B.Bart Klerckx

Advertising. The world’s second oldest profession. Yes, a profession. It’s not on the list of difficult and arduous jobs and it probably never will be. There used to be a time when the relevance of our profession was undisputed. A new product required a new campaign. Easy peasy. There was even a time when advertising was not considered irritating at all, just 'part of the deal'.

How things have changed.

I have yet to meet a single person who embraces advertising with genuine affection. Of course, there are gems that garner plenty of praise. Often, they are not even considered ‘advertising’ as such. But to be fair, a lot of advertising is crap. And we – the professional advertisers – have to take our share of the blame (I say ‘share’ because advertising is a complex interplay of agencies, budgets, clients and media).

Advertising is necessarily irritating.

This premise is where it all goes belly up. It’s just wrong. Because it’s not advertising that’s irritating, it’s the content. Sometimes. Poor content can be attributed to four things: the wrong message, the wrong timing, the wrong target audience and the wrong channel. And sometimes advertisers manage to get it wrong on all four levels at once. My 5-year old son may not know how to read but he knows exactly what the button at the bottom right of YouTube videos does. He only watches Mario Bros videos. Do you think I’ve ever watched a single Nintendo ad? Why would you think that someone who has already streamed upwards of 50GB of Super Mario videos could possibly be interested in Dove Men+Care? We are already irritating a target group that isn’t even a target group yet. Well done. But also: first world problems.

So where do we go wrong?

On many levels. It’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly. We haven’t quite understood the fragmentation and glut of channels. There are plenty of possibilities, but there is rarely a multitude of creative interpretations. Advertising has become really complex, and powerful ideas often succumb to budgets and media plans.

These days marketing is like advanced maths. Budgets are endlessly subdivided and media planning has become media booking more than anything else. Or did you really think you had a choice about advertising on Facebook or Google? The same applies to more traditional media. And while I’m on the subject, what on earth is so traditional about print, TV and billboarding? Would you call a car with a combustion engine a traditional car? But I digress. Let’s say: the wider media. Your choices are very limited if you want to reach a million people in prime time. In fact, it’s not even a choice, really, because there are only two major media groups in Flanders. And we rarely know exactly how Google plans our ads.

Let’s get measuring!

So we look for a benchmark, because half a million euros of media expenditure: you try and ROI that. Smart kids have an arsenal of measuring tools: who watches what, when and for how long? Their measurements are even more accurate for online content. And how do we calculate the success (or flop) of a campaign? With metrics. X impressions, time viewed, x targets reached and so on. The higher the figure, the greater the chance that we’ll say ‘look what a success this campaign was’. Which is an oversimplification, to say the least. ‘Having seen it’ is often taken as proof that a campaign has worked. In advertising, however, we have one more factor that allows you to assess whether a campaign worked: sales. Hard sales of the product you advertised. Because that’s the whole point of advertising, isn’t it? To pitch your products (in every shape, size and dimension), to people who will hopefully like and buy them. In that sense, advertising is exactly what it was when the Romans were building roads.

We buy ‘viewability’, not ‘likeability’.

We want as many people as possible to see our message. And if we throw enough money at it, they’ll like it, right? Uh… seriously? In spite of all the tools we have at our disposal today (metrics, big data, channels ec.) we all too often make that same beginner’s mistake: seeing is liking. While the basic premise – the holy grail of excellent advertising – is as simple as it gets: a great idea. If you don’t have that for starters, then just don’t bother.

The basic premise of every good ad is a good idea.

That’s your ‘message’. If you spend time developing your timing, medium and target (all three are measurable, by the way), you can enhance that idea even more. Nowadays the opposite happens all too often. You see the same message in the most unlikely places (“yes, but I get a lot of impressions there”) and at the worst possible times. And that’s when advertising becomes irritating. The pre-rolls on YouTube have been dubbed the most irritating advertising format in the entire galaxy. And yet they are included in almost every media plan. Why? They are cheap, fast and have a large reach. And what’s more, advertisers even pay less if viewers refuse to be tortured for the whole 15 seconds. Woot!

The only successful advertisers are those who adapt the message, timing, context and target to the specific medium (thank you, Geico!). The remaining 99.9% are just buying advertising space. Whether it’s the right medium for the message is a minor point. I don’t get why Google still won’t allow better and more specific planning. The same applies to the majority of the banners for retargeting. I think it’s a great concept, mind. But all too often, it’s used the wrong way. Why do I need to see a banner for vacuum cleaners if I just bought one? On your very own website, Coolblue!

We need to do better as an industry.

And we already are, I know. We can do it in different ways, except by yelling really loudly. Everything starts with a good idea. And no, you don’t just splash it across as many different media as possible. Why would you take a good Facebook campaign and run it on radio? We can do our homework better, on every level. The improvement is already making itself felt. Belgian agencies create amazing campaigns. Campaigns that often remain unseen because they are not plastered across every available channel.

And yes, I create things that irritate you sometimes too. But as Gandhi didn’t say: be the change you want to see in the advertising world. Focus on your timing, message, channel and target group. And that good idea, of course!

Bart Klerckx

Creative director

Related work


And everything moves.

The labour market is constantly changing. That means you can’t afford to rest on your laurels. VDAB’s new campaign activates and inspires people. And it leaves no one unmoved.

Show me more

Show some love, share this article