History repeats itself you know

Ramsey Naja is chief creative officer at JWT MEA

“Under promise and over deliver” they always told me. You might yawn every time you hear that old cliché, which suggests that history repeats itself, but, sorry, history repeats itself. And nowhere does it repeat itself more often than in advertising. Look at all the so-called new media: you still have redemption, but digitally, not with cut-out coupons. Permission marketing allows you access to free content, on condition of watching ads – just like traditional television always did, and we still marvel at the fact that literature contains books with multiple endings – and which were just as rubbish as today’s interactive variety.

But there is one fascinating Groundhog Dayish area, something creative agencies hardly pay attention to, but is pervasive in our lives: it is that tiny little paragraph preceded by a blue, underlined headline, usually attempting at drawing your search in Google to a relevant but paid-for commercial entity, or in Facebook to something fitting with your social life. It is what is referred to as ‘the Google/Facebook ad unit’ and, while you may scoff at the basic aspect of it, you might swallow that chuckle the moment you learn that this is the heart of a multi-billion dollar industry.

You see, the ad unit is nothing more than one of the most reliable aspects of newspaper advertising repeating itself: it is the 21st century equivalent of the old, humble – but massively profitable – classified ad. And just like the classifieds, but to a far more accurate extent, the ad unit is contextual. In the past, it was the paper’s social colour, category, or simply type of audience that made the context. Today, Google’s ad unit is search-based, Facebook’s is social network-based.

How will the exponential growth of the ad unit impact our industry? And why is this creative writing about it? Well, one closer look at that modest little ad – for that’s what it is – will bring you back to the days when advertising was salesmanship in print. The days when it was all about finding that linguistic hook that made people reach for the phone, the letterbox or their pocket. The days when the copywriter was king.”

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