“That has to be the dumbest ad I’ve ever seen,” exclaimed my wife. Our regular viewing of “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu was (once again) interrupted by an ad whose inanity was surpassed only by its ugliness. As a researcher with one foot still in the advertising world I signed us up for an ad-supported account, but I was beginning to question my judgement. Just as we had become immersed in the drama’s rich visuals and provocative themes, we were torn from our contemplation by ads that were garish and glib to the point of condescension. At the end of each commercial break we braced ourselves for a repetition of the cycle, cautiously slipping into Atwood’s captivating world, knowing we would soon be wrenched away.
The devolution of ads from captivating to consternating
In the early 20th century ads aspired to beauty; it’s no wonder that many now frame and hang them as decorative pieces. Copy was often limited, with a greater emphasis placed on the aesthetic qualities of each work. Brilliant colors met scenes both fantastical and domestic to invoke a sense of adventure or the hearth’s warmth. Ads like these arrest the viewers’ gaze, drawing them into a world of fulfillment that is just within reach (if only you would buy the right product). Their goal is to enrich and inspire, not hammer an impression into the audience.
Today ads are inescapable, as digital media pervades even our most intimate spaces, but their ubiquity has seemingly failed to impress upon many advertisers and their agencies the need to create ads that enhance the viewer’s experience. Instead, digital ads are often incongruous at best, and at worst undermine the quality of the entertainment they accompany. Ad agencies have a clear duty to their clients, but one would think they’d be attentive to their audiences as well; ugly ads don’t win over consumers.
Clients and audiences can agree: beautiful ads are better
Superficially, agencies should avoid disrupting the audience’s enjoyment, be it on a beautiful beach or in the comfort of their home. It is best, though, to aim higher: to craft and display ads that contribute positively to the media landscape. While they are obligated to present their clients’ brands and products in a manner appealing to consumers, it is to the public’s benefit (and their own) to do so in a way that augments their audience’s digital media experience.
How then, do advertisers balance their duty to clients with the needs of their audience? Here we can learn much from behavioral science and, as always, the answer begins with stories. It seems worthwhile, though, to also approach this question in terms of beauty. As my old boss and ad legend Frank Lowe used to say, advertisers have a duty to add beauty to the world, not make it uglier. The good news is that beauty isn’t just …read more
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