Advertising has been around since the earliest days of civilisation. From ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics on tomb walls, to 11th Century BC Chinese poetry written to sell sweets, its all been about persuading audiences that your product is the best around. Ed Bernays and Thomas J Barratt revolutionised the way we think about advertising, developing the psychological and emotional aspect of selling that had previously been untapped. We’ve seen this develop even further, with brands like Apple focusing on selling their ethos, mission and ‘feel’ rather than just their product.
Ad agencies and brands are constantly hunting for the best possible ways to engage with their audiences. One of the key selling tools of advertising has been the celebrity endorsement. Nike did it brilliantly with Michael Jordan. Sadly we’ve event recently seen Kevin Bacon selling mobile phone tariffs for EE. Celebrities long stood as the badge of honour for brands. “If we can get the biggest celebrity around, who everybody loves, to vouch for product then it can’t fail!” I imagine many a limited Ad Exec to have said in the last 50 years.
However, we’ve now seen advertising become more personal. People trust their networks and want to hear advice from people who are experts in what they do. Bloggers and influencers know their stuff, hence why people listen to them. These are regular people who have become brand ambassadors. Celebrities, on the other hand, are simply paid to be the face of a brand. This comes with its own issues though, as my boss once spoke of a conversation with a client who asked: “Can we not pay bloggers? How can we own them?” which drew several shakes of the head.
This new, personal form of advertising is almost like having a friend sell directly to you. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have picked up on the increased scepticism brands face when trying to sell to people, and recognised that ‘Likes’ and ‘Retweets’ act as endorsements and referrals, which are a great way to gain trust. This development of a peer-to-peer advertising format meant that the conversation between client and agency often moved on to “We (brand) need 10,000 more likes!” in an attempt to generate more trust and endorsements.
We’ve gone from advertising at arms length, to being more personal than ever before. Everything we wear, use and interact with is branded. We’ve even seen people selling skin space, tattooing brands and websites on their body for sponsorship money. We’ve (literally) become walking adverts.
Advertising spend has reached unprecedented levels, as brands and organisations race to find the newest ways to interact and engage with their audiences. The question is how much is your forehead worth, and who would you like to advertise on it?