There was a time when what clients craved more than anything else was advertising that would to make their brand famous.
Unaided awareness was the first metric on every tracker because saliency was the fix that every marketing director wanted but with so much ad-spend now directed at digital platforms a different sort of addiction has taken hold: before, during and after each campaign a mountain of data is scrutinised in migraine-inducing detail to prove that the advertising worked.
But what do we mean by "worked"?
This depends on what you set out to achieve. People may have seen your ad or clicked on your website, but did anything change? Do they feel any differently about your brand? Are they more likely to buy it, or recommend it? Counting clicks or video views can’t provide the answer to these questions.
The problem is that there is a tendency is to focus on what’s easily reportable and overlook what’s actually rather more important, and whilst it’s entirely possible to build a successful brand using online media, it’s the default setting of media planners and digital networks to optimise campaigns for ultimate efficiency - which means that if you are not careful you end up speaking to the same people all of the time.
That’s fine for some brands, but not for others. In fact, some of the world’s biggest advertisers have recently acknowledged that they have become too narrow in their targeting.
It hasn’t been fashionable to talk in these terms for a while but the luxury sector has always understood this and that aspirational brands must always be looking ahead. Unless you use broadcast media you’ll never reach a wider audience that enables you to make new conquests. Hence, traditional media still plays a major role in the marketing of high-end products.
Nevertheless, when it comes to execution the sector could do with an injection of fresh thinking.
Take watch advertising for example. Two challenges that established brands currently face are the need to counter the growing threat from smartwatches and the growth of online boutiques.
So far, new technology does not appear to pose an existential threat to Swiss timepieces, but it certainly has the potential to disrupt the market. Meanwhile, online boutiques continue to grow market share at the expense of branded stores, and platforms such as Watchfinder encourage frequent trade-ins. If we all start changing our watches as often as our wheels they, not the makers, will increasingly ‘own’ the customer relationship.
There are other parallels with the automotive industry in this (main dealer vs. specialist, aftersales service and the protection of residuals) but for brand owners, the best protection that advertising can offer is to concentrate on deepening empathy with both existing and potential customers.
The reason that consumers buy luxury goods boils down to a combination of self-assertion, differentiation and an appreciation of product excellence, which means that brands must perform at both a product level and an experiential one.
What the brand represents is just as important as what it is. Hence Rolex stands as a symbol of heroic (usually sporting) achievement, whilst arch-rival OMEGA is a little more nuanced with a taste for adventure. Breitling associates itself with aeronautical precision, Tag with motorsport machismo and so on.
However, when it comes to advertising, most high-end watch ads reveal a sameness of approach.
Nearly all of the top brands invest heavily in sponsorship and celebrity ambassadors and it makes sense to leverage these associations, but it leads to a lot of look-a-like ads.
Isn’t it time for some fresh thinking about how brands exploit these equities?
Whilst, celebrity as well as performance and rarity are useful brand attributes, they can all to an extent be bought, manufactured or artificially controlled.
Pedigree, however, is probably the most sought after quality of all and you can’t imbue an Apple Watch with a hundred years of craftsmanship, history and tradition overnight. Which means that for haute chronology the future lies in the past.
We just need to find more interesting ways to make these stories more relevant to new audiences.
Trevor Heley is a founding partner of mr.h, a multi-disciplinary advertising and marketing agency that specialises in the travel and luxury sectors. www.mrh.london