Are you an advert cynic?

As I embark on my latest career adventure, joining the terrific band of people at WSA in Bletchley, I couldn’t help looking back at 30 years of working as a journalist and PR person in many different sectors.

What’s been interesting to observe is that in the automotive industry, where I have spent around 12 years, there is a huge amount of cooperation between PR people at competing brands.

Through organisations like MICA (Motor Industry Communicators Association) and the Guild of Motoring Writers, there are many opportunities to share good practice, delve into issues and find solutions that turn out to be common amongst everyone – often finding an answer that’s just around the corner!

Such industry cooperation is very rare. After five years at British Airways, finding such sharing of common issues with other airlines was, in my experience, non-existent. It’s a shame there isn’t more cooperation between companies in the same sector for the mutual benefit of all – it could save everyone a lot of time and avoid many headaches.

Working in PR/communications for so long, you immerse yourself into marketing and launching assorted products and services, to the point you live and breathe them! As a result, you inevitably reach an ‘overload’ situation, where you can’t stand to see or hear another advert again.

Nobody likes being sold to. There I’ve said it – and of course, everyone says they are not influenced by advertising. Like you, I would like to claim this too!

But let’s face it, we all notice something that plays with our heartstrings – the adverts that remind you of your (if you’re as old as me) corduroy and Formica-themed 70s upbringing. Of your neon-coloured teen years. Of starting work and crunching the gears in your Vauxhall Nova or Austin Metro staff vehicle.

As the decades move on, we have arguably become more cynical. The dreamy days of childhood, the ever-lasting summer of 1976, the (seemingly) seasons Bryan Adams spent at Number 1 with that song from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves … they seem a lifetime away.

Hey how did this picture get here?!

And the nature of friendship has changed too. Before a friend would phone you to organise a day out. Now he/she will WhatsApp you, and you’ll arrange something three months later. Until it gets cancelled.

In an electronic world, where you can book a flight online, print your own boarding pass and speak to no one until you board the flight, we increasingly search for reminders of a time we perceive to be better – that’s not based on what actually happened, but how it feels in our mind.

Having come to WSA from PR and communications roles in mostly the automotive and airline sectors, connecting to human emotions is the way carmakers and airlines have tried to break down the barrier to us ad-weary cynical grown-ups.

While we hate being advertised to, we love a reminder of styles that have come and gone, of friends and family, of school life and ghastly uniforms and the lives we’ve lived. We want to smile and to connect to a company that isn’t afraid to laugh at itself, that thinks the way we do, and that wants to entertain us through an advert rather than sell (though effectively it’s doing both at the same time).

Such as the advert for Four Weddings and a Funeral – most of which was Hugh Grant on a half-built set talking endlessly about his lovely co-star Andie McDowell saying it’s a low-budget advert and he didn’t want to waste time talking about himself … only for the film to run out just as he hands over to her!

This is why we are (or I am certainly) suckers for the Christmas supermarket ads, which are now akin to the Olympic Games for advertisers. Having been determined to show no interest in the John Lewis Christmas ad one year, a work colleague showed it on her PC … by the end, I was in tears and on the John Lewis website buying my own Excitable Edgar soft toy!

Making that personal connection at a time we all feel weary of being sold to is the holy grail of PR and advertising. It can be done, and some companies do it very well. But many do it very badly, leaving us with a feeling of being used and having our time wasted.

But for those who can tap into the emotion behind the technology, the rewards can be great. I have no hesitation in picking up the phone rather than shooting off that cold email, of spotting the album cover poster on the wall behind your client on a video chat and having a discussion about their favourite pop band.

All together now … Club Tropicana drinks are free! Fun and sunshine …. !

Team WSA
Team WSA
Articles: 17