Advertising in T&T: Boring or in need of a Red Bull?
You know, there’s nothing like a good ad. Something to make you laugh out loud, relate to the scenario, and just possibly… buy whatever product or service they’re trying to sell. And when I say ad, I don’t only mean TV, radio and print. We see advertising virtually everywhere – on the highways, on benches and even when we go to the toilet.
So who among you can easily name an ad that really hooks you, and gives you a feeling that links you to a brand? My favourite of all time is the Red Bull ad with the man and the pigeon, which, I admit, still has me rolling to this day. Or maybe the ever-so-cute polar bears Coca Cola rolls out every Christmas that give you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.
I can go on… and on, making reference to other international entities such as the latest collaboration between State Farm and “Cars 2”, or even Geico’s latest set. But one has to wonder, why aren’t amazing ads like those a regular thing here in Trinidad and Tobago?
I’m not talking about those we import from other countries just to redub in English. I’m talking true-blue, real-deal, Trini-to-the-bone campaigns that we can laugh at, start discussions about, get excited about, and feel fulfilment, if we were to follow the message.
I’m not saying the landscape is entirely bleak. We do have our once-in-a-blue moon masterpieces – case in point, the Lucozade Stickman, and Radio Tambrin’s minute-long slot. But still, we find ourselves mired in some boring, lacklustre and downright bad advertising. Tell me, can you easily name some current, local campaigns that impress you?
This brings us to the question of why it is the way it is. I conducted a lil’ survey of sorts, with some former co-workers and associates I encountered during my stint in the advertising industry six years ago. I mean, who better to go to than the insiders on this matter?
First of all, the opinion was unanimous – the local advertising industry could do better, they said. There are, however, several, major problems members of the industry face on a daily basis, which lower the overall standard in comparison to what we see out there in the grown-up world.
So let’s start with the perspective of the clients, those who want to sell a product or service through advertising. When approaching an individual or agency, clients look for credibility, the supplier’s general track record, their previous work, and acclaim from the general public through awards, word of mouth and such. Building a campaign is not cheap; they can run into the five, six and seven-figure category. So it is understandable clients do not want to take any kind of major risk, because one false step can send a campaign down the drain. This leads to questioning the individual or agency’s ability to deliver, so in most cases the campaign suffers on the creative and originality front.
Agencies may find it difficult to sell ideas to clients; I’ve seen many clients cling to old concepts and ideas, because it has worked in the past. So many times, new campaigns may have the same antiquated ideas (case in point, those Charles Chocolate ads where there are so many product placements and shots of people eating, you’d swear the actors put on at least 20 pounds in those 30 seconds). Yes, there’s an element of nostalgia, which can be capitalised on for brands like this, but surely nostalgia can be communicated through more innovative means.
Then, there are the cases where clients come with their… ahem… knowledge, and shove their philosophies down the agency’s throat. This results in what I like to call the “simply buy this” campaign, or maybe a foreign ad redubbed with local voices.
Now, there’s a myth that’s been circulating for years – something about T&T’s size, economy and competitive landscape being the reason why there’s no need to go all out. In other words, if a certain brand has an industry in a chokehold, why put all the effort into being innovative when there’s no one else to compete with? Not as if consumers have a choice, right? It’s true we live on a veritable speck and there’s not much room for anything, far less mammoth rivalry (think State Farm vs. Progressive vs. Geico, or Colgate vs. Crest, though we do have Digicel vs. bmobile), but that’s no excuse for being complacent.
Let’s take a look Angostura’s launch last year with their newly shaped bottles and their new rum. When these campaigns started making the rounds, the agency responsible screamed “SUCCESS!”, while their colleagues in the ad business lost their lunches and the general public compared the new rum to axle grease cleaner. So my question would be what do they consider successful about a campaign filled with scantily clad chicks with spray tans and ice? I’m sure I’ve seen that before, like in every alcohol ad. Probably, they’re talking about the fact that people didn’t stop buying rum after seeing that?
Yes, sales matter, and it’s the ultimate measurement for a campaign. However, creativity in execution should count. Plus, consumers have high expectations now that we’ve been exposed to cable TV and the Internet for years. Society has become more discerning, and now we have international entities throwing their hats into the local ring like Axe, and their multiple big-dollar campaigns (http://youtu.be/8qskcmabLuQ). More creative tactics are required to attract attention. Surely, the agencies know this; so why aren’t we getting innovative, local ads?
Bringing a campaign up to modern standards means keeping up with current technology, and conceptualising a new idea every time means a new set of costs. As I said before, advertising, depending on the size of a campaign, can run upwards from thousands to hundreds of thousands and even millions. Then there’s the process of going back and forth from the drawing board, presentations, focus groups, market testing, acquiring slots in the media, billboards, merchandise, and the list goes on. In order to keep costs down, some things must be sacrificed, namely, creative freedom, originality and quality, resulting in a mundane ad at best.
However (I think this goes without saying), advertising is an investment. If done right, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
So what do industry insiders and stakeholders need to do? I got another unanimous answer for that – take more risks, give more leeway and trust the professionals. When it comes to creativity, an open mind can do wonders. You see things from multiple angles and you’re more open to different ideas.
All things in life are best in moderation, so too many restrictions leave no room for growth, while too much freedom can result in chaos. Finding a balance between the two, where everyone can agree, is best.
Really, it’s a pity that as a society that has so much creative potential, we don’t go all out on many things. But I do have hope – sooner or later we’ll get there, hopefully sooner than later.
The utopian idea of clients and agencies coming together to create truly innovative, local advertising that meets their need for profit, and consumers’ love for stimulating, entertaining advertising may seem far fetched. However, I don’t think we haven’t seen that kind of creative growth in the local advertising industry, because the talent is missing. Maybe, it’s a matter of them putting in more brainwork and elbow grease, we, the consumers, demanding the creativity and innovation we’ve been deprived of for so long.
Image credit: gspottt.wordpress.com