There are many things that frustrate me about a high proportion of strategy documents. The inordinate length, the inverse relationship of length and quality, the absence of genuine curiosity about people’s lives. Added to these is the vocabulary that is so often used, specifically in relation to the people who are going to be exposed to our advertising (for want of a better word, the “consumers”).
The authors of these documents stress the primary importance of “encouraging”, “recruiting”and “rewarding” consumers. The words are harmless enough in isolation, but when put into context they become symptomatic of unhelpful professional attitudes.
Firstly, they propagate a subconsciously condescending attitude to the consumer. The emphasis seems not to be on building relationships but rather on bleeding this resource and then patronisingly patting them on the back for going along with our game of brands.
Secondly, these words (which highlight consumer-related objectives) risk obscuring the simple truths of communications. What do we need to achieve with our advertising? First and foremost, we need to get people’s attention. What is the best way to do that? To create stuff that resonates with people and that people find interesting (visually, linguistically, conceptually). Whether people share content, engage with it, react to it, sign up for competitions etc etc – these are all things that we have no direct control over. The only things that we can control are the quality and the relevance of the work.
I think that the analogy of advertising as conversation is useful. The best conversationalists know that intrigue, dynamism, surprise, energy and curiosity are the cornerstones of good discussion. Cling too tightly to consumer-related objectives and you risk losing sight of the key goal: be interesting. The other objectives are achieved obliquely.