual advice mallard” meme – in a self-aware, light-hearted and humorous fashion. The move was then widely discussed on the popular social and entertainment network Reddit. Its success can be measured by the largely positive response but also just by way of the fact that it got people talking.
Here is another great example of the kind of wry advertising that is gaining traction by delivering in a brutally humorous and honest way – in this video by Jalouse Magazine, the marketing video consists of a dissection of some of the thought processes behind marketing rather in an attempt to speak directly to audiences – “look how honest we are, we’re telling you how we’re marketing our product, would you like to buy it?”
2. Spin-offs – “Are we viral yet?”
The now famous Old Spice advert has since produced numerous spin-offs and interactive media, and serves as a great example of meta-advertising. It doesn’t pretend to be something other than product advertisement. There’s no narrative, it just forges ahead with one blatant and showy spin-off after another.
The campaign itself is loveable and memorable, due in large part to its honesty. There’s no concealing its aim or emotional appeals. “Long live the-man-your-man-could-smell-like!”
3. Clichés – “We’re so bad we’re good! “
Adverts have been around long enough to have established plenty of tropes and clichés. Such things are widely studied by academics, and have since filtered down into the collective consciousness, meaning we can spot them a mile off.
Companies generally try and steer clear of advertising clichés, but there have been some examples where marketers have decided to take the opposite approach – though produced in 2011, the Chuck Testa commercial is a good example of this.
Chuck embraces the cheesy, gimmicky, over-the-top tricks that were once widespread in advertising, and uses them to great comedic effect. The result is an objectively terrible but very endearing advertisement.
5. Shameless – “Wink wink, nudge nudge”
My last example is similar to the above, but less quirky and more daring, less embarrassing and more shameless. It’s the kind of advert that knows sex sells, knows you know sex sells, and uses this shared knowledge as justification for showcasing its product alongside outlandish, crude and often sexist images.
But this kind of advertisement still has a certain appeal. You’re not offended, because it’s all a joke – you can practically see the advertisers winking at you from their boardroom. A famous example is the Specsavers flesh-fest of 2010. A more recent culprit is H & M – there is literally nothing more to this advert than Beckham’s gradual nakedness, despite the fact that it’s being directed by Guy Ritchie.
This is by no means is a conclusive analysis but I think a great reflection of the critically aware character of so much of society today – this isn’t to say some traditional methods don’t still work, Beyonce’s presence in an advert is still likely to sell far more perfume products than any other unknown female. However, even in these scenarios, I think a person’s decision to buy a product is still likely to more self-conscious than it would have been once upon a time.
Audience’s today are more suspicious, more cynical and won’t be bought easily – the information age has largely ensured that. But this is a good thing, lazy just won’t cut it today, audiences want personality, humour and a stroke of genius, then you’ll get their respect.