Whether it’s branding or advertising, the boat still rocks the same. No matter what we do as ad men or branding experts, we are targeting the same demographic – people on that specific boat. As the boat changes, the people change. But, our mission is the same. Rock it both ways to ensure they shift positions and remember your brand. A recently published book seeks to challenge our views on this.

Titled “In Lemon: How The Advertising Brain Turned Sour”, the book and its author, Orlando Wood feel that technological advancements in the field of marketing and advertising have not made any differences in the way we procure new customers and retain old ones. The book instead states that society is moving away from advertising which has led to a massive drop in campaign awareness. This publication goes on to describe how advertising has lost its humanity and offers suggestions on how we might make things right again.

Generally, we would, much like the other cynics, shrug this off and simply label Wood as a marketing guru wannabe but, he strikes the core with this explosive observation early in his book: “the use of digital channels is contributing to the dominance of left-brain work.”

No truer words have been written in the entire existence of human life. We whole-heartedly concur with Wood on this sentiment. It is true that a large chunk of marketing has become stale and utilitarian. With the narrowing of focus, campaigns have become more and more seasonal than evergreen. Wood adds that the problem lies mainly in digital and B2B marketing. So, what happened there?

Creating From The Left

Branding brings long-term growth primarily through creative and emotional brand building. But today’s campaigns rely on a short-term shelf life as every brand feels the impulse to renew their strategy every six months leading to a crisis in creativity that is hurting long-term effectiveness. Wood refers to this as ‘left-brained creativity.’

Creativity has become left-brained today and is inspired by the digital technologies surrounding us. Today, creativity means more productivity and repetition as we prefer to work within the confines of a safe zone i.e. avoid risks of any kind. Both advertising and branding have adopted similar styles leading to less or no effectiveness in our strategies. While the world still reels from branding disasters such as the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad or even the risky Peloton commercials, we still continue to either tread lightly or trample furiously. Wood feels that even clients think only short-term and this has clipped the wings of creativity. “Reason is more important than emotion,” Wood adds. The Kendall Jenner ad looked to capitalise on the Black Lives Matter rallies. The Superbowl in 2017 aired a number of commercials that took aim at the new President’s views on immigration. While they may serve the purpose then, they seem irrelevant today. In today’s world, brands often end up with a temporary sore throat that needs more than just a Strepsil to cure.

The Problem With Writing

Content writing has become informational rather than creative. Every word is written so that it can be optimised mercilessly to suit Google’s strict and ever-changing algorithms. Writers are being tutored on CTR, White Hat SEO and skyscraper techniques while all they should worry about is doing justice to Wren & Martin.
The focus is on dashboards full of metrics that would make no sense to a writer. Based on these analytics, writers are expected to create densely structured content pieces and use a certain amount of keywords to satisfy the overlords who pray for the day their company pops up at the top of the search results page. Wood feels that marketers look at data but are completely oblivious to the information behind it stating that almost all ads are direct response and not actual advertising.

Quick! Data Me Now!

Half a decade ago, eBay found that search ads weren’t giving them any traction. A study into their campaign revealed that the campaigns didn’t target the right personas and ended up becoming stiff. Identically, several other reports have found that data analytics is often being misused and misrepresented. It’s being misrepresented as the next saviour in advertising and it is being misused as a fancy tool. While Wood disagrees with our collective emotion, stating that data analytics can save the industry, he goes on to state another truth, by adding that the focus on short-term events to determine customer behaviour can come with dire consequences. Short-term data is never helpful.

Every Problem Has A Key

At a time when all ads focused on a small image of the product with a headline and pages of copy, this VW ad titled “Lemon” put a big picture of a very small product with crisp, dense copy. Lemon is arguably the most famous ad of the 20th century, designed by Helmut Krone of DDB. When the agency won the account of Avis, a car-rental service who were second in the markets to Hertz, the account would have been happy with a similar ad. Instead of standardising his work, Krone went the other way.

Krone’s message was simple: never stick to one format, a sentiment that’s seldom seen today. Brands are often looking to one-up each other by taking the competitor’s campaign and besting it through better execution or sometimes worse. The left brain is fervently at work and expects that the right brain be put out of its misery. Branding can only evolve when there’s change. We are not talking about a revolution but a simple thought process on how we can be different and original would bring up thousands of new ideas. Standardisation makes it difficult to create right-brained advertising.

Left v. Right

Science and research has proven that there exists an actual divide between the left and right brain. With each side having its own characteristics, we need both of them to function properly in a society. The left brain is in favour of rules, consistency, predictability, control, utility and certainty. The right brain is more perceptive and works to understand metaphors, humour and irony, valuing concepts greater than what the left brain can process. This was deciphered after years of scientific research. When it comes to branding, connecting with our target demographic requires us to power up our right brains and to do that, we must as Wood puts it, “free our right brains.” Resistance towards our innate instincts to deeply analyse every idea shuts off the right brain. Instead, to empower creative development, we must look into ideas – the good, the bad and even the dumbest.

Pointing Fingers At Today’s Agencies

Wood explicitly states that agencies that produce left-brained advertising must also be held accountable for the dearth of right-brained thinking. “A left-brained culture impedes the creatives who make the campaigns,” Wood writes. Deadlines are favoured over creativity leading to ad men choosing the best of the recent ideas rather than prolonging their thinking activity. This narrows the focus to what can be achieved quicker and not what will achieve better.

The left-brain style of thinking practised at agencies has created a gap between its employees and the public – its audience. There have been more failed campaigns in recent times than ever before. Pepsi’s ad featuring Kendall Jenner ranks at the top. Here is an agency composed of a small group of like-minded people projecting their values and preferences on to a larger and freely-moving audience. Disaster was always going to happen.

The Way Forward

This may sound pessimistic but we have to accept that a major chunk of marketing has become left-brained. Wood feels the same way, writing “the use of digital channels is contributing to the dominance of left-brain work.” In this essay, we’ve discussed that right-brained creativity is the only way to break the chain. Activating the right brain requires making observations and connections. The right brain is fuelled by our attempts to understand people and events. Think not just out of the box but out of the ad sphere. There’s an old saying “there are no bad ideas.” It was coined inside the walls of a Madison Avenue agency. To question everything is another good way to begin. Ask questions. More questions. Don’t worry about sounding stupid. It’s the way forward to bettering our work and ourselves.

That’s what we do at Sukkrish Aadds. We ask questions that may seem dumb or stupid. Yet, they are always asked by curious minds. We question and challenge conventionalism and scrutinise abstractism, not because one of them is better, but because one of them gives a better and more innovative solution than the other.

written by Shreesh Shankar