Advertising used to be blatant. Here’s a product, buy it because it’s good slapped onto a conspicuous banner. Essentially, the method is still widely utilized, but with the consumer growing smarter and channels becoming increasingly complicated, advertisers had to tap into other mediums to effectively reach their target market.
How did we get here?
For most target groups, it’s been shown that word-of-mouth is the most efficient means of getting your name out there. This is because trust is involved. You trust the endorsement based on the source, as a person you know, who also exists as a neutral user, rather than a brand trying to gain your favour.
That’s why social media influencers, in this millenial age, make one of the best marketing tools. They play the role of both the public figure, who the consumer aspires towards and are thus persuaded by affiliation, to the girl/boy next door whose opinions are relatively relatable and therefore trustworthy. Toeing the neutral line until sites impose on them to call themselves out via the #sponsored tag for the viewer's sake. There is something to be said when consumers find it difficult to tell the difference between independent journalism, an advertorial, and an advertisement. The recent fraud, on the other hand, is an entirely different breach.
It was decided all along.
Clickbait is no new concept. Yellow journalism precedes this slipshod honesty. So why do they work? Is it possible that we, to a certain degree, want to believe in it? Maybe we won’t believe what happens next, but apart from the element of curiosity, we are willing to believe that this particular article will hold some beneficial truths at best, and be entertaining at worst. Similarly, we want to believe that this cologne will improve our sex lives, or this car will significantly upgrade our lifestyle.
Again, this is no new train of thought. Advertisers call it Priming, psychologists call it Affective Conditioning. Whatever principle you attribute it to, we know the subconscious is not one to be changed overnight. Times I don't buy into how great a product is, or the emotional satisfaction it can bring, I still find myself convinced of a brand’s quality purely by the amount of advertising they do. In my mind, the buying power of the adspace equates to its success as a company. It’s like seeing that long line in the hawker centre, where the length of the queue speaks for the food's popularity, rather than the possible inability of the cook to serve fast. There’s no solid basis.
Instead of Red Bull, try Carlsberg.
In what must now be a case study for ad students, Red Bull proved that a catchy tagline can result in a costly lawsuit when taken both literally and figuratively (It doesn't actually give you wings. Shocker!). Whereas Carlsberg has cleverly crafted a brilliant, memorable slogan that has yet to backfire on it. (Probably) all because of one adverb. So, advertising can afford a shift for integrity with a dash of wit.
Avis' We Try Harder ads in 1962 worked audacity with strategy. Agency DDB's harnessed honesty put forth such a success that within four years, it was projected to need a new campaign because it would no longer be no. 2. Sure, there's a limit to the number of campaigns you can do this way, but that's for advertisers to work it through. After all, advertising is about creativity, and it is feasible to incorporate candour in a way that sells, and we as consumers, should always know better.