Can design save advertising?

October 10, 2008 at 2:59 pm 2 comments

Here is the thing: advertising really doesn’t work that well anymore.

At least, it doesn’t work for all of the things it used to work for. I won’t go into the reasons for that, because, frankly, the topic is so hackneyed and over-discussed that it is more likely that indigenous tribes of the south-west Amazon have already come up with digital strategies to address the issue, than Sara Palin knowing that the Amazon is a river in Latin America, and not just where she buys maternity literature for her daughter.

My story is more around design. “Funny,” you might say “because isn’t design a completely overused topic as well?” Well, yeah it is, but no so much in the context of what it means for advertising agencies which have made their money with development of messaging.

If you think of design as a mindset of creating acts that lead to valuable exchanges with brands, rather than just a specific design discipline, such as graphic design, as well as if you allow the inclusion of other design fields, such as software design, interior design, product design, you at some point might ask yourself the question: if advertising bombards people with messages they don’t want, and if advertising makes promises brands can’t keep, whereas design actually delivers experiences that people want, can design save advertising? And you can see it’s a timely question because all types of agencies now dabble in or with design.

Why do they do that? Because design delivers experiences, whereas advertising only delivers messages. And, of course we all know, there is a rich market for experiences and not so much for messages. For example: if the design of a software leads to a new algorithm which allows to more successfully rank pages of a search result, you end up getting a brand called Google which doesn’t even have to do advertising. In fact, the software design success of Google’s new algorithm created a platform that is so successful, that everyone who sells stuff has to advertise there.

“If that’s the case, why bother with advertising?” you might say, “why don’t you just do design then? Why save advertising?” Because, here is the cincher: if you have great design, you’re gonna need advertising. The problem isn’t that advertising is evil. The problem is that many brands don’t innovate anymore, so they got nothing to say. Or even if they have innovations, they stick to their advertising/marketing process that doesn’t consider people and their true behavior. The end result: they just advertise stuff people don’t want or in a way they don’t want to be advertised at.

As a result, advertising people need to think about creating acts that deliver experiences for marketing and product innovation even if, in the end, you also deliver ads. This means talking to all sort of designers who can help you come up with solutions that make a qualitative difference in peoples’ lives, no matter how small.

The most important thing though is that whatever we do, we give brands a purpose so they can deliver experiences and communications that are valuable to people. Because, just as with ads, acts that don’t have a purpose with people in mind, are useless just the same. In fact, purposeless brand acts can be even more annoying that purposeless ads.

So, in the end, it’s not about whether design can save advertising. It is about coming up with a human brand purpose that is based in actual human behavior.

A brand purpose, mind you, not a promise, not a positioning, can deliver the necessary reason for being of brand, so it can innovate and create acts for which, ultimatly you can create ads for.

And BTW: hasn’t it always been a fact that every successful brand we know is here because it has or used to invent a new design for a challenge in people’s lives? You need to innovate and do so something before you say something and tell people about it. There is no room for messaging without substance, no room for ads without acts.


Entry filed under: design, Experience, humankind, Insights & Strategy, opinion.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. tbuesing  |  October 16, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    thanks alex, made me smile:
    it is more likely that indigenous tribes of the south-west Amazon have already come up with digital strategies to address the issue.
    tell those dudes to shoot me an arrow with their predictions!

  • 2. Dino  |  October 26, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    great post!


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