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Kavita, (one of the most inspirational leaders I have worked with) is an early bird and the most thought-provoking conversations one can have with her are while having a hearty breakfast. We were debating why marketing is usually perceived positively, while advertising often gets a bad rap. Most of us have ad blockers, we consume content voraciously on platforms that are ad-free and exclaim in dismay when we see the same detergent ad (usually a mish-mash of stereotypes) for the seventh time right in the midst of a nail-biting cricket final.

Reality check: Isn’t advertising a component of marketing? Then, why are we so averse to ads?

Being landlocked in Bangalore during Covid, the first thought that came to my mind was the ocean. If marketing is akin to watching the ebb and flow of the waves and contemplating a swim at sunset, advertising is the act of being dragged under the waves and feeling the sting of salt in your eyes. 

Marketing is about creating an experience for a brand, while advertising becomes the action of the brand that is sometimes taken too far, too fast, too much! 

I’m quite happy to read about the wonderful brand that Amul built and relive the nostalgia, but do I want every screen to sell me super-sweetened drinks at all hours of the day, especially if I am trying to stay off sugar?

Advertising (I believe) sometimes fails in the understanding and messaging to an audience in depth, beyond the markers of “F, 35-45, Tier A, shops online for shoes, watches soccer, only pays for books & music”

Are these markets really enough to understand me as a consumer,  and be relevant and contextual to my world? Where do we delve deeper and apply audience intelligence to consumers beyond this cursory skimming of data? Are we unable to understand the consumer to the extent where we serve them “the right ad, at the right time” by dicing an individual’s brand affinity and viewing fingerprints, or in the cookie crumbs we leave behind?

In a world that is incrementally virtual and the fear that we are constantly under surveillance, one often believes that ads are a portal to “the eye in the sky”. True, a lot of data is collected by ad tech, by advertisers, by agencies, brands, ISP’s and even by my mobile network provider! 

Where are the reassurances that my data could be anonymised, that the brand has measures in place to prevent fraud, and what does an advertiser do to make me feel secure that my data is not sold to a third party? And how often do I want to view an ad? Perhaps we could create a subscription pack of ads, where I can state what ads I want to see? So then, I take control of the ads in exchange for free music or movies. Like Spotify lets me curate my music and uses algorithms to make the experience a pleasure. The more I listen, the more I am understood and the more relevant the recommendations become.  

I believe that the need of the hour is for ad tech companies to build more open, transparent processes that are accessible to consumers who have been denied a choice for too long. Could marketers understand what my advertising desire is before I am served up a whole buffet that I am most likely to reject? 

A legend in the world of advertising, Leo Burnett said (and this is more relevant than ever): “Let’s gear our advertising to sell goods, but let’s also recognise that advertising has a broad social responsibility.”

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