Three things revolve in my head today:
a) how pre-testing practice helps discrediting AtL advertising as a whole
b) how helpful it is to present trans-media or digital-centered communications - not for the usual reasons, but because they are NOT TESTABLE
c) that b)-sort of ideas are actually rather wishful thinking for most real-life jobs I'm involved in.
a) Pre-testing's role in ineffectiveness
Now, this is certainly not a hard fact and certainly not the main thing about the "crisis of AtL advertising". But it's interesting to see how there's no decrease of income for market research firms testing AtL while AtL itself seems to be in a crisis. To put it more harsh: testing went up and ad effectiveness seems to go down! Ooops.
Certainly, the common explanation why AtL ads got weaker says that "the channels" (TV and Print) lose reach and involvmenet power while the internet gains both. The target groups' media habits changed - and all that. That's true to some extent. It's true for me, personally. I hardly watch the telly or read as well. But I want to stress something different. And it's about those times when I do watch the telly or read a magazine.
If you watch German TV and see WHAT KIND OF spots they run you start wondering if this is really just a "channel problem". I mean, most ads are awful. Crappier than the usual German stuff. Strategic, creative, cultural garbage. But I'm sure it passed the pre-tests.
I don't want to complain about the testing methods again. Well, I do want, but I won't. All of that has been said already. And certainly, I'm not the one to think that work in Cannes represents advertising as it should be. Some of it, maybe, most of it not at all.
I just experience how people start writing for the test and not for people or brands. I know that people who can't write advertising themselves have more to say when it comes to deciding how to advertise because they know "how advertising works". (e.g. "The product needs to play an exact, non-interchangeable role in the plot, otherways branding can not be ensured.") And that is exactly what I recognize in the advertising on TV. It's advertising that "passed". It's advertising that is ruled by conventions of quant testing.
b) Non-classical ideas = Bypass the test
There are no Millward Brown benchmarks for interactive or trans-media ideas.
I guess I can leave this one uncommented since it is a very powerfull insight in itself and everybody will see its value for an agency:-)
c) Non-AtL campaign ideas not truly wanted
Why don't agencies present more non-classical formats? Mostly you hear that it's because agencies haven't learned how to do it, yet. This is just one possible explanation for it.
The other one is: I believe most clients don't want true "un-AtL" sort of thinking. And lots of them don't need it as well.
Now, this is a strange one since the only thing you read about in publications is that clients want integrated cases, non-classical ideas, media-neutral ideas, etc. But in my experience behind closed doors the conversation might go like this:
......"Yes we will apply all sorts of non-classical channels, internet and ... , but first we want to see
the idea. It's the idea that counts! We are in an idea business. Agencies have to learn to
understand this. It's not about a 30seconder any more. etc. etc."
...... Question: "Is it going to be tested?"
...... Answer: "Yes, most probably"
....... "Quant as well?"
....... "Yes, if there's enough time left"
BANG! There you go: they want a TV animatic as the representation of the idea. Or an outdoor motif. All the specialst desciplines (promo, digital...) probably will hesitate to start working untill there's agreement on the TV - everybody will wait for the film being tested, etc. And maybe this is even still the right way to do it - I'm not per se against it. I'm just saying, that most companies demand for AtL ads first - it's not a genuine agency problem! They don't say it loud, but that's what they demand for implicitly. They demand for it because managers can show and explain ads to their bosses and their bosses' bosses; but most of all because ads are testable, thus seemingly predictable.
To sum up:
Whenever you can: try to give them the non-classical, trans-media stuff since you will have more freedom from the smart guys.... and girls.