The joy of focus: why people hate traditional advertising


Written by plinq

 On 9/25/19 12:27 PM

 cartoon person enjoying the focus of playing a game in a fantasy game world with a flamingo

Digital advertising is great for getting more website visitors or getting customers to buy a product, watch a video, or fill in a survey. But even the greatest ads get lost or are forgotten: there are simply too many. In the face of this flood of advertisements, users hit the skip button as fast as humanly possible.

Viewers have the power

Users never loved advertising; ads get in the way of what they really want to do, so 9 out of 10 people skip an ad when they can. “Viewers aren’t passive. Traditionally, we’ve thought of advertising as something that’s done to an audience. But it’s really more of a transaction: People can choose whether to ‘consume’ an advertisement, sort of like with any other product” — Harikesh Nair, professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Viewers have always had the power to skip ads, fast-forward, change channels or simply head to the kitchen for a quick snack during the commercials on TV. However, a great many ads have bested the odds and have indeed been celebrated over time. Take Ridley Scott's The Martian or Ridley Scott's 1984 commercial for Apple, for example. More recently, Leo Burnett Madrid entranced 5 million viewers with a Pixar-caliber lottery ad. So what is it, exactly, that makes an ad so attractive that it actually becomes unskippable? The answer is, Scott Donaton claims, storytelling.

Telling a great story allows brands to capture consumers’ emotions and, as we all know, every human decision is influenced by emotion. This is why stories sell. This is why certain ads survive while others meet an untimely death. Stories convey messages customers find funny, identify with, or hold on to as memorable.

a cartoon fox in david wehles indie game the first tree showing the joy of focus and the power of storytelling in games

(Beautiful storytelling in The First Tree.)

Storytelling is the ultimate advertising weapon. Without a compelling story, a brand’s product is over before it even started. Indeed, more and more brands are coming to realize this fact and are actually working together with storytellers to help them create stories that appeal to as many audiences as possible. Other brands are turning to social media influencers, with both big and small numbers of followers, to act as their ambassadors and tell their brand stories. This move has worked well for brand authenticity, yet influencer marketing is certainly not a groundbreaking concept anymore. 

So what’s the next real breakthrough that can help brands cater to both audiences’ needs and emotions, while simultaneously dodging the interruptive ad blockade?



“Our brains are not capable of focusing on multiple cognitive tasks at once. What's happening is your brain is jumping back and forth between the tasks (called task switching), focusing briefly one at a time. Constant interruption (which is what trying to multitask is) brings on higher levels of stress. It's cognitive overload, and it dulls our brain and our reaction times,” according to Jim Kwik, founder of Kwik Learning and a widely recognized world expert in optimal brain performance who has trained Hollywood actors, top entrepreneurs, and organizations.

yellow cartoon car driving down a blue road at night showing the joy of focus in games

(Focused play in our game, Sketch Rally)

Intrusive ads that play automatically, screen takeovers, blinking ads and all types of ads that directly disrupt the consumption of content mean cognitive overload.

As a result, many people around the world employ ad blockers to rid their feeds of thousands of ads.  Some people go even further and use browsers like Brave to block unwanted content by default. Therefore, brands and publishers can't avoid the message: people block ads because advertising has become more annoying and less (cognitively) tolerable.

Ad blocking is thus the latest crisis for brands. But what is even more terrifying is, as Shannon Forbes explains in a previous article for Plinq, that ad “interruptions can produce a subconscious negative association with a brand.” Now this is a crucial wake-up call. However, there is still some hope left for brands and advertising. That is, the solution to avoid negative brand association and end the adblock war is to improve user experience.

Consumers, enabled by technology, are increasingly in control of their media consumption. Audiences now consume what they want, when they want, how and where they want, and if they want. That's a good thing for audiences. But it hasn't been a good thing for advertisers.

What this boils down to is the onset of a paradigm shift in advertising. The post-advertising era seems to be taking shape. Brands and advertisers are now struggling to understand current changes in consumer media use and in the amount of (or lack of) attention paid to ads and ad messages. “Commercial advertising (...) is undergoing a massive change [...] Brands are not built around the 30-second commercial anymore” states Francisco J. Perez-Latre.


Consumer empowerment

New marketing techniques now advocate consumer empowerment: increase the power of the user, be what they want and thereby create a need in them for what you have to offer.

Touchdown football game screen with personalized color options for player jerseys giving players control over their game experience which includes the joy of focus

(Giving the player control over their experience in Touchdown)

Just think of Netflix and Spotify. They destroyed the tyranny of television and music albums and sent customers straight to the content they wanted. And as if that was not enough, they destroyed the well-established belief — though now long gone — that advertising was the price consumers had to pay to access free content. False. Rest in peace, fallacious argument. Audiences all across the globe have shown they are indeed willing to pay for quality content, especially if such payment makes the ads disappear.

Consequently, brands need to stop advertising and start creating strong brand experiences. Following Francisco J. Perez-Latre, “it’s not surprising that there’s a new generation of brands, including, eBay, and Starbucks that have amassed huge global value with little traditional advertising. They’ve discovered new ways to captivate and intrigue customers.”

This idea goes with several conditions: brands must define themselves as quality-oriented, they must act in concert, and they must change the commercial relationship with their customers, targeting both at their empowerment and their emotions for greater leverage. Put simply, brands have to find ways of getting consumers to invite them into their lives. Subsequently, as perceived quality of brand identity rises, so do brand recognition and brand loyalty. 


Understanding the post-advertising era

As mentioned before, brand storytelling is all the rage at the moment. Still, as Jack Simpson explains, “any story worth its salt should aim to please the person to whom it’s told. If brands create stories with only self-promotion in mind they are unlikely to resonate with their target customers.”

Thus, how should brands tell their story in this post-advertising era? Omnicom Group CEO Jonathan Nelson answers: “a union of science and art.” New technologies and platforms — from virtual reality to live video — are transforming the way stories are created, curated, distributed, consumed and shared; but without a creative idea to evoke action from users, they just mean nothing but failure for advertisers. And the same holds true the other way around: a stellar idea without the right platform is doomed to fail. Now just think, if storytelling has survived traditional forms of advertising and yielded unprecedented results, imagine what it could do if applied to advergames!

“Traditional advertising is said to be losing ground to viral marketing gaming,” according to Francisco J. Perez-Latre’s. Therefore, the onus is on brands to make a move towards that path. Advergames provide branded entertainment for consumers who can choose to interact with your brand whenever and wherever they feel like doing so.

Plinq game the magic factory slicing products for prizes demonstrating the joy of focus

(Fun and focus in The Magic Factory)

Moreover, by acknowledging consumer agency, advergames provide a more positive view of advertising and also one that is tailor-made. As Shannon Forbes explains, “not all advergames are created equal. There are different levels of advergames out there, with varying effectiveness. The best option is an advergame that is created specifically around your brand — with your colors, products, even mission — incorporated directly into the game.” At Plinq we help brands develop a ludic edge that will allow them to tap into the benefits of advergames and provide customers the experience they want.

Consumers are bored of traditional online ads. Nestlé’s Global Director of Marketing & Innovation, Stephanie Naegeli, argues that brands that currently serve content to people online are not just competing with other advertisers, but rather with individuals as well.  So if brands want to tell their stories, the time has come for them to do it in a different way, in a way that fits with online consumer behaviour, offers fun entertainment, and hands the control over to their customers. At Plinq we specialize in making this goal become a reality.

Advergames are shaking the marketing industry ebook with cartoon woman playing a computer game