by Mimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) The ad men of old, they had it easy. That’s my opinion. And I can proudly say my father was one of them. One of the men who defined the glamour and edginess that advertising still imbues today.

Mimi NicklinHe sauntered round London in style, shot TV commercials on far-flung beaches, and then went to the smartest restaurants in London to celebrate a ‘job well done’. They billed a fortune, drove fast cars and successfully built brands that will outlive them all.

Exhausting, yes, but only because they spent 60% of their time socialising over whisky and 40% actually creating work! (Right, Dad?)

Sold product by the pallet load

The reality, however, was that they sold product by the pallet load. It didn’t just see a 1% uplift but a 21% uplift, and it didn’t just move during the ‘promo’ but increased steadily over time. They were the superheroes of selling and both they and their clients went on to write the rules of how to sell a brand. They founded the way agencies think, plan and create, and they are entirely responsible for the fact that the TV ad was always, without fail, upfront and centre.

At that stage, shoppers were actively looking for stimulus, consumerism was booming, cell phones were space age and microwave meals were yet to be invented. Quite simply, selling wasn’t that hard.

People were looking to spend money and looking to advertising campaigns to tell them how. Package the product ‘nicely’, promote it in the public domain, use smart copywriting, a beautiful cast and a large product shot, and you could be pretty sure it would sell.

Fast-forward 30 years

Fast-forward 30 years and, sadly, our selling model is not as simple. Here we are working 14-hour days, spending hours in store watching shoppers, millions of rands talking to them and a small fortune incentivising them, and yet our retail sales are still flat.

Our shoppers are indebted, lacking confidence and only buying what ‘they have to’ and yet still we passionately come to work every day to sell our brands and ‘build momentum in Quarter 2’.

But in reality, while we are successfully building brand love and establishing the new, don’t we still tend to be doing it via TV ads and other ATL type beautifulness?

This is not enough

So here it comes, my opinion, and that is that this is not enough. Not enough of a challenge, not enough of a success and not enough of a move from the days my father was still making ads — when lunch started 12.30pm and ended with a train home at 6pm!

It’s easy to capture love in media built for storytelling, with 30” to make you cry, laugh or smile, or in a print medium that you personally hold in your hands. It is simple to reflect culture, tradition and habit in high definition and with summer’s greatest pop hit to grab instant attention. But what about doing all the above in retail? Does no-one feel like taking on the challenge?

It seems to me that, for every TV ad that more effectively talks to the South African audience, wins more awards and links more seamlessly with Facebook, that same brand entirely misses its shoppers when it is in retail. It captures their hearts but it doesn’t change their minds.

“Don’t have the time”

I suspect it’s because many of our most talented ad people “don’t have the time” (aka the energy or passion) to work creatively on the BTL and shopper elements of the mix. The client asks for a through-the-line presentation and the agencies lead with TV and then draw up a wobbler that follows the same colour palette and uses the ATL headline in a smaller font. Contentious, perhaps, but not all together wrong?

Of course, there are those whom hire specialists and open new units to ‘understand the shopper’ but my cry is for some of the senior stars of our industry to help us change the pattern:

  • Let’s make the shopper work original, engaging, stand out, digitally ‘alive’.
  • Let’s push our junior creatives to learn this space, and let’s demand our advertising schools put it on the curriculum.
  • Let’s engage our agency staff in a space that is now taking an ever-higher proportion of all advertising spend worldwide (shopper marketing spend is reported to be increasing 5% YoY by Booz and Company, and P&G alone now spends US$500 million a year in shopper marketing).

South Africa is way behind

South Africa is behind (way behind!) the rest of the ad world in terms of shopper brilliance. If we don’t drive the change with our own agencies and clients, the global guys will soon sweep in and do it for us.

We’ll be left behind, the budgets will move, and no longer will we have the (slightly less) fast cars or ‘squeezed-in’ long lunches to celebrate brilliant sales results.

So, if you are reading this, client or agency, please understand I am not asking for less TV or less creativity — indeed, the total opposite. I am asking you, our industry to extend what we already do brilliantly all the way from the TV screens and up to the shelf. It may be less visual, emotional and musical but, hell, it could just be 10 times more valuable in real ROI terms.

Times now demand a change

So, thank you, Dad, and all your genius admen colleagues of old, for putting us in the right direction, but times now demand a change. Nowadays getting it right via the ATL comms alone is cheating. From now on, the brands that really win will get it right above the line, through the line, and down the line… all the way to the till.

Mimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) followed her passion and experience in the consumer, retail and shopper space from regional roles in Europe and Asia, to South African shores in 2010. Having led global brands through the line for Procter & Gamble, and two of London and Hong Kong’s top agencies, her background gives her an international perspective to add to her depth of SA understanding. She serves as strategic director and a partner at 34 Group. Mimi contributes the monthly “The Sell” column concerning shopper marketing to MarkLives.

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