Why the public hates the ads we love
If authenticity in advertising means being true to your brand, and to your consumers, then should the industry be more in tune with what those consumers actually like? The Moon Unit explores the disconnect between industry professionals - be they in advertising, movies or art - and the audiences they serve.
Coinbase’s 'floating QR code' was crowned the top spot by AdWeek at this year's Super Bowl, yet the mainstream TV-watchers who determine USA Today’s Ad Meter rankings ranked it bottom.
Industry insiders and awards juries display a very different taste to the general public.
So, which judgment is correct?
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Above: Coinbase’s Super Bowl spot was lauded by ad insiders but roundly pilloried by the general public.
Both are, of course. Because everyone is entitled to their opinion. But the divergence demonstrates that the industry’s insiders and awards juries display a very different taste to the general public. The same is true in movies.
Variety reported that Oscar and box office were “once a happy couple” but were now “living apart”. For many years, the winner of Best Picture at the Oscars was also the year’s top or second-placed box office performer – take Gone With The Wind, The Sound of Music, The Godfather, Rain Man and Forrest Gump as examples. But, in the 21st century, the equation has changed.
Since 2003, not a single Academy Award Best Picture winner has even featured in the box office top 10.
Since 2003, not a single Academy Award Best Picture winner has even featured in the box office top 10. Indeed, in the last 16 years, the Best Picture winner has achieved an average position of No.47 in the global box office. There are various theories as to why this is the case. Some believe that the Oscars are trying to prove how woke they are. Others that the Oscars simply have an aversion to sequels and CGI (in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, every single movie in the box office top 10 was either a sequel or a remake).
But what is undeniable is the ever-increasing gap between what the Oscars jury awards and what the public wants to watch.
Above: Forrest Gump won the Oscar for best picture in 1994 and only The Lion King beat it at that year's box office.
In January of this year, two of Adam Sandler’s films – Just Go With It and The Longest Yard – were in the top three most-viewed movies on Netflix. Sandler’s comedy Murder Mystery was Netflix’s most popular film of 2019, and was that year’s most-watched piece of content on its platform in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and other countries.
Adam Sandler has never won an Oscar.
Scotsman Jack Vettriano is said to be the living artist who enjoys the greatest popularity with the British public. However, he is regularly derided by the art world.
The same phenomenon can be seen in every creative field. Scotsman Jack Vettriano is said to be the living artist who enjoys the greatest popularity with the British public, having sold more than 12 million posters of his artworks. However, he is regularly derided by the art world. “The problem is Vettriano's lack of talent, inspiration and depth,” wrote The Guardian’s art critic, adding “we should not make the mistake of classing him as a major – or even decent – artist.”
Meanwhile, the artists who win major awards are typically met with bemused head-scratching by the general public.
Above: A Sotheby's technician holds Jack Vettriano's Bluebird at Bonneville. Vettriano is celebrated by the British public but often derided by the British art world.
Critically acclaimed TV shows like The Wire, Firefly and Generation Kill never found large audiences. The Larry Sanders Show has a Metacritic score of 99/100 and a User Score of only 5.5/10.
The inescapable conclusion is that the public don’t like to be challenged, and prefer their cultural products to be somewhat familiar, easy-going, and easily digestible. Conversely, works that are edgy, avant-garde, breakthrough or minimalist are not popular.
If the work we enjoy making strays further and further from what the general public appreciates, then it will obviously become less and less effective.
Should we ad folk be worried?
Arguably, we should. Because if the work that we enjoy making strays further and further from what the general public appreciates, then it will obviously become less and less effective, and marketers will become less and less willing to pay for it.
Above: The Wire is seen as a seminal television series by critics, but was not widely viewed on initial transmission.
If that happens, it will become harder for us to produce the kind of advertising that awards juries value. Already, it can sometimes seem like the big awards shows – such as Cannes, the One Show and perhaps especially D&AD – exist in a kind of parallel universe, a place of beautifully refined craft and creativity, populated by ads that the general public doesn’t like and rarely sees.
Big awards shows exist in a kind of parallel universe, a place of beautifully refined craft and creativity, populated by ads that the general public doesn’t like and rarely sees.
This is not surprising, since we humans act mostly in line with our economic incentives. Creatives are incentivised to win awards because that’s how they earn pay rises or big-money moves to better agencies, and directors are incentivised to win awards because they only get work by creating ads that creatives hold in high esteem.
No one is arguing for a return to the days of the ad breaks that were wall-to-wall jingles and cheesy sitcom sketches. But the danger of us becoming too far removed from the taste of the general public is that we end up playing a game that’s just for us, the superstars of a sport no one wants to watch.