Your Ads Don’t Have to Suck


September 23, 2015

ads dont suck

In the reality series Project Runway, host Tim Gunn often tells stressed fashion designer contestants to “make it work.” That’s the same strategy my wife and I employ for getting through summer with five kids at home, while also trying to work from home. To make it work, we work at different times and take our kids fun places when we can. That’s why during the summer, when I host my weekly radio show on KXIC, I take one of our kids with us.

Recently my 13-year old son Sam came along and heard me discuss how Instagram is rolling out more advertising options for marketers. A user himself (it’s a fairly safe social network for kids as there are private accounts), he asked me in the car afterward how it would work. I explained that because he likes things like Doctor Who on Instagram he may start receiving ads for new products related to Doctor Who and other similar shows in his Instagram feed. His response? “Wow! That would be really cool.”

Sitting in stunned silence in the driver’s seat, I realized that this is not a response marketers are used to hearing when it comes to our work. But it’s a reality of advertising in the new media world.

“Advertising” Isn’t Dead

For a while now, many have shied away from the label of ‘advertising.’ “With social media marketing we create content, conversations, and community. We don’t advertise!” The fact that Mad Men rose in popularity alongside social media’s meteoric rise didn’t help advertising feel especially modern. If anything, the show contributed to the construct feeling more and more like a museum piece. Something we used to do, like smoking and drinking at the office.

However, over the past couple of years, advertising has been working its way back into the conversation. Especially when it comes to areas of growth in social media. Facebook’s “Reachpocalypse” — when the social giant restrained organic reach for brand pages necessitating more paid advertising — redefined social media advertising. Facebook ads continue to deliver solid results, as the network becomes an area marketers are spending more and more on.

With Pinterest poised to add buy buttons and Instagram opening up their visually curated ad network to more brands, advertising is back in a big way. Which begs the question: did it ever really go anywhere?

Relevance Over Reach

While advertising is alive and well, marketers still struggle in refitting this concept for the digital age. Many focus solely on their lack of media buying prowess. “We need to hire someone or an agency to help us buy these ads!” This is true but don’t forget the fact that these are not simple print pieces and 30-second TV ads.

As I described Instagram ads to my son, it reminded me that these new channels are designed for highly targeted ads designed to appeal to unique market segments. You have to understand who your audience is first. Once you have a clearly identified target, you have to focus on delivering relevant content. It’s not just an attention-getting ad. It’s a message that means something very specific to your target audience. That’s why advertisers have to become better storytellers.

Relevance over reach. That’s the best way to describe this shift in advertising today. We’re no longer broadcasting to the masses. We’re narrow-casting to a select few. But, if you do your job effectively, it’s the right few. The few you should be talking to. At the very least, some may be like my son and think your ads are kind of cool.

Advertising is dead, long live advertising.

Photo via Flickr user William Cresswell

Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.


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