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Digital Advertising and Its Struggle To Be Human

It’s no secret that we live our lives online, spending more time looking at blue-light screens than blue skies. Studies show that we spend a whopping 7 hours using the Internet on average. Naturally, marketers are spending more and more on digital advertising. 

It’s personalised, targeted, and trackable. What’s not to love? This was the new, exciting frontier of advertising. Until it wasn’t. 

With more investments came more digital ads, everywhere, resulting in people getting tired of it. In fact, they find digital ads to be repetitive, intrusive, and irrelevant. 

Some brands were aware of how people feel towards these ads, and companies like Uber and P&G paused their digital spending to see what would happen. The results? Sales and downloads were basically the same.  

This chart shows the difference in sales after pausing their digital spending.

If people don’t like digital ads, and brands aren’t profiting, digital advertising is looking like a lose-lose situation. 

Brands are trying real hard not to be annoying.

Marketers have been looking for ways to make digital ads more liked and trusted in order to garner better results. What have they been doing?

Some marketers decided to go deeper into the digital space, exploring new territories such as VR, AR, and the metaverse. However, beyond the initial hype, people were not ready or fully comfortable in this space yet. As a result, brands were only reaching the select few still interested. 

This Google Trends chart shows how people’s interest in the metaverse slowly declined after its initial hype.

Brands have also been adjusting algorithms and creating fresh formats. Twitch, for example, created Multiplayer Ads, a new type of interactive video ad where viewers watch the same ad, at the same time during a stream. As a real-time poll viewers can interact with. This format brings a more immersive and interactive experience that people would not only value more but they would feel like it’s not an isolated interaction. It would be a two way interaction instead.

Twitch’s new interactive Multiplayer ads give users a direct way to support their favourite creators. (Source: Twitch Help)

But neither of these solve the core problem: people don’t have trust in digital. Studies have shown people tend to trust traditional advertising way more than digital—80% vs. 40%, respectively. 

Why don’t we look at what’s worked in the past?

When we look at why traditional advertising worked, it comes down to three main principles: brand building, credibility, and relationship building. Let’s dive into each of them.

Brand building 

Digital advertising is often focused on the product, selling or making it known. But we don’t see enough digital ads that actually speak to the brand and their messaging. Nowadays, consumers pay even more attention to what brands stand for and their values. When people think of a brand, an adjective should come to mind. BMW is fast. Volvo is safe. Patagonia is sustainable. 

This print ad is a testament to the strong brand Coca-Cola has built. Its shape, colour, and values are easy to imagine because they’ve been consistently represented year over year. This ad continues this brand building work by tapping into social causes like inclusivity and diversity to double down on their message: Coke is for everyone.

Coca Cola Together—Love, 2015


Historically, if people saw a brand on a magazine or billboard they were more likely to not only recognize the brand but to trust it. Why? Because not all brands had the chance to advertise on a limited space. Nowadays, every brand can advertise on a digital space because it seems to be infinite. As a result, brands have to put more effort into gaining people’s trust, from creating a robust online presence to being authentic and transparent.

Relationship building 

It seems that digital ads are able to obtain the immediate sales brands would like to get. However, in order to foster long-term loyal customers, brands need to tap into the human side of things. After all, we’re marketing to humans.

White Claw’s Icy Wall is a great example. It taps into a human need: a cool place in scorching summer weather. Without asking for anything in return or explicitly selling product, it gave pedestrians a chance to feel how refreshing White Claw is. 

White Claw’s cooling billboard refreshes passer-bys during the scorching UK summer. (Source: The Spirits Business)

Brand known, brand owned.

As the latin word “advertere” means ‘turn the mind towards’, effective advertising shouldn’t be transactional. Instead of simply selling a product, ads should be an opportunity to earn the attention of a potential customer and make them believe in and live the brand. 

In the difficult economic times we are currently living in, marketing budgets will be impacted, meaning it’s never been more important to create compelling brand stories. The unfortunate reality is that this simply isn’t happening. 

So, in order to stand out in the digital space, brands must move beyond only focusing on performance metrics and start focusing on what the brand stands for and what it means for its audience.

People want to feel like they are part of a story and nurturing that sense of belonging does not come with offering a product on an online banner or having a transactional call-to-action. Brands that tell stories and prioritise relationships over transactional performance metrics will stand big and those who don’t might just take the risk of falling into irrelevance. 

Hot XM Summer

Into the Metaverse

By: Alex Alvernia, Senior Art Director

After the launch of the Metaverse, described as a “universal economy of collaboration and co-creation”, we’re expecting to see a lot more brands dip their toes into this virtual world. Some might say that the concept of the Metaverse is experiential in itself, as it allows for brands to connect people, places, and things together by integrating e-commerce, virtual reality, augmented reality and interactive social media, all in one “place”. But, we don’t expect brands to keep it strictly virtual. Hybrids like Balenciaga x Fortnite that merge physical and virtual experiences will be a cornerstone of future XM activations. By not limiting the interactions between brands and audiences to physical geographic locations, it allows a larger audience of consumers to have an opportunity to interact with your brand, whether they can attend IRL or not. We’ll also see more brands minting limited-edition NFTs to help boost their brand image, tell brand stories, and open new avenues for revenue streams from their audiences.

The Open Air Playground

By: Gigi Rabnett, XM Account Director

2020 paved the way for groundbreaking event technologies, and proved consumers are all-in on virtual. 2021 saw event concepts bring new meaning to ‘phygital’; experiences became more intimate, more interactive, and more hybrid. Three calendar years into the pandemic, and brands are rediscovering the great outdoors as a platform. As we evolve and adapt to new virtual realities, marketers are rewriting the rules of the traditional event, and the traditional venue. Yes, weather contingencies should be top of mind, but with its seal of safety, this summer the most unique experiences will happen outdoors—on the water, on city streets, on murals, in backyards, and at the retail level. The open air, in all its dimensions, is a playground for experiential thinking, and we can expect to see the traditional event format turned on its head.

So what? 

From hyper realistic, interactive OOH activations to guerrilla campaigns, brands have the opportunity to claim new real estate and level up their xm strategies.

Think Footprint

By: Francesca Noto, Account Director

We’re starting to see a shift in the experiential marketing space, with a greater global focus and consumer demand for even more sustainably conscious brands and brand activation. Marketers should consider designing the planning process from the ground up, through an ecologically-conscious lens. Brands can lessen their environmental impact and promote more sustainable marketing efforts by: reducing waste generated from large scale events, cutting back on air travel and ground transportation, leveraging energy efficient vehicles & technology onsite, partnering with vendors that utilize recyclable materials, choosing alternative energy sources, donating materials post-event to charities, subscriptions or donations as gifting options and shifting to a digital/virtual format are just a few effective tactics that can deliver measurable results. Not only does this make an impact on the planet, but through compelling storytelling of the efforts it can make a real impact on the business as well.

It’s Play Time

By: Sam McCourt, Art Director

Immersive experiences are not new to experiential marketing, but unfortunately access to these types of activations have been off limits. With summer coming, restrictions lifted, and our sense of playful exploration returning, we expect brands to offer a heightened version of these types of sensorial programs once again by tapping into play. Brands will seek to transport people out of their ordinary routines and into an immersive joyful world, where they can explore and consume brand content organically, in interesting and playful ways. And it’s no wonder after the year(s) we have had; fun and play have innate positive effects on us and help to determine what we learn and retain. Just think back to foundational learning in children, dripping in music, performance, sport, art, and imagination. Marketers should consider the inner child inside all of us to transport consumers from the mundane and into something special.

Local Rediscovery

By: Alex Jesus, Producer

Recently, the visceral need for travel has spiked. We are all craving to have experiences like we did pre-pandemic. But, with fear in long-haul travel still in the public mindset, rising costs of living, plus government incentives, many Canadians are looking locally to scratch their travel itch. And with this, a true appreciation and curiosity for what lays just outside our front doors is rising. We’ve been seeing more and more social media posts sharing adventures that are accessible to locals during the pandemic—lesser known hiking trails or beaches, historical insights about storied areas or ‘I bet you wouldn’t think this is 2 hours out of the city’ photos. Plus, Mix shop local has never been a bigger message, not only to lend support to those in the community during this harsh time but to share the true value in purchasing goods that are worth more than just their price tag. Mix this all together and 2022 is shaping up to be about rediscovering the value in our backyards. Brands who unlock these stories, demonstrate local knowledge and simply celebrate what we have all around us will be endeared. But how?

Established brands are seeing this trend and leaning into collaborations with local brands for more community relevance. These collaborations make it possible to amplify shared values, and serve to provide the quintessential surprise-and-delight moment for consumers. We’re seeing this trend in fashion (think OVO x UofT), all the way down to dairy if you can believe it. Milk developed a pop up on Queen St. in Toronto and partnered with local artisans like COPs and Sheezus for giveaways, as well as home-grown artists Adam the Illustrator and Lindsey Gazel, who were engaged to develop marketing materials, swag and more. This is a great example of how highlighting the talent in your neighbourhood can give your brand major credibility and propel a narrative of how close to home your impact really is.

All for One and One for All; aka the death of VIP

By: Chelsea Mills, Senior Account Director

As we emerge into a post-lockdown world and experiential moves from virtual to hybrid or even IRL again, we’re seeing an effort to make experiences and events more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Brands are now able to leverage a physical activation as a halo for content, which can be expanded, personalized, and deepened via technology, and reach more people that may have faced a barrier to participation (such as accessibility, cost, and travel challenges, to name a few) in the past. Live-streaming from events to reach larger audiences will become standard. What’s more, as more and more brands start to effectively cater to the needs of diverse and niche consumers, people are starting to see that they no longer need to just “accept” that they will be ignored, or underserved by the brands they want to engage with. And with more people able to participate in and enjoy more experiences, this effort towards inclusivity and notion of “no second class” helps fuel that sense of belonging and build community.

Life As A Mintern

The intern. The coffee-wielding, photocopying, frazzled student who works long hours with little–to–no pay. You know the type. It’s Anne Hathaway, missing her boyfriend’s birthday to run a menial task for her evil boss. It’s Will Smith, struggling to care for his son while working an unpaid internship at a giant company. Growing up, movies like The Devil Wears Prada and The Pursuit of Happyness prepared us for internships the way our parents prepared us for real life: with horror stories. 

But just like body standards, apartment sizes in New York, and the probability of a tornado composed entirely of sharks, terrible internships are another unrealistic expectation that the film industry has given us. 

So we’re going to break down a few common tropes and how they’re different at Mint.

It’s not dog eat dog – it’s dog help dog 

Because dogs are pack animals. So it’s more of a dog help dog world. At Mint, working on a brief sometimes involves every department. From accounts to strategy, everyone puts in their two cents to help the creative process. Nobody is stealing your ideas because everyone is part of your ideas. When work on a recent brand-that-must-not-be-named got too overwhelming, we had a cross-department brainstorm to find the best way to make an execution happen. And not only did we win the pitch, we also got a few endorsements for “teamwork” on our LinkedIns. Ka-ching! 

It’s no longer late nights with little-to-no pay

Thanks to a recent ground-breaking Canadian law that deemed interns to be living, breathing humans, most companies are required to offer some kind of salary or stipend. Many agencies have added perks on top of that. For example, Mint doesn’t just help us pay our bills. They also pay our parents’, because we can finally expense our phone bills and get off the family plan. For now.  

Regarding the late nights—sure, there might be a few of them. But late nights and client pitches are often followed by periods of relaxation, which generally make all that work worth your while. That, and the legendary Mint office parties. 

You don’t need to overwork yourself to get yourself noticed

It’s true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But in a time when most of us are still working from home, staying up until midnight overworking yourself isn’t going to get you noticed. Because let’s be honest–we work in a creative milieu. Working yourself too hard will make your ideas worse, not better. What’s actually going to make you stand out is making yourself available when you have the bandwidth so you can give all you can possibly give.

It also helps to work at an agency like Mint that prioritizes a healthy work-life balance. Our Creative Services Manager extraordinaire Gilda is constantly checking in to see if we have too much or not enough work. Because of this, we’ve had the opportunity to pick up work on big clients like Google or Youtube. 

We also only book meetings between 10am and 4pm (2pm on Fridays!) so that everyone can focus on getting their best work done. Because let’s be real—do you like receiving Slack messages at midnight? No? Neither does anyone else.

Interns actually do get work produced

As our biopic has yet to be produced, this one maybe isn’t in the movies. But we felt the need to add this point anyway. 

Plenty of your ideas are going to die on the editing room floor, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because while not all of your projects will add to your portfolio, all of them will add to your experience. Budget constraints? You learned the reality of production. Difficult director? One less person to work with in the future. Shoot cancelled the night before? That’s a day off!  

And while you may not be getting the giant briefs, working on briefs with smaller budgets can actually push your creativity. It may not win a Cannes (then again, maybe it will), but it will teach you to be crafty and cut corners. Besides, cutting corners doesn’t always have to be a bad thing—octagons sometimes look cooler than squares. 

Your mentors won’t ask you to fetch them coffee* 

The only thing expected of you as an intern is that you’re a hard worker and you’re hungry to learn. One of the greatest benefits of working at a smaller, independent agency means there are fewer rungs in the company ladder between you and the top dogs. At Mint, we have the added benefit of creative office hours, time every day where anyone can drop in to get feedback from our ECD, Kim. Beyond that, the senior leadership is always happy to jump on a call (Google Cal-dependent).

And it’s not just feedback on agency work that they’re happy to provide. Mint is filled with people who have different backgrounds and experience, with networks that are happily tapped into. When an intern, let’s call her Joan, wanted to move to Paris to pursue my—I mean her—dreams, she was met with encouragement and provided with plenty of contacts to reach out to. 

Overall, internships aren’t just beneficial to you—they’re beneficial to the company. From Account Directors to the Senior Copywriters, many of Mint’s top talents started as interns and gradually climbed the ranks. Sure, promotions come from hard work. But they also come from genuine enjoyment and self-fulfilment. So in conclusion, life isn’t always like the movies. But as an intern, that’s a good thing. 

*At editing time, Kim has expressed disappointment that we have never fetched her coffee. 

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