The Great Escape

An End to Advertising Captivity, A New Beginning for Creative Freedom

By Chris Gallery, Head of Strategy, Mother London

Captive Audience – definition “Listeners or onlookers who have no choice but to attend. For example, It’s a required course and, knowing he has a captive audience, the professor rambles on endlessly. The expression, first recorded in 1902, uses captive in the sense of "unable to escape”.”  - 

For a while there, people had no choice but to suffer through advertising; endless monologues that interrupted your entertainment. We were all captive to brands’ whims, detained for roughly 30 seconds at a time by their desire to sell to us. 

Well that time of oppression is coming to an end. Phew. The walls of captivity started to shake with the advent of the remote control, a seminal moment in the era of channel surfing. Cracks appeared with the adoption of the DVR and fast-forwarding and rewinding of live TV - a handy evolution of the remote controls functionality. But the walls of captivity are truly crumbling with the innovation of online streaming. We are free to watch what we want, when we want, and however much we want, with no interruption, apart from the odd trip to the loo.

So we, as punters, are free from the captivity of advertising, but what of our captors? Well, brands, and those of us that work for them, are free too. We are free from the constraints of interruptive dialogue/monologue and open to finding new ways to converse. We too are free from captivity and we’re opening our eyes to a new world of creative freedom for brands.

From Category to Culture

We can no longer use advertising as a barometer of success. Category norms are of no use to us, comparing the ideas we generate to competitor advertising is pointless. We are now competing with the best culture and entertainment for people’s hearts, minds and time.

These brands that are trying to break free alongside their customers are doing some interesting things to compete with the best in culture:

1. Making better adverts. Ads still exist in the world, just not on streaming services and if they are good enough and popular enough everyone will see them one way or another. Epic strut anyone?

2. Making purposeful contribution to society. Brands are embracing higher purposes than selling their own wares. They’re helping the world with initiatives like Buy a Lady a Drink by Stella Artois or Coffee Against Gangs by Kenco. These campaigns have a real use in the world so are welcomed into environments where people have a choice and aren’t held captive.

3. Making the news. If you can’t get to people on streaming sites, get to them on news sites. Brands like Paddy Power with their Rainbow Laces initiative or BrewDog with the transgender beer No Label create ideas that culture wants to talk about. These brands are not held captive by paid-for channels or the notion of forcing audiences to listen to them.

4. Making the entertainment: If we can’t beat it, join it. Create the entertainment people want to see and imbed brand messages into it. We are no longer held back by the constraints of a TV ad, so we can create pieces of pure entertainment for brands. Lego the movie wasn’t just the best ad of the last few years; it was one of the best and mot successful new films too. See also Red Bull Stratos.

5. Making experiences: We are an experience driven society. Brands that are making the most waves are curating and creating experiences that people actively choose to attend and interact with the brand and its story telling. From a bar where Innocent sells smoothies for emoji currency to a gig where Stella Artois brings the stars down to earth, brands are creating destinations and everything in between.

So while new innovations have led to new consumer behaviors that have freed us all, brands can enjoy that same freedom too.

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