Opinion

Advertising: ‘We don’t tell people what they actually want to know’

We don’t bother telling people what they actually want, or need, to know – we tell them what we think they should know then wonder why people are indifferent to advertising, argues Dave Trott

There’s a joke about a father and son riding along in a car.

The son is about eight years old and holding a puppy.

He asks his father “Dad, where do puppies come from?”

The dad knew he’d have to have this conversation at some point.

He doesn’t want to make up a fairy-tale.

He decided, whenever his son asked, it would be better to tell the truth.

So, he takes a deep breath and begins: “Well, it’s the same for animals as it is for humans.

The male’s penis becomes firm and stiff.

The male inserts it into the female’s vagina.

Eventually some seed comes from the end of it.

The seed travels into the female’s womb and fertilises the egg that’s there.

Over time this egg gradually grows until it becomes a tiny baby.

Then, when it’s fully formed, the female gives birth from her vagina.

All babies are made that way.

So that, son, is where puppies come from.”

The dad them sits back and breathes out.

Proud that he told his son the full, unvarnished truth.

Meanwhile his son is sitting there with a strange expression on his face.

His dad says “That’s a lot to take in, eh?”

The son says “It sure is Dad, but what I meant was – which pet shop do puppies come from?”

See, the dad had actually answered a question he wasn’t asked.

The dad was so involved in his own thoughts he wasn’t actually providing the information that was required or requested.

He was answering the question he thought should be answered.

Instead of finding out what was wanted or needed.

We do that all the time, especially in our business.

We don’t bother telling people what they actually want, or need, to know.

We tell them what we think they should know.

Ask anyone in the real world: truck drivers, housewives, office workers, shop staff.

Ask them what they need to know from us about anything we advertise.

They’ll tell you they need two things: what’s the name and what’s good about it.

That’s as much as they want, or need, to know.

If we can deliver that in an entertaining way they’ll be grateful.

We will actually have answered all their questions.

But we don’t tell them that, we tell them what we feel they ought to know.

What are the brand values: are we a family brand, a modern brand, an aspirational brand, a reassuring brand, a comforting brand, an exciting brand, an exotic brand, an intelligent brand?

We tell them about our stance on diversity, on equality, on social conscience, on inclusiveness, on community relations, on ecological responsibility, on sustainability.

We tell them all these things because we are not listening to them.

We are listening to what’s in our head.

How can we win an award, how can we impress our friends and peers, how can we get an article in the trade press, how can we get famous?

So we are answering questions that were never asked.

We don’t tell people what they actually want to know.

But we do tell them what they don’t want to know.

Then we wonder why ordinary people have no use for advertising.

Dave Trott is a consultant, author and former ad agency creative director. This article was first published on his blog

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