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Muscle Memory: The Objectivity of Good Advertising

By Asher | 23rd Nov 2015 | Posted in Marketing

A while ago I went to have a chat with the inimitable Jamie Lenman, the cross-genre musical troubadour and former frontman of Aldershot three-piece alt-rock triumvirate Reuben, about a load of stuff that generally interested me and probably didn’t interest anyone else. Alas, one of the main points discussed was Lenman’s take on the “alt-rock Racecar era of the early-to-mid 2000s,” and whether he thought bands like Reuben, Hundred Reasons and Hell is for Heroes could be considered “ahead of their time” with their musical offerings:

Jamie Lenman“I think what we were doing was a thing that rock bands have always done; regurgitating the stuff that they listened to when they grew up, and then putting their own spin on it by default. I think at the time, I didn’t even realise I was putting my own spin on it – I was simply trying to sound as much like Weezer and as much like Kerbdog as I possibly could. And I failed, but the result was different enough that it was another step forward.”

So, the man himself drops the bomb that most of us were already aware of – tack on to your influences and let them permeate your own endeavours. Hopefully, people that listen to your influences will also listen to you by association – which is firstly, why so many new bands play cover songs to win a crowd over, and secondly, why so many of the bands in the early 2000s (or any era, for that matter) sounded quite similar in their respective scenes. Though, whilst Lenman advocates pushing forward with music innovation, he also took the time to hail Kill Chaos as a band who “don’t exactly innovate, but can just write some fucking good songs. And sometimes, that’s very hard to do.”

Alas, I’m going to try not to rag on about music too much – although it’s going to be quite difficult, as music and advertising can intertwine on one of their most abstract concepts – the fact that both are art forms, and as such, can engage many, many people with a similar message, and bring those people together with a similar idea. I hugged a friend of mine last night during Shambles. That same friend and I have danced and sang together in cars, at gigs and house parties far too many times in the last few months, because we just gave a shit about that particular band or song. Record producer James Routh, mastermind behind too many hooks in the Karma Party’s back catalogue, once said that “realising the artist’s intention, and the expectations of presentation and songwriting from a listeners point of view, you need to make the tracks as objective and engaging as possible. It doesn’t matter what you think, it’s about what your listeners are hearing for the first time.” I can’t really put it any better myself.

Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee. It sells the idea of community, meeting friends and catching up. Apple doesn’t sell shiny overpriced technology. It sells the idea of exclusivity, novelty, simplicity and beauty in its products. Lenman said on stage last night that “music doesn’t come alive until it’s shared with other people.” Neither does advertising; but both have to connect.

So, what’s my point?

Well, the fundamental aspects of music and advertising don’t stop there – because as soon as you apply the idea that both need to be shared with others in order to achieve their entire aims, you can use this knowledge to create some fucking ridiculously good art.

The fact is, you can create an advert that you might think looks, sounds and works brilliantly. You could create the funniest piece of content in the office. You and your friends might remember it for years to come and share a giggle, or an insightful conversation, or something equally communal. But that’s just it – the advert remains an inside joke purely because it’s based on an inaccessible ideal that might resonate fantastically with a small group – but it doesn’t reach every day people. Whether it’s because the advert itself is too niche, based on a creative idea that’s not current enough, or just outright strange and difficult to understand.

Case in point; the frankly awful Lexus “December to Remember” advert. Rich arsehole buys a Lexus for another rich arsehole, puts a ridiculously bespoke and expensive looking bow on it, and decides to compare the two premium-looking products in the process. While everyone else engulfed in worldwide austerity is trying to keep their jobs, their heating, their houses and their food on the table, some prick is going out and buying a Lexus on a whim. Except, of course, they’re not – because let’s face it, anyone with enough money to buy a Lexus on a whim is’t going to buy one because they have enough money to buy an Audi on a whim. Or a Maserati. Or a fucking Lamborghini. So, who exactly is this advert targeting? Do Lexus just want to show off how flash their cars are? Because we already know that, it’s part of their branding. Everyone and their mum knows by now that if I had a spare £300,000 just kicking around I wouldn’t buy a 3-bed house in Uxbridge, I’d buy a Lexus LFA. And those aren’t in the commercial, either.

Third and finally, I thought I’d put together a few examples of the third nail in the widespread advertisement coffin – the supposedly hilarious inside joke. First off is a modern classic: remember when Virgin Media decided to use the “Success Kid” meme to peddle their shitty internet services? Yeah, so do I. It was both painful and beautifully short-lived. I’m hoping it was so because they realised how fucking stupid marketing high-speed internet to the supposedly young and excitable children of the dot com bubble is: they’ve either got no money, or they’ve already got an ISP that’s simply better than Virgin. Probably because it works most of the time. Or customer service is better, who knows?

Remember when World of Warcraft was cool? No, neither do I. At the same time, though, they thought they’d advertise to new players using has-beens-turned-internet sensations a couple of years ago. Mr. T, Chuck Norris, Verne Troyer and Ozzy Osbourne grappled with wads of straight up cash to tell the world about the joys of MMORPGs, often in the ad breaks between parts of Coronation Street. Well done, Blizzard. Well fucking done.

Think about it like this. How many people are going to “get” these jokes? Now, how many of that arguably small target demographic are in the market to buy high speed internet when they have it already? How many of them are going to be watching television of an evening rather than playing video games, downloading pirated films and watching videos on YouTube safe behind their US proxy servers (Netflix, yo) and ad-blockers? What exactly are these ad companies thinking when they implement these bullshit campaigns?

It’s funny, because this blog post in itself is meant to be content marketing. Showing off expertise in order to get someone interested in the shit I’m peddling. So, this is the part where I’m supposed to say oh dear God please look at our case studies WE LOVE YOU AND WANT YOUR MONEY AND ATTENTION. The fact is, you can look at our case studies if you want, purely because they do exactly the opposite of the various shades of shit in this post – when have you ever seen a piece of digital content for a serviced offices company reach 1 million Twitter users and generate hundreds of very powerful links? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. If you want to make some money selling your own shit online, give us an email. We’re just as grubby as you are, there’s no judgement here.

No, seriously, we don’t care. I’ve sold dental services in exchange for dental work before. Shameless.

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