When he was young, my dad joined the police.
On the first day, all the new recruits went into a big classroom.
A police Inspector walked to the front of the class.
He told everyone to take out their exercise books and copy down what he was going to write on the blackboard.
As he was writing, another man entered the class and handed him a message.
The Inspector put the message in his pocket and carried on writing.
When he’d finished, he turned to the class.
He said “Let’s see how observant you are.
A man just came in and handed me a message: how tall was he?”
The Inspector said “Nobody? Alright, how old was he?”
The Inspector said “Okay, how much did he weigh?”
He said “Was colour was his shirt?”
He said “Did he have a tie, if so was it patterned or striped?”
He said “Did he have stubble, or was he clean-shaven?
What colour were his shoes?
When he gave me the message, was he right or left handed?”
No one said a word.
The Inspector slammed his chalk on the table.
He said “You all say you want to be police officers.
That means you cannot behave like ordinary citizens.
You cannot go around oblivious to what’s happening.
You cannot afford to switch off.
You must be aware, AT ALL TIMES, of everything that’s going on all around you.”
Of course none of those recruits had noticed the man giving the Inspector a message: that was the idea.
The inspector knew they’d still be acting and thinking like civilians.
Only capable of concentrating on one thing at a time.
That’s why he told them to write in their books.
To make the point that people don’t notice what’s going on around them.
Of course, that affected my dad’s behaviour from that point on.
As a policeman, it became his job to be aware of everything.
Especially things other people didn’t even notice.
It became his job to notice everything.
Now, unfortunately, in our job we don’t deal with policemen.
In our job we deal with ordinary people.
People who don’t notice anything.
People who are only interested in one thing at a time.
People who are conditioned to filter out distractions.
People who are doing the opposite of what policemen are trained to do.
And yet we treat consumers as if they were all policemen.
Trained to notice every detail of every ad.
The brand personality, the subtle messaging, the ironic sub-text, the typeface, the style of animation, the nuances of the humour, the relevance of the music, the casting, the lighting, the editing.
When, in fact, they aren’t even looking.
They don’t care, and they don’t want to care.
They’re not trained policemen.
They are sleepwalking civilians.
See, the real issue isn’t, is our advertising saying the right things?
The real issue is, how do we even get noticed?
£18.3 billion spent yearly in the UK on all forms of advertising.
4% remembered positively, 7% remembered negatively, 89% not noticed or remembered.
The worrying number isn’t the 7% (advertising doesn’t always have to be liked to work).
The worrying number is the 89%.
Because it means 9 out of 10 ads are as invisible as the man who gave that message to the police Inspector in front of the class of new recruits.
And, unless we want to be part of that wasted £16.5 billion, we need to change the question we’re asking about our advertising.
Because the question we should really be asking isn’t, is it right?
The question is, will anyone even notice it?