Know your audience. It's the most basic rule of advertising, and yet it's one that's broken so often and so publicly by professional admen (and women), over and over again.
Today, a collaborative Tumbler set called "Things Real People Don't Say About Advertising" is making the rounds. It's funny to many people, but it also hurts to be reminded of how often we lose touch with our audiences:
Both agency people and clients spend hours pouring over an ad, and tend to forget that for most of the audience it is a disposable communication. We argue and tweak, and tweak and argue over minutiae which — although together do affect the ad's overall effectiveness — are often really just power struggles between individual subjectivity.
Ad people are actually incredibly conservative by nature. What we do isn't really all that scientific, but as professionals we tend to cling to "the rules" as we learned them when we started in the business. One of these rules was that consumers are stupid, and will not act on your message unless they are explicitly told what to do. People still regularly ask me to write "for more information, please visit [url]", when the URL alone will do. Hell, you don't really even need a URL if your SEO is good enough.
The rules have changed. Consumer behaviour has changed. Get over it.
Look, I'm a big fan of branding. I advise people on continuity and standards all the time. But people in the industry (agency and client) tend to take branding far too literally. It becomes more about graphic standards and key messages than it is about common sense.
A brand that intuitively knows what it's all about will always generate work that is "on brand". It doesn't matter if two great ads or campaigns are wildly different from each other. The brand experience — like beauty — comes from the inside. This is why real brand champions matter.
I really hate doing standard banner ads. Enough said.