20 years ago, Seth Godin wrote ‘Permission Marketing’, setting out his hopes for the future of brand advertising. He believed that the digital revolution would make advertising personal and relevant and, as a result, anticipated and welcome.

“But this idea that you only get shown advertising that interests you has all gone up in smoke – ads have become annoying and crass,” says Patrick Collister, opening his recent talk for Bristol Media called Permission Denied.

As a PR agency working across earned, paid, owned and shared media we were keen to hear Patrick’s current thinking. Here’s our top takeouts from his session…

What’s wrong with ads?

With a career spanning over 30 years, Patrick has been executive creative director and Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, as well as creative lead for Google’s The Zoo. This wealth of experience puts him in a privileged position to criticise the industry and point out where it needs to improve.

For a start, he says there’s a lack of trust in advertising executives, citing a report that ranked them below politicians as ‘Britain’s least-trusted profession’. He goes on to list a few of the issues making advertising ineffective:

  • Remarketing – a whole range of prices for the same products across different platforms. Being ‘remarketed’ the product you’ve just bought at a cheaper price insults your customers.
  • Volume – it’s not just digital advertising that’s to blame – just look at The Great British Bake Off finals, which ran 22 minutes of TV ads. Patrick argues that 20 years ago people enjoyed watching ads, but now there are too many and the quality isn’t good enough.
  • Quality and relevance – globally there are 8m ad blockers installed, being described as the ‘biggest protest movement in history’. Quality isn’t helped by the fact that social media ad managers rarely experience their own advertising ‘live’ as they’re not in the target audience.
  • Lack of pride – Patrick argued that advertisers trying to be ironic by ridiculing their role weakens the industry even more. “Selling stuff is what we’re about and we need to believe that it’s honourable,” he says.

A new understanding of ROI

Too many ad managers are willing to accept the standard ROI rates of around 6 to 7%, but Patrick believes this is “tragic and unambitious”. It only takes one truly creative campaign to be successful and prove that those numbers are too small.

“There is salvation – turn ROI into the ‘return of ideas’– this is much more exciting and ambitious than ‘return on investment’,” he says.

He explains that at Google they have ‘10X thinking’ – the theory is that you shoot for the moon and even if you don’t achieve it, you’ll do something great. If you have a creative idea, you’ll get 10 times the results.

The 7 ‘be’s’ of brand behaviour

Patrick talked us through his ‘new rules for advertising’ which are explained in more detail in his book How To Use Innovation & Creativity In Business.

  1. Be purposeful – find a purpose, believe in it and stick to it. When people share your values, your ads will resonate. Mission brands like The Body Shop and Patagonia do this instinctively, but corporates can do it too by looking at the problems that people have got and working out what they can do to help them.
  2. Be insightful – use data to open up new avenues. For example, Lynx looked at search data to see what young men were searching for online and incorporated it into their ‘be yourself’ campaign.
  3. Be social – this is all about listening and then responding to your audience to create a dialogue. Honda did this brilliantly by mirroring the images that people posted of their logo online. If someone posted the Honda logo mowed into a lawn or painted on their toenails, staff would reply by recreating the same image with the poster’s name mowed into a lawn or painted on their toenails!
  4. Be agile – it’s all very well planning out the next six months in ads, but you’ll miss so many opportunities to be in the moment with your audience. Look at how Oreo jumped on the moment when the lights went out during the Superbowl and they speedily responded with a ‘dunk in the dark’ campaign off the fly.
  5. Be mobile – with 69% of digital media time spent on mobile devices, it’s time to get creative about how you connect with people at points along the customer journey. Burger King used a clever trick to get people to download their new app – all people had to do was download the app while they were in a McDonalds to receive a voucher for a free Whopper!
  6. Be collaborative – don’t be afraid to work with others, especially those that are least expected. In the US, police joined forces with the organ donation register to give drivers they pulled over a second chance if they had signed up to the register.
  7. Be innovative – remember that the traditional role of agencies has changed. It’s no longer about simply putting messages in front of people, it’s moving towards creating tools and apps and using innovative ways to engage with them.