LONDON: Most brands are failing to adapt to the opportunities of the digital era, simply overlaying old, intrusive marketing techniques onto new media and making bold promises in a mistaken effort to engage emotionally with consumers.

That is the broad thrust of 'The Age of Less', the Admap Prize-winning essay from Megan Averell, an account director at GALKAL, an independent Australian strategy and research company. Entrants to the Prize, sponsored by Kantar, were asked to write on the subject of how brands are built in the digital age. The awarded essays can be read in full here; Warc subscribers can also view the commended essays.

Averell argues that marketers have not altered their basic approach of getting as much reach for a brand as they can for the money available, and with digital media so cheap they now have multiple new ways to do so. The result has been that, far from digital enabling a dialogue between consumer and brand, it has instead become "a busy one-way street in which the consumer dodges oncoming traffic".

She is also critical of the way advertisers have latched onto emotionally led communications, regardless of whether a brand is actually capable of delivering on that emotion. Too often, she suggests, brands have been guilty of using an emotional promise to misdirect attention away from the product or service itself.

In any case, she asks, "Where did they get the misplaced notion that they would make us feel happy?"

The brands that display the greatest understanding of the digital age are headed in the opposite direction, Averell avers, showing restraint and avoiding emotional baggage. For them, marketing is about brand truth, "winning the respect of consumers by saying what they can do as plainly as possible and admitting what they can't do".

Brands such as Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's and Innocent invest in exceeding expectations with their product, service and experience, with marketing simply the icing on the cake. Consequently they are forging closer customer relationships and opening up that two-way dialogue as consumers willingly come to them.

Commenting on Averell's essay, Marc Mathieu, senior vice-president, marketing, Unilever and a Prize judge, said she "presents in a most compelling way why we need to stop using digital to try to do more of the marketing we once did, and to start doing marketing as it can be in the digital age – with more of the right sort of change and more truthfulness, rather than just more!"

The Gold award and a $5,000 cheque will be presented to Averell at a special Admap Prize celebration event at Cannes Lions on June 16th.

Data sourced from Admap