Hocus Focus

Most people think advertising is like a magic act. You know, the pull-rabbit-out-of-hat or a skimpy-blonde-levitation type. Just because they ran an ad, which of course they had a lot of hand in; it is expected to work wonders.

Consumers rushing to the stores early in the morning the very next day armed with wads of cash buy this wonderful product. The e-commerce website crashing as it is unable to handle the large volume of visitors. The customer service line ringing off the hook due to people calling to enquire the availability of the advertised product. In an ideal world, we in the industry would love for this to happen, but these are the stuff of dreams really.

So it’s not magic or a voodoo that puts people into a crazy eyed trance, craving for an advertised product or service. It’s part art, part science and a heck of a lot of luck. This is actually only the first layer of problem. There’s a far more chronic disease afflicting advertisers, one that has a far-reaching consequence to ad-spend. It’s something very fundamental in nature, the utmost basic communication principle. No, it’s not semi-naked woman promoting a product, it’s FOCUS.

Ad-space or media is at a premium. You would think that with the advent of the more economical and targeted online advertising, things would change. Not a chance! Be it a TVC, Press Ad, Direct Mailer, Brochure, Online Banner or a bloody Lamppost Bunting for crying out loud, stuffing them with mind-numbing content is a real problem.

There’s this aversion to empty space that bewildering. A press ad for instance is treated like a plot of land on which the real estate of images, design, illustration, masthead, logo, headline, overline, subhead, crosshead and bodycopy compete for attention. To add to this, the ad is littered with multiple messages, diluting the communication into a broth of sewer waste. Trying to make sense of some ads is like attempting to put together a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

The problem intensifies online. Web pages now are made up of a concoction of images, content, animation (especially the annoying GIF type) and then littered with Google ads. Research has shown that nearly 30% of site visitors drop-off if a web page is perceived to be cluttered. Although the research finding is a no-brainer, I think they actually went ahead with the research to get into the head of ‘experts’ with a thick skull.

What happened to making a single, direct, compelling proposition to the consumer? Not enough that the media is cluttered as a whole, we have ads that are cluttered within. It’s like asking someone to hit your head with a hammer and then grabbing the hammer and hitting yourself in the head. You can’t do much about media clutter, unless you are willing to spend obscene amounts of course. But you can minimize clutter – or some may refer to this as ‘busy-ness’ – in your ads, be it in any media. The term less is more is probably very apt as a rule of thumb to keep in mind; especially for clients.

In conclusion, if you can’t find than one message to focus on, you probably need to rethink your strategy. Draw up a list of USPs and rank them based on the appeal they will have on your target market. Remember, your ad’s job is to stand apart from the others and your strategy is to win the war of awareness. It’s okay to have a singular main message and then accompanied by oh-by-the-way kind of messages. But no more than 2, or your ad will not rise above the clutter.

And one more thing – no matter how tempted you are – try not to say the same thing your competitor is saying. That’s their niche. Find your own voice, that one single most important message or benefit and keep your ad concise. Everything else should fall into place in your quest of achieving an ad that actually sells. And that’s just pure magic!


The Accidental Ad-man

Most, if not all, in the industry will never admit it. They will say:

“I was born to do it” (clenched fist on desk)

“I’m passionate about advertising” (eyebrows raised, eyes bulging)

“The creative flame burns in me” (palm to general area of the heart)

“I live and breathe advertising” (inhale, exhale)

“I don’t own anything else but T-shirts and Jeans” (picking lint out of pocket)

Allow me to buck the trend. I stumbled into advertising. Yes, you read it right: stumbled, by fate to be exact, rather unknowingly.

You see, I wanted to be a journalist. But the extent of press freedom in Malaysia made me reconsider my decision. I knew I didn’t want to be crunching numbers, work in a suit or become a pop star. I had a vague inclination towards the act of creating something out of scratch, without pre-set guidelines or templates. I had a fetish for generating ideas, daydream and perhaps let my imagination run wild.

There was no indication that my weird preferences would lead to the seemingly pleasant but in fact utterly insane world of advertising. I wandered from one job to another, and with each passing year wondered what if I was not in advertising. Truth be told, I can’t think of doing anything else. But I am doing it by choice and not due to circumstance. I’m hanging on to a thin thread of hope that the industry will change to how it should be.

Creativity is almost non-existent with clients, budgets and timelines taking prominence. Selling the idea has become the prime concern, while selling the product/service with compelling creative takes a back seat. The industry is overrun with textbook regurgitating suits (at both client and agency sides) that lack hard-knock-life experience of giving birth to a campaign.

Nowadays, you hear certain catchphrases more frequently with each passing year:

If it’s not done before, don’t do it.

If you can’t do it, I’ve got 5 other 2-bit agencies waiting.

Are you crazy? We don’t have time for that!

My boss like purple. (grammar error intended).

Get this done by End of Day.

I’m not sure what I want, propose to me first.

Target market? Everyonelah!

Ok, I’ll go with version 37-final-2a-final.

I want the animation to be like (insert Hollywood film).

Can you present to my boss’ boss’ boss?

Before you conclude that this is just another frustrated agency lad without the required number of nuts to overcome typical industry barriers, allow me to set you straight. I have been ‘accepting’ these lowering standard in my beloved line of work for close to 10 years now. Head down, no complains and just get it done was my mantra. If I continue this way, the future looks very bleak indeed. I don’t want to be the one to torch myself in a pile of client briefs after hearing for the umpteenth time that the copy needs to be more… errrr… catchy.

So what am I going to do about this situation? Well, here’s the anti-climax… not much really. But what I can do is spread the word on how I think advertising in Malaysia needs to be tackled in this day and age. If I see, hear or experience something worth of note – either right or wrong – you’ll find it here. It could be about agency on-goings, creative revelations, product insights, consumer guides and everything else in between. And I’ll be looking at the big picture here, without bias to any communications field in particular.

This could become another accident in the making. But if it’s at least half as good as the accident I’m already in, then my objective would be achieved. So check this space, as often as you wish, for a personal view into the world of Malaysian Advertising. Godspeed!

The writer feels a cosmic energy field of resentment heading towards him.