Why do we assume people have to like adverts?

If we had to produce things that people liked, we’d be in the entertainment business. But we’re not, we’re in the selling business. Everyone assumes that being liked is what sells. But that isn’t necessarily true.

Look at the numbers. Last year £18.8 billion was spent on all forms of advertising across the UK. How much of that can you remember? Well, to help you out, here’s the official statistics:

4% was remembered favourably.

7% was remembered negatively.

89% wasn’t remembered at all.

Bill Bernbach said, “If no one notices your advertising, everything else is academic.”

So that’s roughly £17 billion wasted on advertising that no one noticed.Of course everyone wants to be in the 4% that everyone likes.But don’t forget, being liked isn’t the job. In a massively over communicated society, being noticed is the job.

I was talking to Peter Woods (the man who built Direct Line, and then built eSure) about this.The Michael Winner adsfor eSure had just been voted the most unpopular ads ever.He said something to the effect, “Yes. Now ask me what they did for my brand. They put it on the map overnight, sales went through the roof. Whereas years of trying to do work people liked had done next to nothing.”

Think of how people buy car insurance. You don’t see an ad and think, “I like that ad, I must buy some of their car insurance.” Car insurance is a ‘distress-purchase’: you don’t buy it because you want it, you only buy it because you have to. You think, “I’d better get 3 or 4 quotes and compare them, who can I think of: Direct Line, Tesco, Churchill, and eSure.” Then you call them all up (or go online) and go with the cheapest. So car insurance is about awareness, ‘salience’.

Our job is to try to be part of the 4% but, if we can’t, at least be part of the 7%. Above all make sure we’re not part of the 89%. That part has absolutely no chance whatsoever of working.

And why do most people end up in that 89%? Because they’re more concerned with doing advertising that people like, than with doing work that either stands out or sells.

So you see, trying to do work that people like is often actually the opposite of your job.