Love and the Art of Advertising

I want to talk quickly about love. No really, I think there's something to it. More specifically I want to talk about how we develop relationships. How we find someone, how we keep them and what we consider "successful" relationships.

 Not a great example.

Not a great example.

By now I think it's a common belief that the successful relationships are the one where good friends become entwined, fall in love and have a lasting relationship. We see that in movies a lot. Culturally we know that the couples who respect and understand each other, and laugh together, are the ones that last the longest, live the happiest and overcome bumps with the greatest ease. These are the best couples. Personally I think a lot of their success comes from a shared history. Trips taken, inside jokes that have evolved out of seemingly meaningless events, favorite foods, and mostly, the experience of how we handle highs and lows.

Now envision the average advertisement.

Is it anything like this? Do ads build that trust, those long-term experiences? I'd hazard a guess that you're answer is no. And in my opinion that answer is right. It's the job of the product to solidify that relationship, to provide those wondrous moments of perfect use, utility and uniqueness that make us prefer one product solution over another. But ads are a different challenge.

In advertising there are various stats about the amount of time available to capture someone's attention. These stats are completely valid in a world of billboards driven by at 70 mph or 30 second TV spots. But in this world the best that an ad can hope to achieve is that shared inside joke that great couples have. 


Instead traditional advertising is the equivalent of a pickup line in a crowded bar. Traditionally, we craft a story, invest in creating a fast, easy to understand pitch of why this dude is better than that dude. But that whole thing is really, the same a pick-up line in a bar. Not very effective in creating strong, lasting relationships. (If you have an image of a cheesy guy, drink in hand, bobbing his head while scanning a room of disinterested women then we're on the same page.) These force the people being chased to focus only on stats (height, weight, hairline) versus the factors that matter (reliability, mutual morals, respect).

With the introduction of the Internet advertising has seen a new opportunity. I'll ignore that part in early display advertising where advertisers went for persistent volume of ads. We know banner ads just don't work, at least more than 0.1% of the time anyway.

But social media has allowed advertisers to develop more regular contact. To show their overall popularity, to flaunt how many dates they've got and show off the nice things those dates have said about them. These are the love poems of advertising. These are the professions of love, the signs of skill that drive connection. The idea is that these are the ways the attract without the need for cheesy pick-up lines. Where respect can be algorithmically induced. But we just don't see the returns, the benefits. Advertising isn't getting more dates this way. Things are getting lonely.

But those potential relationships are still out there. (don't worry little ad dude.)

Remember that long-term relationships are built on mutual respect, shared beliefs, shared experiences, inside jokes … all of that. Why not create these experiences for people? This isn't just about an ad, those pick-up lines are funny but don't always work. This isn't about barrages of flashing banner ads, if they could your date would dump a drink on you for it. It's about the product. Remember that? The product is what builds the relationship. With technology, advertising can support that product in all new ways. 

AKQA positions Nike as that friend who looks out for you. They developed this Xbox Kinect game for Nike, making the relationship with Nike about fun and fitness.

Google takes a different approach, being your trusted friend around whom, everything is just easier. With Hangouts, Google Now, Gmail, Search. They know that you'll eventually figure out they're the one.

Another example is the ongoing platform and content that AllDayEveryDay provides for The Standard Hotels. It's kinda like that fun, kinda douchey guy who wins the girl over in the end by being way classier than she thought.