We’re not giving Australians enough of what they want

What succeeds in the boardroom does not necessarily succeed on the streets, argues Host/Havas and Havas Labs chief strategy officer Olly Taylor.

From my first days in the industry as a wide-eyed young planner, I was surprised to hear how much disregard there was for the very people we exist to persuade…consumers. Even the term is a touch disrespectful – not people or audiences or even customers, but simply people who consume stuff. Objects, waiting to be fed.

The general view back then was that consumers killed ideas in research, didn’t get what we were trying to say and were generally written off as an impediment to creativity. Twenty-five years on it can feel like little has changed. What has dramatically changed over that period is the explosion of choice, channels, and the ever-growing number of ad free entertainment alternatives. Back then, people could not avoid our comms. Now they can… but we’re not giving them what they actually want.

Our recent What Aussies Want study, proprietary research commissioned by Havas Labs (Havas Group’s integrated research and insights team), explored what Australians really want from brands and advertising. The results showed a significant gap between what brands and comms are giving people and what they want.

Firstly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they simply don’t care about brands in the way we think they do. Instead, they care if the product is great. As an industry, we’re obsessed with brands and more recently, their purpose – but consumers care primarily about what benefits them. Three in four people (72%) told us a brand is only as good as its product.

Secondly, and even more unsurprisingly, mainstream Australians told us advertising is a ‘necessary evil’, something that was more annoying and more intrusive than it was ten years ago. But, crucially, it was not that they hated advertising per se, it was that they simply did not like what they saw to be ‘bad’ advertising. In fact, they reported that they really liked ‘good’ advertising. The issue is that what we (the industry) and what mainstream Australian customers judge to be great can be different.

If you take a cursory glance at what wins awards, and therefore what the industry holds up to be ‘good’, you might well conclude emotive storytelling is the gold standard. But the research showed the attribute consumers valued least (and by a significant margin) was emotion. They actually wanted information, utility, entertainment. And the pattern was broadly the same across all age groups.

As a result of changing media habits, there has been a significant shift in advertising spend with a focus digital at the expense of TV. This shift may have led to a devaluing of traditional ideas in favour of more creative earned ideas.

Our research found TV advertising was still the most trusted, influential, and useful – even for the under 25s. The problem is the study also revealed that TV, along with YouTube and Facebook, is also the most annoying place for ads, because it is where people are going for entertainment. If TV advertising was more useful and entertaining, people might think differently about it and find it less intrusive.

If we want brands to matter more and comms to be more engaging, memorable and ultimately effective for the people for whom they are designed, we should be listening more actively to what they want from us rather than doing and rewarding what we like. When it comes to brands and comms, Australians are telling us they value product over brand, utility over purpose, and entertaining, informative advertising that stands up alongside the entertainment they get from TV and social media.  Maybe it’s time to stop seeing consumers as a tiresome impediment to creativity and embrace them as its the saviours. Who would have thought?

Olly Taylor is the chief strategy officer of Host/Havas and Havas Labs.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.