Brands lack common sense in the digital world

by Nigel Hollis | May 15, 2017

A couple of weeks ago I was presenting at the #DontSkipAd event organized by Kantar Millward Brown in partnership with Geometry Global and MEC Romania. Focused on how to engage Gen Z, the event was moderated by Alex Cotet, head writer and director for Sector 7, and it was obvious that he was unimpressed with the efforts of most brands to engage people in the digital world.

Sector 7 is responsible for some of the most successful viral videos in Romania and Cotet has collaborated with various agencies on the development of branded content projects, so he can claim to know a thing or two about creating digital content. In his introduction to the event Cotet suggested that most brands lacked common sense and modesty when it came to advertising in digital media. He suggested that like a needy “bimbo”, brands simply spew out a stream of selfies in a desperate attempt to get attention.

His viewpoint that digital advertising fails to engage Gen Z is endorsed by much of the AdReaction data presented by Raluca Munteanu of Kantar Millward Brown. Young people in Romania, like elsewhere, are far more engaged in the digital world than their older compatriots and more ad averse. Faced with a barrage of ads for brands they think they already know or care little about, Gen Z are more likely to say they skip ads whenever they can and have a negative view of most forms of digital advertising.


The basic problem is that the proliferation of digital advertising means that irrespective of the mindset of the user – what they want to achieve, be it information seeking, entertainment or communication – there is a good chance that an ad is going to interrupt their achievement of that goal. And as we know from Brand Lift Insights that can often mean a campaign ends up having a negative effect. Associating your brand with a negative emotional response is simply a bad idea.

So what should brands do? According to Cotet it is less about holding the brand up as aspirational or cool and more about validating the user’s self-perception and interests. Rather than ‘Fanta is cool so you should drink it’ brands need adopt a different stance, ‘You are cool, so maybe you would like Fanta’. It is all about putting the needs of the user first and allowing them to engage with the brand and its content when and where they choose.

To that end, we saw several great examples of branded content designed to engage Gen Z presented by our partners at Geometry and MEC, be it the Air France “Run to Mum” campaign or the Vodafone chatbot. But whether it was the ReadaTree app or Mountain Dew bottle cap tool, all these ideas need to be seen by a large number of the target audience to be effective and therein lies the challenge. How do you ensure people find your content if people are primed to avoid advertising? We know that we cannot rely on organic sharing as a mechanism since content only gets shared widely if it is widely distributed.

Right now the answer seems to be to use more traditional media to prime people’s attention – TV and outdoor being the two lead candidates for Gen Z – but will it be in the future? Outdoor maybe, TV maybe not so much. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts.

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  1. Louise Ainsworth, May 16, 2017
    Great points Nigel

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