Sunday, September 30, 2012

So You Think Your Client Is Challenging? Meet His Boss.

One of the fun things about going on holiday is you meet people you would never normally meet.

Last week, on holiday, I met a guy who runs one of the country's Top 100 companies. His kids and my kids were hanging out, so he and I were kind of thrown together.

Naturally, I asked him what he thinks of his company's advertising (they are a heavy advertiser).

He said he thought it was quite good, but could be better. He then went on to talk about how, when he'd taken the job, he'd invited the entire marketing department for a barbecue at his house. And then grilled them.

"I asked each of them in turn," he told me, "what was the No.1 rational reason why a consumer should choose our company. Most of them couldn't answer. And some of them told me it wasn't important!"

He threw up his hands in exasperation.

"We have three fantastic competitive advantages," he went on, "and we're not building our advertising around them!"

He then outlined for me these competitive advantages. As I have worked in this sector quite a bit myself, I know that consumers don't care much about those particular advantages. Maybe they should, but they don't. As always, they don't base their purchase decision on the rational factors.

I also know a little about the challenges his particular brand faces - for various reasons, it just isn't very popular, and is also seen as a bit old-fashioned. And I'm guessing that everyone in the marketing department are aware of this, because they are producing advertising that is modern and likeable.

But the big boss didn't get it. When I tried to explain, he shut me down.

It was all very depressing.

He was obsessed with communicating the rational stuff... and scoffed when I brought up the question of likeability, implying that I was some kind of hopelessly uncommercial hippy. I should explain that he himself, like probably most CEO's, was extremely left-brained - he was a former lawyer.

But my main take-away from this conversation, apart from a mild depression, was a new-found respect for this guy's marketing director, whoever that is. In the teeth of this demanding (and deluded) character, the marketing director is running the right advertising.

We all occasionally find clients challenging. We wish they'd take more risks, approve work that's more creative.

I guess we should remember who they have to get our work approved by.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Branding Should Be In An Ad's DNA, Not Like The Branding On A Cow

This ad that came out the other day, for Cathedral City cheese, is not a good ad, but that's not my point. My point is that at 18 seconds in, a Cathedral City delivery truck randomly drives past. Twice.

Why? For 'branding'.

The purpose of branding - which I wholeheartedly agree with - is to prevent misattribution. If people don't know who an ad is for, it's a waste of money. Or worse - it may benefit the competition.

But where I disagree with most clients, in fact where I become borderline irate, is over the question of what constitutes a well branded ad.

Too many clients believe in branding in the sense of 'branding like a cow', i.e. making sure their name is stamped on the ad. They feel that good branding equates to lots of branding, obvious branding, early branding, or all of the above. They will tell you that 'research proves' that ads should be clearly branded, and that the brand should preferably be referenced up front.

Actually, this is false.

Who says it's false? The high priests themselves, Millward Brown.

In 2006, Millward Brown studied a gazillion ads, to work out where was the best place to put the branding - beginning, middle, or end. And what did the study find? It found there was no difference. In other words, there was no correlation at all - zero - between when the branding came in, and how 'well branded' an ad was (using here the proper definition of the term - correct attribution by the consumer). So there is absolutely no need to drive a Cathedral City cheese truck through the beginning of the ad.

In fact there are good scientific reasons why you shouldn't drive the cheese truck. If it gives away a later plot twist, it may significantly reduce engagement and enjoyment. That is, if the enjoyment levels of this ad could actually be driven any lower.

Nor, interestingly, did the number of times that the branding was repeated make any difference.

So what did make a difference to the branding scores? What made a difference was when the branding was introduced memorably, and (I kid you not, this is Millward Brown talking) "with the intelligent application of creativity". Read the report here (it's quite short, and very interesting).

Below is an ad that I consider to be well-branded, although the branding doesn't come until the very end. The reason it's well branded is that the ad sets up an intriguing idea, which only makes sense with the reveal of the brand name at the end.

In fact, this ad adheres to an even higher standard of branding, that goes far beyond the question of 'at what point in the ad should the brand make an appearance'. The higher standard is that the entire ad should be imbued with the values of the brand. The entire ad should revolve around the proposition of the brand. The entire ad should be in the tone of voice of the brand. When you do that - when the entire ad, as in the case of the PlayStation commercial above, is built from the DNA of the brand - then attribution scores will be far higher than can be achieved by simply putting a picture of the brand on screen for a few seconds in an otherwise unrelated story. Yes, even if that picture covers the entire side of a truck.

Note. Reading this again, I may have been a bit harsh on clients. If an agency delivers them a comedy sketch with the brand plonked gratuitously on the end - which, let's face it, we are guilty of far too often - then small wonder that the client feels compelled to reach for the branding iron, in a vain attempt to put their own stamp onto what would otherwise be an entirely generic piece of communication. Then again, they could always reject the concept I suppose.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Double-Headed Propositions And How To Decapitate Them

It's more than 70 years since Rosser Reeves coined the term USP or Unique Selling Proposition.

For at least the last 18 years (as long as I've been in the industry), the proposition box on a brief has been labelled 'Single-Minded Proposition'. 

And just compiling (off the top of my head) a list of recent successful ad campaigns, they're all based on a single prop:

     Sony - colour
     Canal+ "wardrobe" - storytelling
     Cadburys - joy
     Toyota "border security" - tough
     Chrysler - from Detroit
So you'd think people would know by now.

But they don't.

I still regularly see double-headed propositions

Even triple-headers. (A triple that I remember fondly from my time at Saatchi's was a prop for scratchcards: "The fun way to win lots of money in an instant." Three concepts - fun, wealth, speed. Oh dear.)

An especially tricky customer is the disguised double-header. For example, "Value." It's a single word, so on the face of it, shouldn't that be a single-minded proposition? Actually, no. "Value" doesn't mean "Cheap". It means "Product that is better quality than you can usually find at this price." So "Value" is really a double-headed prop, because you need to say something about both price and quality to fulfill it.

The cause of these doubles is clients who don't quite know what they want to say, and agency planners and account teams who fail to convince them to choose a direction. Of course, picking a position is stressful - you're giving up something that you could say. But the effect of not doing so is usually to end up with an ad that is perfect as breakfast for a dog.

Unless... the creatives can successfully decapitate one of the heads on that double-headed prop.

There are two ways to do it. 
Option One is to decide which of the two props is best, and work to that. Be honest - tell everyone that's what you've done, and why. Often they're relieved that someone is prepared to make a decision. If the authorities kick up a fuss that part of the prop isn't included, put a passing reference to it in the endline, the voiceover, or a line of dialogue. Then say "Look - there it is!"

Option Two is to find a single concept that can link the two propositions. That's what Andrew Fraser did - brilliantly - in this Volkswagen campaign out of DDB London known as 'Surprisingly ordinary prices.' 

The concept of "Surprise" is a single thought, which links the two props of "High quality" and "Low price" embedded within the Value brief.

Good luck, and happy decapitating.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Where Creatives Commonly Lose Their Way, And How Drawing A Map Can Help

One of the biggest challenges in developing work is hitting the right Tone Of Voice.

We all know that our ideas have to be On Brief; we understand and accept that however great an idea is, it will rarely get presented to client - let alone bought - unless it's On Brief. 

But our understanding of On Tone (and Off Tone) is at a lower level.

Ideas routinely get as far as being presented to client, only to be rejected because they're "not right for the brand." 

Partly this is excusable because the client will invariably have a better understanding of their own brand than the agency does, since they are the brand owners.

But some of it is the agency's fault. Planners and Account Handlers can be vague about the required tone (how over-used is the word 'Witty' on a brief?) But mostly, it's Creatives that just get it wrong. This is a failing that's well worth eradicating, since any idea you spend time on but which doesn't end up getting bought, is a waste of your time. And anything that helps you get more of your ideas bought and made, makes you more successful.

I think the fault arises because there is a tone of voice that the typical creative (male, aged 22 to 35) is drawn to. You know the tone I mean. Clever, funny, and maybe slightly daring and modern. Like this.

If the client wants this sort of ad, great. It's just the kind of ad creatives love to write. But what if the brand is something else? What if it's serious, traditional, feminine or businessy? Then Creatives often lose their way, and keep on presenting ideas that are clever, funny, modern and daring. Ideas that don't get bought.

Tone of Voice is the last box on the brief, and often the last thing Creatives think about.

I'd suggest it's worth thinking about it a bit more. Making sure you've got a thorough understanding of the tonal territory before you begin concepting.

And the easiest way to find that territory, is with a map.

Making the map is very easy, and takes just a minute or two. All you need to do is pick three adjectives that, together, define the brand. 

That's all it takes - three adjectives.

Because the fantastic thing about cartography is that you can define any point in the universe with only three coordinates.

Once you have your three adjectives (work with the Planner on this), the point at which they intersect is the right tone. 

Sometimes, because I'm pretty much a geek, I literally do a drawing - either a Venn diagram with three circles, or a triangle with three sides. The bit in the middle is your tonal territory.

If you're thinking that this approach could be creatively limiting...

It is.

But it hopefully limits you to ideas that have a good chance of getting bought.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sorry, WWF. I Think The Era Of Scam May Be Coming To An End

I never had anything against the ethos behind scam.

There's nothing wrong with an ambition to do great work, especially if that ambition is unfulfilled because you're in a not-very-creative agency, or you're relatively junior and not being given the good briefs. And there's nothing wrong with an ambition to win awards, and further your career.

It's just the lying I didn't like.  

Entering scam work into awards meant pretending it had run when it hadn't, or not properly, at any rate. Sometimes it meant pretending a client had signed it off when in fact they'd never even seen it. And sometimes it meant pretending to yourself... that you were doing something worthwhile, when the reality is there's nothing worthwhile about a WWF print ad that's only ever seen by Cannes jurymembers. 

But recently, I've noticed a few pieces of evidence which suggest that creatives' excess creative energy is starting to be put to better use.

Last year, there was the 'Keep Aaron Cutting' project, which saw 3 BBH interns taking to social media and raising 35,000 pounds to rebuild 89 year old Aaron Biber's barbershop, which had been destroyed by rioters. Read The Case Study here.

Last week, another team (coincidentally also from BBH) Viv Yapp and AK Parker, created a web app called Amateur Art Restorer which mocked the efforts of Cecilia Gimenez, the cack-handed 85 year-old art restorer of Zaragoza, and allowed you to try your own.

Also last week, Melbourne-based digital art director Julian Frost created an iPhone app called Toybox, whose simple premise is it allows you to play two games at once.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, creatives are now starting to make side-projects that are not only more creative than a fake DPS for Save The Donkeys, but which get seen by more people, and which might actually make something happen - like raise money, either for a charity, or themselves.

Most importantly of all... if you were an ECD, what would you be more impressed to see in a team's book: a print ad for a charity that never ran, or something super-fun like the Amateur Art Restorer app?

If the trend continues, it will mean fewer ads for the nation's Dog Obedience Schools and Pedestrian Councils.

But it's good news for the rest of us.