You Talking to Me?


Agency News

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Charles Vallance



For his latest column in Campaign VCCP Founding Partner and Chairman Charles Vallance delves into building brand affinity through enduring media channels and why marketers should not focus too much attention on targetting.

The tectonic plates of communication are forever shifting. 

Who, for instance, would have predicted the collapse in Meta's share price? Or, more generally, the tech sell-off? Big Tech was having such a good pandemic. 

Well, ok, there’s some in these pages who’ve expressed scepticism about buying too far into cyber-hype, and the laser-targeted nirvana which it foretold. Money talks, and a market where linear TV has inflated by over 30% year on year, whilst the average price of ads on Meta has declined by 20%, says all it needs to about the relative value of 'old' and 'new' media. 

What the market is telling us is that we should stop trying to classify linear media (or quasi-linear such as VOD) channels as ‘old’ and, rather, see them as ‘enduring’. 

And the reason they endure is that they offer something increasingly scarce, namely real-time access to mass audiences and shared moments. These will remain the bedrock of brand building because the human condition is fundamentally social. Brands are built as much between us, as they are for us. They need their moments of congregation to reinforce their shared meaning. Thus the well-spent time and effort that goes into the Christmas advertising moment every year. 

This shared meeting of audience, occasion and brand will always be the gold standard for marketers. And linear TV just happens to be one of its surest delivery mechanisms. But it it is by no means the only one. 

Regular readers will know my penchant for posters as a mass-marketing asset, but my current favourite is well activated brand partnerships. Brands like cinch, Vitality and O2 are all at differing levels of maturity, but have all used their sponsorship properties to great effect in achieving mass traction, mental availability and customer engagement (as well as plenty of visibility on linear TV…). 

What is it about these enduring media channels that has proved so resilient? For me, the attraction is that they are best suited to creative work that is essentially non-transactional. In the case of partnerships, part of the deal is that you avoid an overt selling message. But the same principle applies to the most memorable TV and poster advertising. 

The ads which deliver the most long term value operate high above the 'buy' end of the marketing funnel. They are designed to entertain, move and involve their audience rather than overtly sell or transact. This is how they create brand affinity. 

Affinity, of course, is the essential precursor to commercial results, so I am not suggesting that TV advertising is an act of selfless brand altruism. But there is, increasingly, a charm to messaging that appeals to everyone and that is played out to everyone as part of a shared rather than private experience. We live in a very addressable age, so much of the media we receive is targeted, honed and optimised. This is all very efficient and, often, beneficial to the end user. But we're not comfortable with it. 

That's why, when we see the privacy prompt pop up on iOS, only 16% of us agree to being tracked. There's something about the privatisation of online communication that makes us uncomfortable, not least because it's likely to portend a sales message. And there's already enough of those in our lives. 

We're more comfortable with offline ads because the value exchange, though not explicit, is better understood. A poster won't be able to track me, nor a sports sponsorship. A TV ad that makes me smile (and helps make ITV a free service) won't be following me around for the next few days trying to sell me a kettle. I know it's doing a selling job (that's why it's called a commercial), but it's there in plain sight and, if it's good enough, I may reward it with my attention. 

We spend a lot of our time on targetting because we don't want to be wasteful. But the art of brand building, ironically, depends on not looking too targetted. Great brands give the impression of talking to us, not me. They act like we have something in common, and behave like they're a shared currency. They may in reality only be addressing a small group of those who see their advertising, but they feel more generous than that. They haven't allowed addressability to make them look like media mercenaries. 

My festive message this year, then, is that the true spirit of Christmas applies all year round. We shouldn't leave people out, we shouldn't close ourselves in. Greatness comes from being an open church, because the most valued experiences are those we share. Merry Christmas.