Advertising creates competitive advantage. It allows a brand to be seen as better than everyone else it competes with. When advertising is created and communicated correctly, it drives awareness, interest, loyalty, allows the brand to charge a premium, becomes a long-term sustainable asset for the company that owns it, and even makes the consumers feel good about the brand they buy. Advertising is a commercial tool, the primary reason to create it is to make commerce happen.
Yes, there is a social angle to advertising. It often is used to change behavior, inculcate a new habit, fight a pandemic and strengthen positive behavior. The communication thus created uses the same principles that commercial selling appeals work with.
There is now a new type of advertising that neither has a commercial reason to exist, nor a social reason. Maybe the only reason the advertising like that is created can be called vanity. The whole communication exercise is created, broadcast and perpetuated because it makes a small section of brand owners feel good about themselves. Today, a lot of brand owners have become synonymous with the brand and they may hope that the vanity advertising will work for both: owners and brand in the same measure. This is never as easy as it sounds, and sometimes it may not work at all.
When a large ed-tech player decides to sponsor the World Cup Football, this is a prime example of creating vanity advertising. When the same company downsizes and reduces the people it employs, but signs up an A-Lister footballer as brand ambassador, then the only reason can be vanity. For this brand, which has always pushed students to study hard and get more marks, being a part of sports is not core to the offering. When the same corporation parts company with its employees, it is not creating a safety net for their children to ensure they don’t miss school. Yet, it creates a set of advertising collateral using the iconic football player by paying a really large sum of money, the reason cannot be strategic, the reason is vanity.
Yes, the whole activity makes the brand look really large, but that’s about the end of the whole communication effort. It is too much of good money chasing a very ordinary vanity brand metrics.
There is a very large advertiser that has used a host of celebrities from films to cricket to create a series of films that apart from seeding the name of the app, do nothing for the brand. After spending a truck load of media monies, the brand has gone silent in media, and maybe is looking at changing the entire business model. It was an app that helped you pay bills, now it may become an app that offers a personal loan. The entire advertising money that was spent, was only for the vanity of feeling good about the ads by the brand owners. The hallmark of well-crafted strategic advertising is that it allows the brand to build on the appeal it created initially and let the brand expand its offerings. In this case the vanity of chasing the ‘redefining advertising’ narrative did very little for the brand but a lot more for the founder.
With newer categories like crypto, fantasy gaming, video commerce emerging, we are likely to see a lot of vanity advertising that panders to the ego of founders, and does very little for the brand.
I do see fundamentally two things happening. One, a lot more vanity driven advertising and the consumers will look through the ads and not connect with them. Two, a lot sharper crafted advertising from newer brands who after witnessing the vanity, will want to offer a real deal to the consumers.
With the downturn here, vanity will be pushed back into the closet.
(The author is Co-founder and CSO, Bang in the Middle. He tweets at @googlegupta)
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