WE COULDN’T EVEN GET ARRESTED

When he was young, my dad joined the police.
On the first day, all the new recruits went into a big classroom.
A police Inspector walked to the front of the class.
He told everyone to take out their exercise books and copy down what he was going to write on the blackboard.
As he was writing, another man entered the class and handed him a message.
The Inspector put the message in his pocket and carried on writing.
When he’d finished, he turned to the class.
He said “Let’s see how observant you are.
A man just came in and handed me a message: how tall was he?”
Silence.
The Inspector said “Nobody? Alright, how old was he?”
Silence.
The Inspector said “Okay, how much did he weigh?”
Silence.
He said “Was colour was his shirt?”
Silence.
He said “Did he have a tie, if so was it patterned or striped?”
Silence.
He said “Did he have stubble, or was he clean-shaven?
What colour were his shoes?
When he gave me the message, was he right or left handed?”
No one said a word.
The Inspector slammed his chalk on the table.
He said “You all say you want to be police officers.
That means you cannot behave like ordinary citizens.
You cannot go around oblivious to what’s happening.
You cannot afford to switch off.
You must be aware, AT ALL TIMES, of everything that’s going on all around you.”
Of course none of those recruits had noticed the man giving the Inspector a message: that was the idea.
The inspector knew they’d still be acting and thinking like civilians.
Only capable of concentrating on one thing at a time.
That’s why he told them to write in their books.
To make the point that people don’t notice what’s going on around them.
Of course, that affected my dad’s behaviour from that point on.
As a policeman, it became his job to be aware of everything.
Especially things other people didn’t even notice.
It became his job to notice everything.
Now, unfortunately, in our job we don’t deal with policemen.
In our job we deal with ordinary people.
People who don’t notice anything.
People who are only interested in one thing at a time.
People who are conditioned to filter out distractions.
People who are doing the opposite of what policemen are trained to do.
And yet we treat consumers as if they were all policemen.
Trained to notice every detail of every ad.
The brand personality, the subtle messaging, the ironic sub-text, the typeface, the style of animation, the nuances of the humour, the relevance of the music, the casting, the lighting, the editing.
When, in fact, they aren’t even looking.
They don’t care, and they don’t want to care.
They’re not trained policemen.
They are sleepwalking civilians.
See, the real issue isn’t, is our advertising saying the right things?
The real issue is, how do we even get noticed?
£18.3 billion spent yearly in the UK on all forms of advertising.
4% remembered positively, 7% remembered negatively, 89% not noticed or remembered.
The worrying number isn’t the 7% (advertising doesn’t always have to be liked to work).
The worrying number is the 89%.
Because it means 9 out of 10 ads are as invisible as the man who gave that message to the police Inspector in front of the class of new recruits.
And, unless we want to be part of that wasted £16.5 billion, we need to change the question we’re asking about our advertising.
Because the question we should really be asking isn’t, is it right?

The question is, will anyone even notice it?

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    As ever a really interesting blog post.
    But just because most advertising is processed inattentively, doesn’t mean it has no effect.
    Robert Heath is the leading UK proponent on the power of low attention processing – see his perspective here http://tinyurl.com/62tp253

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    This reminded me of my very first secondary school history lesson. A teacher burst in and accused the history teacher of crashing into his car. They argued. The teacher left. The history teacher ordered us all to write an account of what had just happened. Once we’d done that, he told us there were now 30 different accounts of what had just happened – and that, is what history is.
    To give that an advertising twist, if you were lucky enough to get those 30 people to remember your ad, would they all remember what you wanted them to?

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    4% remembered positively, 7% remembered negatively, 89% not noticed or remembered. Dave, if those figs r correct + the ad business was a business, it would be outta business.

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    Nice post. I really liked it.

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    Hi Grilla,
    That’s the whole point, advertising isn’t one business.
    It’s several hundred different businesses and, if we’re smart, we make sure we work on the 4% (or even the 7%) that actually works, not the 89% that’s a waste of money.
    Anyway, all through life pretty much 10% of anything is great and 90% is waste of time.
    Sport, movies, books, TV, restaurants, pubs, fashion, art.
    Luckily 10% of great stuff is still an amazing amount, enough for several lifetimes.
    Just avoid the crap, the same as the punters do with advertising.
    A great American copywriter said “Most advertising ignores intelligent people, so intelligent people ignore most advertising.”

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    Really interesting points raised there, especially the idea that we are conditioned to ignore distractions which means truly memorable ads have to break through that sub-conscious barrier. I think Go Compare is a perfect example of the negatively remembered ad because everyone I speak to seems to hate the campaign, yet it works because it breaks free from the white noise associated with many rival campaigns… Everytime I have to renew my car insurance that name springs into my mind before any other!

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    So you mean advertising works better on Policemen?

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    I wish I was selling pointy hats then

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    So, despite human’s best endeavors 89% of everything they do will b regarded as average, mediocre, or worse – that sounds about right. But b4 u boo-hoo 2 loud – It’s only 3.79% 4 me+mine.

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    If the hat fits…

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    I made a campaign of TV commercials in Ethiopia for the UN once. They were about fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS. We were briefed by two high ranking UN officials. Having filmed all over the country, three months later we were back in Addis Ababa to present the first three films of a campaign of ten. We walked back into the same meeting room, only this time the two high ranking officials had been joined by ten of their colleagues. Each one was an expert on an aspect of HIV/AIDS – condom use, harmful traditional practices, forced marriage, and so on. We presented the commercials and one of the high ranking official went round the table asking each individual what they thought of the ads. The condom person said they needed to talk about the preventative aspect of condom usage more. The harmful traditional practices person said they should address the issue of culture more. The forced marriage person said they should encourage respect for women’s rights more, and so on round the table. Of course, what we had done had been to make commercials that focused on each topic in turn. But this didn’t seem to wash with the UN. Then it hit me. What we were dealing with here was the UN’s own internal culture. Say you want to broker a peace deal, what you do is get everyone round the table and hammer out a compromise that includes a bit of what everyone wants, so they can all go home happy. Great for solving border disputes and the like, not so good for creating powerful, focused, single minded advertising that gets noticed. Generally, we in the ad business know the relevance of this and the need to di it creatively. All too often it’s the clients who compromise what we do – and not in a good way.

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    Bob Maddams,
    I think we can all recognise that process.
    We’ve all been there.

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    Years ago I had to put a t-shirt design together for an African election. Nobody knew how to vote. The PR company came up with this idea of a hand placing a voting card with the candidates’ name on and a headline saying “Vote Unigov’. It was the worst T-Shirt Design ever. He won, because everyone in the country got a free “How to vote” instruction manual they could wear.

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    89%/7%/4%. Engaging stats Dave. What is the source? I would like to use them but will be questionned about their integrity?

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    Hi Dave,
    I love statistics like this. I don’t doubt your integrity, and I’m sure James doesn’t either. Statistics can throw up all sorts of interesting questions to try and help us understand more if we look at them from different perspectives.

    4% positive recall
    7% negative recall
    89% not noticed or remembered

    Question.

    How do we know it’s got anything to do with the advertising.

    Maybe:-
    4% were in a positive mood at the time.
    7% were in a bad mood at the time.
    89% weren’t even in touch with their feelings at the time.

    I worked with a one and a half armed Senior Art Director once.
    We worked on the UK’s biggest ugliest retail account.
    Creatively it was diabolical but it paid the mortgage.
    A definite 7% category ad, it should have been locked-up.
    It sent a Creative Director swimming in a Goldfishbowl of Gin
    running out of his office screaming “I’ve got it!”
    “Britain’s Lowest Prices”
    We all looked at each other to say “Is that it?’
    “Doh!”

    Case history.

    6 weeks on the trot, the same ad pulled a massive massive response. The client believed the ads were the best thing since sliced bread, so we kept running it. I started to wear dark glasses on the train to work as I was confronted with Professor Qatermasses’ THING every morning in the national press at 7am knowing my Evil hand was an accomplice to this Creative Br Inks Matt Smudge.

    The following week, the ad pulled barely no response. I asked my one-armed partner in crime (The Evil Hamster) whilst he was gnawing at his sandwiches in our cage at lunchtime staring at the city like it had FREEDOM written all over it…”Why is the response so low Vic?”

    Climbing out of his Paper bag as he devoured the crumbs of civilisation, he replied:-“Dunno. Weather’s been XXXX for 6 weeks and this week it’s sunny. I suppose they’ve all got something better to do than shop at MFI. It’s not looking good Kev, they forecast more good weather ahead”.

    The ad continued to bomb in the good weather.
    The client thought life as he knew it was over.
    We all breathed a sigh of relief…
    Except: “Britain’s Lowest Prices”
    He just kept churning out more of these dreadful ads.
    He was on a run like a rat up a smelly drainpipe bless him.

    I noticed when working in Saudi Arabia how people were much more positive in the sun, and in Russia how people were much more pessimistic in the Cold.

    Wouldn’t it be funny if everything was determined by sunshine.
    Advertising would be determined by the weather.
    And we all know how the UK weather is at least 89% unpredictable!
    Hugh Mc Caskill eat your heart out.

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    I have only just stumbled accross your blog…and now I cannot stop reading!! A fantastically thought provoking article yet again.