Invisible ads – more common than you think

Think of the last time you leafed through a magazine, or the last commercial website you visited, or the last time you drove along a street full of outdoor posters. How many marketing messages, if any, do you remember?

There’s a huge amount of advertising around today – we are engulfed with it every waking moment (and if media shops could buy space in your dreams it would be there too). Yet a large proportion of this advertising is virtually invisible – stylish designs to be sure, but with about as much marketing muscle as a nice sheet of wallpaper.

Why is this? I think it’s a failure of nerve on the part of both the advertising agencies and marketing professionals – these days very few people lose their jobs through being too cautious, even though in the world of advertising that can be an extremely expensive personal trait.

Also in smaller regional agencies the emphasis tends to be on visual rather than verbal communication. Ever since the rise of the Mac and the empowerment of studios, design solutions have been increasingly applied to marketing problems. The liberal use of photo libraries rather than the sourcing of original photography or illustration hasn’t helped either.

In this environment there often isn’t much space for a copywriter or a genuinely effective creative idea. Agencies feel comfortable selling something that’s familiar and supposedly safe. It all looks sweet on the plasma screen in the boardroom, and nobody ever asks how on earth is this going to compete with the editorial?

But surely they should! Because that’s why people visit websites and buy newspapers and magazines. The last thing they are looking for is the advertising, which means they’ll automatically filter it out if they can. It’s seems ironical that the more the amount of advertising increases, the less amount of time is spent trying to make it impactful, intrusive and relevant.

Maybe the thinking is that a bland ad doesn’t do any harm, but on the other hand it doesn’t do any good either – and then there are all the production costs and media costs. An ad may be invisible in the media, but the one place it can’t be ignored is on the invoice.