The future of advertising has been speculated upon by everyone. There are hundreds of presentations flying around. There are Harvard Business Review articles. There are seminars and lectures. All come to the same conclusion, the future is ‘about making things people want, not making people want things’. I have an issue with this: these are not mutually exclusive concepts.
I often think about ‘making things people want’ marketing as hollywood sequels. Films that deliver what people want, to a formula they expect. To give them something to do on a Saturday night. It can make modest money. Sometimes alot. But with every sequel, the returns diminish.
Then I think about brands doing their own thing. Sometimes doing truly disruptive stuff. They are like the art house films. There is a loyal following who will go and see any arty film (i.e the early adopter). These are the brands that do their own thing. That have a clear idea of the story they believe is worth telling. But it isn’t what most people want. In most cases, there are so few people who want this that the films don’t make money.
The difficulty with this route is how to create the demand (make people want things), to get people beyond the art house crowd to want to see it. Harvey Weinstein (Miramax), who made indie films into mainstream successes, can teach a few of these futurists a thing or two. They bought/financed/produced the movies they wanted. Tarantino (one of their directors) for example, famously said “I am making the film [Pulp Fiction] for me not for the audience”. But then, to sell the movie, they honed in on some core things and made ads that made people, mainstream people, want to see it.
It meant that films like Sex, Lies & Videotapes and The Scandal drew large crowds. They created demand for their film. They didn’t change the film or product, they changed how they communicated it. And the communication wasn’t to convince people to see an art house movie. It was to convince them that this movie is what they like: mainstream scandal, or sex, or entertainment. They reframed the perceptions.
There is a lot of confused writing around “make things people want” vs “make people want things”. One is about fulfilling existing needs. The other is about creating needs. They work together, sometimes in tandem, sometimes simultaneously, depending on where the product is in its life.
But creating demand isn’t bad, right? The fact that I saw a movie I didnt consider at first, but then enjoyed, isn’t bad. The fact that I wasn’t planning on going to the gym, but feel better and am more healthy, isn’t bad. The fact that I decadently enjoyed a massage I was sold, isn’t bad.
So why is there so much bashing about creating demand? Is it an anti-capitalist response? That ‘making things people want’ is socially noble and doesn’t spur consumption, instead just meeting the existing hunger for things. Well it could be this, but I suspect it is more about a false sense that advertising’s image needs cleaning up.
Creating demand doesn’t exclude doing something meaningful. In fact, ‘making people want things’ is what most social marketing is about. There isn’t a great demand for donating to charities. There isn’t a great number of people who volunteer to save pandas or make soup. All social marketing is about making people do something different. Making them want to donate, to sponsor, to volunteer. All for the greater good.
So to say the future of advertising isn’t to sell things, to change people from a state of ‘not wanting’ to ‘wanting’ is naïve And a great way to drive a business to the ground.