I think I may know which 50%.

You know, of course you do – famous quote, Lord Leverhulme, 50% of all the money I spend on advertising is wasted but I don’t know which 50%.

OK, it doesn’t account for the whole 50%, but if it was still possible to make contact with the estimable Lord I think I’d tell him that a fair chunk of the wasted 50% is spent on brand advertising for brands that were doing perfectly well without it.

One of the bigger and trickier issues for advertising to think about is what kind of contribution it has to make to brand development once you get beyond brands that come in jars, packs and boxes.

You can’t help thinking that the contribution of advertising is often extremely marginal.  Consider Amazon, eBay, most of Virgin, Ryanair, lastminute.com.  Some of these brands have advertised fairly heavily, some not at all.  But with all of them, you have a strong feeling that they’ve built their brands – and their awareness – very much more through their day-to-day activities and a great deal of canny PR than they have through advertising.

There are plenty of other names I could add to the list, but the one I’m thinking about today is easyJet.  After a painful and protracted pitch process, easyJet appointed their first-ever grown-up agency (my memory is going, but I think it was Ogilvy) a while ago, and we’re starting to see the fruits of their labours.

I’ve got to say, as fruits go, they’re on the sour and unripe-looking side.  Take the 48-sheet posters that are up now (I might try to insert a pic later).  There’s an odd-looking black splodge up in the upper left area with a caption that says “fish fingers.”  Then there’s a cut-out orange silhouette of some children playing on a beach with a caption that says something like “fresh fish.”  And pretty large down in the bottom right there are some prices for flights to Faro.

It’s really difficult to see the point of all this – well, all this except the cost of the flights.  Is the poster as a whole making any serious attempt to change consumer attitudes or behaviour?  I think most people know it’s nice to have holidays.  Is it delivering any kind of proposition about easyJet beyond the one thing everyone knows, which is that they have low fares?  I don’t think so.  Does the advertising in itself offer the consumer any reward, or emotion, or association of some positive kind with the advertiser?  Well, not for this consumer it doesn’t.

So to sum up, in what way is this advertising any better than the home-made price-driven advertising that has so successfully helped build the easyJet brand over the last ten years or so?  Well, actually, in no way whatsoever.

Pointless to criticise this one rather feeble campaign any more.  But what’s interesting about it – and about some of the equally-lame campaigns for brands like those I mentioned above – is that they highlight the increasingly wide divergence in thinking about how brands are built between ad agency people (who think that running big-ticket advertising is more or less synonymous with brand-building) and everyone else (who think that once you get beyond classic agency FMCG territory, advertising has very often got very little indeed to do with brand building, and ad agencies even less).

Obviously there are exceptions.  Advertising can help bridge dangerous gaps that can open up between perception and reality, as M&S have recently been demonstrating.  It can add to, or amplify, a brand’s emotional dimension, as BA have shown us over the years.  And it can gently reinforce all the perceptions we build up in our minds from other touch-points, as Waitrose does.

This is all useful and important work.  And it’s far too early to write off the contribution that Ogilvy can make to the easyJet brand just on the basis of a couple of duff posters. But I don’t think Lord Leverhulme would have enjoyed picking up the tab for them. 

2 thoughts on “I think I may know which 50%.

  1. whoa there.
    In one of your speeches (I can’t look it up, because it’s in Amipro) you pointed out, inter alitalia, that advertising is a competitive, not an absolute activity – brand a) has to advertise because brand b) does; brand a) can force brand b) to spend more on advertising than it can afford; brand b) can change the agenda by advertising a different quality to brand a) and so on, even where the result ( I think you said) was that over ten years and xx£bn all the financial services companies who did it stayed in roughly the same pecking order.

    I haven’t seen the posters but anything that isn’t Ryanair in this space is warmly received – and easyjet’s orange cheeriness is a welcome contrast to both its and Ryanair’s in-house advertising – the tone of the ‘house’ being not a million miles from big brother’s…

  2. Sorry Surrey, I may have been unclear. I’m not against easyJet advertising or indeed the easyJet brand. On the contrary, I’m a big easyJet fan. And I bow to no-one in my hatred of Ryanair. The point I was trying to make is that easyJet have built a brand that many people – including me – like and admire without the help of a big advertising agency. Now, they have a big agency on board – but, judging by their first campaign, I don’t think they’re likely to add anything much to what easyJet were already doing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *