Advertising is Having a Confidence Crisis. Here's How to Fix it

Advertising is Having a Confidence Crisis. Here's How to Fix it

Paul Wilson 28/03/2018 3

The advertising industry is having a confidence crisis. Last month Keith Weed, the CMO at Unilever threatened to pull budget from digital platforms like Facebook and Google. As well as commercial reasons there was a moral underpinning to his message. “Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate.”

At the same time the trade industry bible Campaign was calling for more advocates and cheerleaders for the industry and in the same pages there was a plea from a twenty something working in advertising for others not to leave the industry .

Central to this issue is a discussion about the role and the value of advertising. I believe being more open and honest about the value of advertising will help restore faith in its role amongst media owners and brands and ultimately people.

Against this background of despair and distrust I recently discovered this beautiful designed ad from a 1950’s edition of Vogue. The picture is a little unclear so I have quoting the copy in full underneath.

Vogue’s eye view of putting on weight

While we should deplore the very thought of an extra pound on your figure (at this moment when the Moulded Line means a trimmed down silhouette) we are delighted to announce that we ourselves have put on a noticeable amount of weight in this, the biggest-ever issue of Vogue. 

For ten years, until 1950, we were limited by paper-rationing – and advertising pages were staggered throughout the year to make issues of roughly corresponding size. Now, paper is no longer limited, and the fashion market has returned to its pre war pattern, with perhaps an exaggerated emphasis on the Spring and Autumn seasons. 

These are the times when most people want to buy their clothes, and, therefore, when advertisers want particularly to show what they have to sell. You can now expect a big increase in advertisements in Vogue at these two peak periods – and since our advertising pages are a complete complement to our editorial pages, we feel you will relish the extra matter. 

But we at Vogue want to come back to fundamentals, and to emphasize an important point; although spring and autumn are peak moments for merchandise, fashion is a constant – an interest that is not seasonal – and we take care of fashion for you by keeping the same basic number of editorial pages in every issue of Vogue, no matter how the number of advertising pages may fluctuate. 

However, there is always an exception to ever rule, as in this issue, when the number of editorial pages increased. (the editorial pages may expand from time to time, but you have our assurance that they will not diminish) 

So if you’ll forgive our sounding momentarily like wide-screen hucksters or ringmasters, here we offer you our super-colossal March issue, more epically, colourfully and completely presented than ever before…

Although written nearly 70 years ago it has much to teach us about how to address current issues in advertising. I think 5 main themes emerge:

1. Respect your audience

This ad is written with the upmost respect and understanding of the type of people who read Vogue. People haven’t been reduced to mere readers, viewers or visitors and this is a million miles away from talking about ‘monetising eyeballs’. 

Focusing on understanding people, what they are interested in and how you serve that need will lead to a fundamentally different outcome to just focusing on short term ways to make more money from views.

Quartz is a great example of this approach. Quartz is an online news company that is entirely funded by advertising. They have managed the rare feat of turning a profit by focusing on the reader’s experience and satisfying their needs through a mobile-first and innovation right approach. They have achieved this by focusing on formats that don't interrupt or annoy their readers and have restricted the number of ads they run. As a result they are able to charge advertisers a premium for advertising and are attracting readers due to the experience they provide.

2. Have a clear company view on the role and value of advertising

Vogue is clear on the role and contribution of advertising not only to its magazine but also to the broader fashion industry and calendar. There is no embarrassment here and no attempt to claim advertising is something that it is not. And unlike with most influencer campaigns this is a view that is clearly stated and the advertising relationship made explicit. 

Advertising is a large contributor to the revenue of media businesses – in the case of Facebook it represents 98% of their income. But recently they changed their algorithm to better balance the content of people’s newsfeeds. Relevant and personal messages can add utility and entertainment to people’s lives but not if it comes at the expense of hearing news about friends. Without a clear view of the role and contribution of advertising to your business you are not going to be able to make consistent and considered decisions.

3. Communicate the importance and role of advertising to your audience

As well as having a clear view of the role and importance of advertising Vogue has communicated this to their readers so they too understand the role and value of advertising – and also why the number of adverts might vary from issue to issue. 

Although people’s current expectation is that the content they read, watch and listen to is free the advertising industry has done a poor job of communicating the contribution of advertising to keeping this content free.

You often hear people in advertising claiming that ‘millennials hate advertising’ but these same people take no responsibility for defending the value and contribution of advertising. 

4. Place importance on this message

It might not be clear from the image but this ad was signed by the designer – a man called Raymond Hawkey. He was one of the pioneers of British graphic design and it is a sign of how important Vogue see this message that they commissioned someone of his standing to create it.

Advertisers do a great job promoting the benefits of their clients. But we seem to be doing ourselves a disservice in how we talk about our own business and contribution.

Increasingly awards festivals are looking to reward things that don’t look like advertising rather than celebrate the contribution of the industry to funding creativity and utility in other areas. Without advertising there would be no Facebook and very little TV.

5. Align advertising and editorial content to reinforce your brand

Advertising is not seen as a necessary evil and Vogue believe their readers will ‘relish the additional matter’ as it will be complementary to Vogue’s editorial content.  There is a clear link between advertising and editorial content and there is also a clear value in this content.

As a media owner if you just view the value of advertising and communication as a financial transaction you will be missing additional value. Aligning editorial and advertising content can be a mutually beneficial relationship.

I recently stumbled across this delightful interview with Paul Smith on LinkedIn in it he talks about his career and gives advice for creative’s and entrepreneurs alike. It is great content for LinkedIn and a great advert for Paul Smith and his brand. It is also a great advert for the Gentleman’s Journal – the publication who created it. If you just see the advertising you chose to run as purely a financial transaction you will leave a lot of additional value on the table

All is not doom and gloom in advertising. There are rays of sunshine but we need to be clear on the value of advertising and the bold in communicating and defending that value.

Share this article

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

terms and condition.
  • Nancy Dotzel

    Facebook has changed its algorithm, Google did the same but the damage has been done. Companies are reluctant to pay even more money because they are manipulating our data without our consent.

  • David Charlton

    I would also say that most advertisers stopped innovating, that's why there is a confidence crisis

  • Adam Dixon

    Most organisations are money driven that's why their advertising strategies have floundered on numerous occasions

Share this article

Paul Wilson

Digital Expert

Paul is Global Head of Strategy at Vizeum. He is a Global Strategist with experience that spans a variety of sectors (CPG, Tech, Pharma and Finance) and disciplines (Media, Advertising, CRM and Sales Promotion). He is responsible for European Strategy across all Starcom Global Network Clients including Samsung, P&G, Coke, Airbnb, Novartis, Etihad, Mars. Paul holds a Bachelor in Biological Sciences, Zoology from the University of Oxford.

Cookies user prefences
We use cookies to ensure you to get the best experience on our website. If you decline the use of cookies, this website may not function as expected.
Accept all
Decline all
Read more
Tools used to analyze the data to measure the effectiveness of a website and to understand how it works.
Google Analytics