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A Call to Creative Arms

September 30, 2020

A few years ago, I watched a Frontline special about advertising creative that left an impression on me. The episode focused on the science of influence, described by one creative director as “the ability to persuade strangers through images and words.” The term ‘strangers’ instead of “consumers” caught me off guard, but it was intentional.  He defended the word choice by noting that none of us have a personal relationship with Coke, North Face, or Nike.  But I think his real motivation was to magnify that producing effective ad creative is hard, really hard, which then begs two questions: What does it take?  And, How are we (multifamily) doing? 

If you surveyed most apartment marketers on these points, I’m pretty sure you’d hear a healthy dose of tropes and cliches to the first question  (i.e., know your audience, test and learn, follow the data, do your homework), and a qualified answer to the second (i.e., all things considered, given our resources, that depends).  If you ask me, I believe developing effective ad creative is all about courage, grit, and balance.  Sadly, our industry is failing at all three. My opinion isn't for shock factor, nor some peanut-gallery indictment of our marketing peeps. Consider it more as a call to creative arms.  We can do better.

Back to Frontline.  The producer’s devotion to the science and psychology of advertising were truly fascinating, but what I remember most, was a single fact. According to their research, Americans are exposed to 4,000 to 5,000 brands every day during our awake hours. Think about that. Factoring for 16 hours, that translates to 312 brand impressions per hour (5 per minute). Compound that with consumer’s, er, stranger’s, notoriously short attention spans, and the task of branding an individual property among thousands of replicas, and well … you get it. Good effing luck!  This is where grit enters. You can’t have IBS with those odds. You better have the intestinal fortitude and be ready to grind (mentally, that is).  Developing a fresh, and ultimately, more effective formula for apartment ad creative could take years. That leads me to courage.

Just because you have grit doesn’t mean you have courage, more specifically, the appropriate courage to fail. A person can have incredible resolve or determination but lack the bravery to experiment. When 99% of the industry is swimming freestyle, are you willing to risk your job and reputation to swim backstroke? Let me give you a few examples. Even though sarcasm has become a cornerstone of American communication, how often do you see it incorporated into apartment ad creative?  Even though user-generated content has long surpassed the professional variety, how much resident driven marketing have you come across? Even though podcast consumption has erupted, how many properties have launched their own?  I'll stop there and grant that all of those ideas could go sideways. I just want to see someone try.  Now I’ll contradict myself.

Many marketers don’t realize that by trying to break through the clutter using non-conventional methods, they inadvertently end up contributing to it.  I wish I could claim that nugget, but it was another gem from the Frontline special.  Btw- yes, and sorry, I know I haven’t sourced the title of the episode.  I tried (Damn you, Youtube!). Anyhoo, If you read between the lines of that adage, it’s about balance. You can’t overdo the right brain concepts, or your brand can become compromised, and worse yet, your target market becomes confused.  So, despite my plea for more courage and exploration, I respect and agree with marketers who lean on best practices.  However, don’t lean too far.  The consequence is complacency and stagnation.

The bottom line is that our industry deserves more from its creative stewards, Digible included.  We can do better, and we will.

Reid Wicoff, Digible CEO

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