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Speed Kills

Advertising is a business predicated on getting attention, and yet nowhere else will you find such commitment to the diminishing returns of repeatedly doing the same thing.

The ethos of modern culture is speed. The internet is a thunderstorm, every raindrop an idea - memes and fads are born from a lightning strike and are all but forgotten before you hear the rumble in the distance.

Perhaps the biggest failing of digital marketing is that it means contributing towards this all-consuming tempest. The number of pages a website has can be a determinator of search engine ranking. Creative is not judged on how effectively it sells the product or service but on how many backlinks or shares it generates. A short-term competitive advantage can be gained from being first, from advertising an idea or implementing a feature before your competitors.

When speed is prioritized - when there is an insistence on working more and more quickly - there’s little room for thoughtfulness, whatever point or statement an advertisement tries to make being rapidly washed away by the next in endless succession.

At one point, one of the world’s biggest companies had “move fast and break things” as its slogan, and this philosophy is at odds with our cultural understanding that speed is the antithesis of time and effort - that most anything done quickly will be shoddily produced.

Speed is seductive, but it has damning flaws that are increasingly evident. A look at the world of venture capital, for example - where the point is not to create a long-term, self-sustaining business, but instead to grow as fast as possible and sell the company - reveals how short-sighted and unnecessarily stressful such a strategy is.

Claude C. Hopkins may have been one of the few exceptions to the rule, writing great ads in just a few days or less, but Albert Lasker would often not pass along his work to clients for weeks afterwards to create the impression that the work actually took much longer, was thoughtful and carefully considered.

This in an age, barely a hundred years ago, where it often took advertisers months to nail down a single advertisement.

In working for Fallon McElligott Berlin in the 1990s, copywriter Sally Hogshead wrote one hundred headlines for BMW motorcycles in the pursuit of just five to share with the client. Instead of chasing the first thing that came to mind, she worked methodically to create the best headlines that she could, attacking the problem from multiple angles - religion, relationships, sensations, cultural institutions.

This is the kind of thorough creativity that exemplifies advertising at its best - and it should come as no surprise that Hogshead’s ads were featured in the One Show, one of the most prestigious awards in the business.

Advertising may not be any less effective than it ever was, despite the novelty of the form wearing off.

Rather, the tolerance of the public has been whittled down through years of subpar works.

Do you want to get your audience’s attention?

Do something different and put in the time to make it great.

Being the first to do something is worthless if people don’t remember it.

More often than not, they don’t.

Matt