Millions of views is not a measure of advertising effectiveness

Advertising is meant to effect a change – either in behaviour or attitude. In my book, the most effective advertising is that which achieves a behavioural change – be it a simple purchase or some other ‘act’. Yes, there is room for ‘feel good’ advertising or lifestyle advertising too, which makes current users feel good about using the brand and non-users aspire for it. If done well, such ads build equity, likability for the brand and create preference over time. That approach has its pitfalls as it relies a lot on execution as the communication is not inherently about the product. Ads which seek to effect a behaviour change, are usually focused on what the makes the product relevant to the audience, in terms of a benefit. Many effective public service ads also focus on achieving a behavioural change and while doing so urge the viewer to take a specific action.

Public service advertising focusing on drunk driving is effective when it doesn’t just stop at ‘don’t drink and drive’ but asks the reader to take an action – e.g. ordering a cab after a party, designating a driver. Ads aimed at reducing car accidents in Australia urged drivers to reduce speed by 5km. We’ve all seen how the ice-bucket challenge, where taking an action was central to the campaign idea, went viral.

Anti-smoking ads have been around for decades (ironically, smoking is a very common habit in addend). In my view, many such campaigns are created with an award show jury in mind. Sure, one has to laud the creative thinking in such projects. But reduction in incidence smoking is not driven by anti-smoking ads alone. It calls for many other regulatory actions with communication playing a supportive role in changing mindsets. Smoking is an irrational habit – smokers know that it is a bad habit and yet find it hard to give up. In my view, it is difficult to find that one simple act they can adopt (like reducing speed by 5km) which will make them give up the habit. Maybe a strong emotional message on why smokers owe it to their families can do the trick. It is a difficult brief to crack.

In this context, there is a lot of buzz around this video and the discussion is focused on its viral nature. In my view, it is entertainment for some (thanks to the casting) and that’s that. I don’t think it is a serious attempt to tackle the issue of smoking as it is unlikely to convince a smoker to give up on smoking. The pressures of new media adoption also shows in the focus on ‘millions of views’ as the objective and that is reflected in trade media coverage too. If the objective is to entertain and become popular (as gauged by view count) then yes it has met its objective. But if the objective was to effectively communicate the need to give up a harmful habit, I am not so sure. The media too focuses on equating effectiveness with success in one metric – which is a wrong metric in any case.

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