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Guinness Horses ads aren't what you should aspire to for social, it's the meme account you check 10 times each day
Advertising has to be relevant. And the vast amount of ads on social aren’t: they try too hard to be adverts, rather than trying to sell.
When Howard Gossage wrote this in the 1960s, there were two TV channels, and newspaper circulation was above 100% of households in the UK. From a media buying perspective, it was the print equivalent of the early days of Facebook: everyone in one place and engaged.
Despite being written over 50 years ago, I put this quote into all of our pitch decks because it’s something that needs repeating.
It seems today more than ever, people have strong views of what advertising should be.
There’s multiple ways this goes. There’s the copywriter who wants to create the Just Do It slogan for their company. There’s the designer who wants to ensure harmonious and perfect visual consistency through everything the brand puts out. And there’s the founder who grew up on the era-defining Guinness ads of the 90s.
It’s entirely unsurprising that this happens.
The media era that most of the current workforce grew up in was way less fragmented than it is today. While the 90s was way more fragmented than Gossage’s 60s, it’s still nothing compared to the 20s.
It’s also a bias based on what we see. To advertise in this way, you already have to be really big and have an entire audience know what your product is. Airbnb could only do their brand marketing shift because they’ve already got close to maximum brand awareness and mental availability.
Advertising has one job: to sell
You can sell today. Someone has a few spare minutes and is hosting a bbq this weekend, so that case of rosé they’ve just been advertised on social is perfect timing. They click the ad, they go purchase. Bingo.
Or you sell tomorrow. And you do this by building mental availability. You know that person isn’t ready to buy today, but you communicate how you solve someone’s problems, knowing that in the future they will be ready to buy.
Asking why a couple of times will always result in one of the above outcomes.
Brand marketing exec: “We want to do this great emotional storytelling campaign to communicate our view in the world.”
Brand exec: “To build brand awareness”
Brand exec: “So that one day people buy from us.”
Whether you’re selling your political party, a charity cause, or laundry detergent, the only reason you advertise is to sell. That is the true JTBD of advertising.
Startups can’t afford to sell tomorrow
Now with those above assumptions in place, remember that as a startup you have everything stacked against you.
You are cash strapped. Especially in today’s funding environments. You need to prove profitable growth to be able to raise your next round.
And educating people costs huge amounts of money. If you have to educate your market, you are in an uphill battle. When you are early stage, you can only build where there is a clear need for your product. Don’t worry about mass market applications, over serve a niche of people who would crawl over glass to buy from you today.
Building mental availability costs a lot of money. So too does brand marketing. Do not get me wrong, both of these methods work. But unless you can commit six figure monthly budgets for a year plus, it won’t do what you want it to do.1
When you have early stage, the most important thing you can do is demonstrate growth. Showing inordinate demand on the market side, and then matching that with perfect response on your product side. This is how you get to product market fit.
And so the only job of a startup is to sell today.
The joy of digital advertising is it’s the perfect, cost-effective vehicle to sell today. But you have to do it right. And this brings us back to relevancy.
We are interrupting.
Once you’ve finished reading this, open up Instagram and browse your Stories with a pen and paper in hand. Write down at a high level what you see. Here’s mine, excluding ads:
holiday snap / meme x5 / video of a field with educational caption over top / high quality beach photos from a brand / dog video / reel of someone cooking food (low quality) / new spirit that launched / reel shared of cat jumping through paper in doorway
What am I doing in those moments?
I am building an emotional understanding of where family and friends are at in their lives. I am learning. I am laughing.
As an advertiser, this is what you’re competing with. An emotional journey where on one photo you could be mid laughter, on the next fully grounded by a post on the environment, and the next a heartwarming photo that reminds you of great times with your best friends.
Not only that but you’re usually scrolling with a split second each time, that’s how long your brain gives that image a chance to see if you want to watch it for three more seconds.
The worst things you can do then as an advertiser are:
Spend too long explaining what you are
Making your ad look high budget and so immediately sticking out like a sore thumb in the feed (you’re not in the ad break of Succession, so don’t make ads look like you’re trying to be)
Being humourless or unemotive
Be apologetic about the fact that this is obviously an ad
How to be relevant for social
Being relevant for social require you do two things
Be laser focused on customer
The way you do the first is a combination of customer psychology, using their language, understanding your users culture.
The second is – for the most part – ensure your ads sit contextually inside the thing you’re interrupting.
Native ads, and specifically creator-driven ads, don’t work because they’re tricking the audience into thinking its a real post. They work because they’re contextual to the platforms.
In some future weeks, I’ll be diving into specifics on how to be more customer-focused, and how to be more social-first.
Nuggets of the week
Musk rebranded Twitter this week to x.com. I actually quite like it.
What was Threads again?
I’ve not seen Oppenheimer or Barbie, but I’d venture that Oppenheimer has won in ROI terms by being up against Barbie owing to the inherent head-to-head nature of their fight. It’s like Bob The Builder vs Stan all over again.
I read Angel Au-Yeung and David Jeans’ new book on Tony Hsieh on holiday, called Wonder Boy. It’s a really good if painful read about the Zappos’ founders lift, including the post-Delivering Happiness story I hadn’t been aware of before. I’ll be writing a review of this on LinkedIn soon.
Public DTCs continue to take a bashing. The WSJ did a hit piece on Allbirds last week, and the big names continue to have profitability woes. We’re forming a thesis on how to approach building a DTC in 2023 and on. Watch this space.