Why bad advertising is a form of bad manners: lessons from a Ugandan storefront

by Scott Johnson, 20 Feb 2018


A friend from Scotland called Gordon Nicol took the photo above when he was in Uganda. The sign in it contains enough wisdom to lengthen the tenure and boost the bonus of every chief marketing officer, account director and agency president on earth.


Because our world is becoming more interactive–almost every one of us now carries millions of media possibilities in his trouser pocket–with very few exceptions consumers now have to choose to see our marketing messages. No longer are they forced to sit still and allow one unwanted (or worse, insulting) advertisement after another to wash over them as if they were inanimate objects (as they did in the days when there were three television channels and no remote control).


The relationship between brands and consumers has changed radically. In an era when the target audience is in near-complete control, the worst thing a marketer can do is waste someone’s time. After doing the brutally difficult work of persuading him to grant us a few seconds to hear what we have to say, delivering a message that is irrelevant or boring is unforgivable. Bad advertising has become a form of bad manners. Consumers aren’t simply judging your brand’s television commercial or website; they’re judging its behavior–a matter that is a good deal more serious and has more lasting consequences.


The first thing every great brand does today is convince people to trust that it will always respect their time, that it will deliver value in exchange for every second of attention it requests. This value can take many forms–a smile, a laugh, a vital piece of information, a small insight that can make life just a tiny bit better. Once a brand succeeds at this, every subsequent marketing message it delivers becomes exponentially more effective.


Trust is an indispensable foundation for marketing efficiency–if only because brands that have proven themselves trustworthy no longer have to waste a chunk of every ad they do saying—whether explicitly or implicitly—“trust us.”