Paid Attention. Innovative Advertising for a Digital World

by Faris Yakob


2015 Sep 07


The advertising attention marketplace is a confusing and vast playing field where the rules have changed drastically over the last decade. Make yourself heard and win the attention of your target audience with the new edition of this ultimate guide.

Paid Attention delivers new and innovative insights into advertising ideas: what they are, why they are evolving and how to use them in day to day strategy to ensure commercial stability within a changing digital landscape. Packed with real-world examples of advertising campaigns such as Google, Sony and Old Spice, it provides a robust model for influencing human behaviour and toolkits that offer best practice on brand behaviour and effective communication.

In a world where being a consumer is confusing, learn to take control of the situation and make yourself heard in today’s crowded attention marketplace.

Notes & Highlights

A brand is simply a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer.

So, let’s put forward a reformulation: A brand is a collective perception in the minds of consumers.

Being authentic as a brand, or person, is really simple. Stand for something, establish a consistent mode of behaviour and then express it through everything you do, communications and commerce. It’s when you say one thing and do another that you stop being authentic.

Viral is a behaviour of the audience not a property of the content, which is why the metaphor does not work very well. The brand is piggybacking something else that is being passed on – usually entertaining content or social currency.

‘Borrowed’ interest is a sound strategy for attracting attention. PG Tips borrowed from the chimps, Cadbury’s from the drumming gorilla, the burger from the King, the insurance broker GEICO from the lizard or the caveman and so on. Leveraging existing cultural artefacts – such as the expression Good Morning – and appending your products, you borrow interest to attract attention.

The iPad made me realize that it is not just distribution and content, there is a third piece: the consumption platform, the physical thing through which content is consumed, which used to be bundled with the distribution platform, but no longer needs to be. When you are watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix via your Xbox 360, or on a laptop, or screen, or projector, or iPad – are you watching television? If so – why? If not – why not? When you are reading Dave Eggers’s The Circle on your Kindle (or iPad) – are you reading a book? If so – why? If not – why not? A Kindle is not a book, and yet it is all books, or can be (Amazon launched a subscription service in 2014 that allows you to access the entire Kindle library for US $9.99 per month). The words don’t quite fit properly any more because they were bundled constructs that are coming undone.

This is why film studies and record companies find it impossible to predict what will be a blockbuster, which led to a venture capital model of cultural production, where studios and labels invest in 10 things on the assumption that nine will break even or lose money but one will make enough to recoup the losses. This is why screenwriter William Goldman famously said of Hollywood: ‘Nobody knows anything.’ This portfolio model is also flowing into brand thinking, especially online. The more stuff produced the more hooks, the more chances that something will catch the network’s attention. The writer Cory Doctorow calls this ‘thinking like a dandelion’: Take the dandelion: a single dandelion may produce 2,000 seeds per year, indiscriminately firing them off into the sky at the slightest breeze, without any care for where the seeds are heading and whether they’ll get an hospitable reception when they touch down… The dandelion just wants to be sure that every single opportunity for reproduction is exploited!… Dandelions and artists have a lot in common in the age of the Internet. This is, of course, the age of unlimited, zero-marginal-cost copying. If you blow your works into the net like a dandelion clock on the breeze, the net itself will take care of the copying costs.

Then everything got all real-time and agile and suddenly everyone had a newsroom and was a publisher. This is not a new approach, except in its alacrity. The Guinness Book of Records is brand content for the beer, to settle arguments in the pub. The Michelin Guide is brand content for the tyre company, to encourage people to drive to restaurants further afield. All original programmes on television, before spot advertising, were branded content.

Imitation disguises the debt it owes. Stealing takes and repurposes, recontextualizes – it revels in the reference. Recognizing the source becomes an integral part of the meaning being constructed. In this sense, stealing is hypertextual and meta-textual – it links to other texts outside itself, standing on the semantic foundations previously established. Stealing multiplies meaning, copying does not.

Creating behavioural objectives can help to focus ideas. Will Collin, one of the founders of Naked, explains it well. He pointed out that the business objective might be to sell 15 per cent more mayonnaise but that phrasing it as ‘getting people to try mayo on their fries’ will be far more inspirational for creating solutions.

Advertising agencies, then, either ‘make’ advertising, which is a service that can be displaced, or they help corporations to solve business problems with creativity, which will remain an ongoing need as long as there are corporations – but puts ‘advertising’ agencies into a much larger competitive set alongside other business consultants, albeit with a specific competitive advantage.

Content can be as simple as a status update, as complex as a documentary film. Some advertising, made for broadcast, is repurposed as social content. Very occasionally this works, but usually it doesn’t because of the difference in how they were conceived: advertising looks to say something a company wants to say in the most appealing way possible to an audience, whereas content starts from thinking about what the audience wants to consume and then considers how the brand can add value to that. They start from opposite ends.

Business strategy directs how companies should marshal finite resources to achieve business objectives and achieve profitable growth;

Agencies are not dead. What is dead is an agency process that can only end in traditional advertising.

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Paid Attention. Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob