The best advertising is authentic and backed up by facts, while aimed at the right audience, in the right place, at the right time
Making a sale is getting harder. With consumers concerned about where and how they spend their money, it is important for companies to demonstrate their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials.
And, in an era where the general tolerance for advertising is on the wane – many people are prepared to pay extra to be able to skip ads on streaming platforms, for example – marketers are also faced with a significant challenge of conveying a lot more information in far less time.
In 2024, then, marketing campaigns and ads must serve the dual function of selling a product or service and the company behind it, all the while navigating some difficult wider contexts.
Being sensitive to tighter budgets
According to Sophie Lewis, chief strategy officer at advertising agency M&C Saatchi, “the cost-of-living crisis will be the biggest challenge marketers face in 2024, by a mile, as they look to drive growth in the face of a rather bleak economic outlook.”
Most consumers, however, are reasonable and realistic, she points out, and will accept the macroeconomic circumstances which have led to price rises. Nevertheless “they still need to understand why they should choose one company over its competitors.” Indeed, increasingly, Lewis suggests, consumers want to see tangible evidence alongside ads to back up brands’ claims about the superiority of its products.
Annika Bizon, marketing and omnichannel director at Samsung UK and Ireland, says the companies which are most likely to succeed in their sales will be the ones which can demonstrate longevity in their products or services. In 2024, consumers want to think of their most expensive purchases as “investments”, she explains. If a company wants to convince someone to part with a significant amount of their income when times are tough, they need to be able to guarantee at least some degree of “future-proofing them to last.”
Lewis warns firms against “jumping on the cost-of-living crisis as a marketing opportunity”, however. “If you’re not doing something tangible to help customers,” she says, “you probably shouldn’t be talking about it.”
Noting the misstep of meal replacement company Huel earlier this year – where the firm claimed it could help people save money on food by using its products – Lewis says brands can be sensitive to tighter budgets “without being inappropriate.”
Adapting to shorter attention spans
In general, people’s willingness to read, watch or listen to adverts is decreasing. A study by Microsoft suggested that the average attention span of a Gen Z adult is about eight seconds, meaning that marketers and advertisers in 2024 are under huge pressure to make sure their imagery and messaging is instantly effective.
For Bizon, shorter attention spans will force firms to target their advertising more intelligently. “Marketing can no longer fit in one box,” she says. “Our audience is too broad. People have different passions, interests and needs, and brands need to understand that to be successful.”
Making advertising relevant, Bizon says, is what is more likely to achieve cut-through. Samsung, for example, recently partnered with world champion skateboarder Sky Brown. “We were able to harness the insight that skateboarders often use shoes to prop their phones up to capture their tricks and progress – meaning that we could authentically position Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip5 as the ideal solution for them,” she explains.
Another way to adapt to shorter attention spans, according to Suresh Balaji, the chief marketing officer at Lloyds Banking Group, may be to develop passive coverage – that is to say, make sure that their “distinctive brand assets”, such as logos, are seen by the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
Vicky Kerr, director of marketing EMEA & APAC at Uber for Business, goes further. While she agrees that “product and service education needs to remain at the core of any strategy”, she suggests that companies may want to explore the “power of product placement”.
When used strategically and alongside other channels, Kerr notes, this method can significantly amplify brand presence or awareness. “The trend of brands leveraging product placements, as seen with McDonald’s and others in [Netflix series] Emily in Paris, reflects a growing interest in this advertising strategy,” she says. “It works subtly yet effectively, embedding the product within content that the target audience is already engaged with.”
Understanding the importance of ESG
As well as offering value for money, consumers want to feel comfortable with who they are giving their money to. As ESG credentials increasingly factor into people’s purchasing decisions, François Bazini, chief marketing officer at Suntory Beverage Group (SBG), believes companies which have strong ones should showcase them.
SBG, which owns Lucozade, Orangina and Ribena, among others, primarily uses “packaging to communicate our ESG product credentials with consumers, with examples including clear labeling around the use of recyclable PET [Polyethylene Terephthalate], reducing the size of plastic sleeves on our bottles, and the lower sugar content on many of our drinks.”
Positive brand association with social justice causes can also be achieved, Bazini says, through targeted sponsorship. “We’ve also spent years developing programmes and campaigns with real social impact through Lucozade Sport,” he notes, “working with Apprentice Nation, among many others, to help engage and upskill young people.”
Advertising should not be indulgent or exaggerated, warns Bizon, but rather rooted in “authenticity”. Consumers can see through greenwashing and social posturing, so it’s not enough for a company to simply say that it cares, it must back it up with action.
To this end, Balaji suggests that people will respond positively to a brand putting its money where its mouth is. “What works best in this arena are genuine rather than performative acts,” he says, “that show a brand is sacrificing something or shouldering some sort of cost to deliver against an ESG commitment.”
The future of marketing and advertising
Ultimately, ethics, honesty and evidence should be guiding principles for marketers in the new year. According to Lewis, “the age of ostentation is over. People want meaning and connection. And the brands which understand this will thrive.”
Whether an ad or campaign sinks or swims in 2024, then, will likely come down to whether it can positively answer three main questions. Does this product or service offer value for money? Is the information relevant to the consumer it is targeting? Does buying this product or using this service do more good than harm to the wider environment and society?