November 11, 2013
Insights That Lead Nowhere
Somewhere along the line, the ad industry decided that advertising should be about consumers, not products.
This unnoticed and unremarked-upon mutation has had a profound impact on the nature and effectiveness of what we do.
The first effect has been to transform us from salespeople to sociologists. Of course, we don't like to call what we do sociology (too down market) instead we like to call it "cultural anthropology" (much more lyrical.)
So, along with our friends in the market research world, we have developed all kinds of cultural cliches which we lean on: Baby Boomers are this, and Millennials are that, and Gen Xers are the other thing, therefore...(INSERT QUESTIONABLE ASSERTIONS HERE.)
Instead of spending our time looking for imaginative advertising concepts about products, we spend our time developing dubious "insights" about consumers. Our sociological cliches form both the basis of these "insights" and the justification for them.
Of course, if these insights actually helped us create more effective advertising and sell more stuff, we'd all agree that progress has been made.
Sadly, however, it is pretty widely recognized that advertising has become a less powerful force, not a more powerful one. If our metamorphosis from salesmen to sociologists had been a constructive thing, we would expect the opposite.
There are surely a lot of other reasons for advertising's loss of efficacy -- media fragmentation, clutter, and talent erosion among them. But I think we would be mistaken to believe that our ascension from the uninspiring role of salesmen to the lofty ranks of cultural anthropologists hasn't been a factor.
Most of the "insights" we develop as a result of our sidewalk sociology turn out to be shallow generalities that have little to no effect on our ability to move more peanut butter.
In fact, a nice idea about a product is usually a much more powerful marketing asset than a majestic theory about the nature of mankind.