People hate our industry because we make stuff people hate. The Oscars, Super Bowl and Christmas prove there’s a better way

More often than not, this industry smashes out the same old shit, says Host/ Havas' Jon Austin. But the Oscars, Super Bowl and Christmas show us that it doesn't have to be that way. The answer is in covering up our Byron Sharp tattoos and creating real entertainment.

Only a handful of industries can claim with absolute certainty that the world, by and large, hates them. Big oil. Parking enforcement. Bat soup manufacturers. Advertising.

And, as the inimitable Nils Leonard points out, only one of those industries has its very own button, designed to let its audience actively skip what it makes.

Yeah, yeah – hate’s a strong word and all that. But it seems pretty accurately applied here. And whoever says it’s a vague, indeterminate emotion clearly hasn’t read Havas’ recent Future of Entertainment study, which offers some handy stats for measuring peoples’ contempt.

Ads running during the Super Bowl and the Oscars, and over Christmas, prove that people don’t want to hate ads

Right now, over 90% of people think ads are intrusive (note, not ‘disruptive’ or ‘audacious’. Intrusive). More than 60% switch to another device the moment ads come on. People could do away with 77% of all brands in their lives and not even notice. And last year in the US alone, US$3bn was spent on pre-rolls, yet almost 90% of people frantically smashed the skip button to avoid them.

But what’s even crazier is the fact that we know people hate us; we snicker as we see ‘advertising and marketing’ circling the drain of the ‘least trusted industries’ list.

So, in the face of an increasingly disengaged audience, we try and find clever ways to shove brands in their faces before they can skip the pre-roll or change devices.

And that makes them hate us even more.

But here’s the thing. While the above stats give a pretty damning impression of an audience that would be happy for us to disappear completely, I feel like people don’t want to hate ads. Not really.

In fact, I think that people want to love them. We’re just giving them fewer and fewer reasons to do so.

My three reasons for thinking that: Super Bowl, Christmas, and the Oscars. Three tentpole moments in paid advertising. Occasions when people could ad-block, or fast forward, or switch devices when the ads come on, but don’t.

In fact, they lean in.

They share them and rank them and dissect them and re-enact them. They become part of the lexicon, and inspire Saturday Night Live sketches and themed weddings.

So what makes these ads different? It’s easy to say big budgets and celebrities, but that’s a lazy answer. The simple fact is, people love being entertained. Now more than ever.

Right now, pop culture (like films and music), traditional culture (like food and celebrations), and current affairs (like news and sports) are being devoured at a quantity like never before. 83% of us believe that entertainment is a vital need, along with food, water, shelter and internet. 60% of us can no longer stand still without consuming content. Or, a little closer to home, 71% think experiences with brands should be more entertaining.

Because entertainment is king, and that’s what those three tentpole moments offer.

There’s an unspoken agreement between advertisers and consumers that, for these moments and these moments only, brands will loosen the shackles of their guidelines, cover their Byron Sharp back tattoos and create stuff that genuinely entertains.

And it works. Tourism Australia saw a digital content engagement increase of 1,256% after their Son of Dundee Super Bowl work. Aldi’s Christmas work scored in the top 10% of all ads on Kantar’s database (not just Christmas ads) for emotional impact, as well as driving long-term brand growth.

These tentpole moments show us that paid advertising can be both creatively and commercially effective. That it can meaningfully impact culture and drive real brand love. That – as Heinz Ketchup’s brilliant Oscars campaign and Google’s powerful Super Bowl spot demonstrated – entertainment is not beholden to budget.

So the question is obvious: Why aren’t we doing it every day of the year? Why aren’t we looking for new ways to entertain on every single project?

That’s why consumers hate us. Because we’re weirdly hell-bent on restricting ourselves with rules of engagement that only further disengage the very people we’re trying to reach.

Maybe what the Super Bowl and Christmas and the Oscars reveal is that people hate us because they know we can do better. They know we can entertain and engage and impact culture in big glitzy, celebrity-filled Groundhog Day ways, and smaller, cleverer Heinz Ketchup Cameo ways. But, more often than not, we don’t.

More often than not, we smash out the same old shit. We make stuff people will hate and put it places people will avoid, and we do away with all that extraneous stuff like entertainment, because we’re busy racing consumers to the skip button.

We need to start leveraging culture, harnessing it, wrapping our messaging in the stuff that people actually want to consume. We need to stop interrupting and start entertaining.

Because big oil and parking enforcement and bat soup will always suck. But advertising doesn’t have to.

Jon Austin is the executive creative director of Host/ Havas


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