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England cricket team’s demise holds a warning for adland

The complete and shambolic failure of the England Cricket Team in Australia during the World Cup provides a stark warning for advertisers and their agencies, says Andrew Lloyd, our managing partner for planning.

It’s Sunday evening. I appear to be alone in the living room with the remote control. Wife and four-month-old son seemingly occupied elsewhere. And it’s quiet – oh so beautifully quiet.

Perhaps the baby monitor’s not switched on, I’ll check it in a sec, once I’ve found something to watch. Top Gear doesn’t seem to be on – series must be finished. No football either – damn international breaks. Cricket World Cup Review on Sky Sports? That’ll do nicely.

There was something I was meant to be doing…. anyway, here’s Rob Key, Mark Butcher and Bob Willis providing a graphic analysis of why England were so very, very bad during this Cricket World Cup. And, apart from the weird ‘men propping up a bar’ format and the shiny shirts, it’s good stuff – the analysis insightful and articulately delivered. It gets me thinking about our industry.

England’s failure wasn’t a lack of skill. Well, not primarily. No, what Mr Key ably demonstrated as we moved from the main bar – sorry, studio – to the indoor wicket that Sky had assembled was that England’s biggest failing was philosophical. The game has fundamentally moved on. Everyone else had noticed; England hadn’t.

Like the cavalry divisions feeding their horses, sharpening swords and polishing breastplates on the eve of war in 1914, England spent the build-up to the World Cup obsessing about the traditional cricket minutiae (straight bats, keeping wickets for the final ten overs, line and length bowling) before wheeling round in perfect formation into the teeth of overwhelming machine-gun fire.

What England viewed as ‘nice-to-haves’ – flourishes to enhance a traditional approach to scoring runs – had become central to everyone else’s plans. Cross-batted charging at the quick bowlers, switch-hitting from the first over onwards, wristy scoops over the wicket-keeper for 6 – England looked on in utter bemusement as their hopes were shredded.

When the world moves on, as it sometimes does in a concerted and noticeable step forward, the previously exceptional becomes the norm. The nice-to-haves become the must-haves. The experiments start to sit at the centre of the plan.

Introspection hinders one’s ability to notice the world changing around you. If we spend too long optimising what we’ve always done, we’ll miss the fact that no-one’s really watching or listening anymore. We’ve had fair warning. The industry has long discussed message saturation, the increased ability of consumers to opt-out of advertising through Sky+, YouTube skippables or Spotify Premium. We’ve even recognised the innate ability of the current generations to subconsciously filter out advertising ‘noise’ from their lives.

And yet our primary focus remains ‘trading’, ‘buying’, targeting’. Consumers are telling us that their attention is no longer a commodity that can be bought and sold in a predictable and formulaic manner. They’re telling us we’ve got to work a bit harder and be a bit more organic and interesting. They don’t care how cheap we get the spots – they’ll listen if we’re interesting enough for them to pause for a split second before getting on with their lives.

And this is brilliant news because if the public refuse for their attention to be commoditised, then we in advertising stand a far greater chance of avoiding the same fate. But only if we recognise the opportunity and do something about it.

The public are helping by engaging in ever greater numbers and ever greater salience with non-formulaic comms. As we once shed the era of long copy when the public demonstrated its appetite for a more imaginative approach, so we must now not only embrace the need to diversify our paid-for communications but prove to our clients the efficacy of putting innovation at the centre of our plans. Yet we’re strangely reticent to take advantage of the fact that we’re talking to intelligent articulate human beings as opposed to automatons.

As an industry, the race should be on to empirically prove the bottom line benefits of non-standard comms (if you’re reading this IPA…) allowing us build a more interesting, less commoditised and better respected profession as we go. Or we could continue optimising our 1+ cover until someone comes along with a machine-gun.

Andrew Lloyd is managing partner of planning at Vizeum
This article originally appeared on CampaignLive