Sunday, May 19, 2013

There is no Year 2

On being presented with a piece of work, clients, suits and planners are inordinately fond of asking us to "demonstrate that it's a big idea."

For this we have to prepare multiple executions, in multiple media... and above all, "show us how it would work in year 2, year 3 and year 5."

But in reality, Year 2 never comes.

When I was a young copywriter, nearly every brand seemed to have a long-running campaign. Just off the top of my head there was 'Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach', 'Australians couldn't give a XXXX for any other lager', 'No nonsense' for John Smith's, 'Good things come to those who wait' for Guinness... and that's just in the beer category.

Cars, department stores, food products...they all had proper campaigns.

But today, very few brands do. There are one or two exceptions, such as Snickers' 'You're not you when you're hungry', but the vast majority of brands just do a series of one-offs.

Snickers - last of the great campaigns?

Even some series that people think are campaigns, and cite as campaigns, really aren't. For example, the excellent John Lewis ads are all really one-offs, held together by a tone of voice. So are the Skittles ads, all Volkswagen ads, and BMW ads. 

So why the change?

Maybe agencies have less patience nowadays. Maybe it's to do with marketing directors moving around faster than the wurlitzer rides in a funfair. To be honest, I don't know.

But I actually don't care. I just wish everyone would accept that this is the case, and let us get on with making a series of cool one-offs. As long as they're all on-brand and on-tone, what does it matter?

Nike have almost never had campaigns. Nor have Apple.

So I suggest we all stop spuriously worrying about whether an idea will have longevity, and concentrate on the far more important question of whether it will have impact. 

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Goddamn you speak sense. This is the most poignant comment I've read in a long while. It must be sent to everyone.

Anonymous said...

That piece is going straight to ''allstaff''. Thanks!

lolz said...

Couldn't agree more. But does anyone actually say that to a client? Do they f*ck.

Old CD Guy said...

Without ever having met you Simon, I instinctively identified with all of your previous columns and felt I had in you a highly intelligent, unusually articulate kindred spirit. However you've now lost me. A campaign is everything because it builds the way a consumer feels about a brand. Advertising is about far more than a quick laugh or a brilliantly expressed insight. Sure, I did my share of brilliant one-offs and have the awards to show for them. Some of those one-offs developed into campaigns, one in particular ran in over 20 countries and for over 20 years until quite recently. Sure it's far harder to devise a campaign and I totally agree that years 2, 3 4 and beyond usually never happen, and often for the reasons you've outlined, just to mention a few. But that should never be your mindset when you start out. How does your boss Adam feel about your stance on campaigns? Hmmm, I'm sure that would be interesting. Love, Old CD guy.

Scamp said...

Dear Old CD Guy, thank you for your kind words about my columns. I am an admirer of your comments also. Perhaps we should get a room?

And I am pleased that you have at last found one you disagree with, because if everyone agreed with everything I said it would mean the columns were too bland!

Though I must point out that I am not arguing we should never present campaign ideas. Au contraire. We should. And must. But we should also be aware that sometimes a visual style, a tone of voice, or a 'mission' are more effective (and more modern) unifiers than a tagline. Like Nike and Apple.

By the way, Adam's not my boss! Though I will admit he is pretty good at getting people to do what he wants them to do...

Ben said...

Apple had Silhouettes and Mac vs PC.

Scamp said...

True. And 'Think different'. But that's only 3 campaigns in the last 15 years...

Chizzy said...

Hey Simon, interesting subject to raise. I remember you and me talking about campaigns versus 'one-off's when we worked together. Always good conversation. I agree that there are very few good big ideas (longevity, breadth, scale) these days, and yes, it's probably because there are very few custodians that care and protect the idea over time - in the agency and at client side. However, agencies should be encouraging clients to build big ideas, stick with them and help them understand why they are so important. Agencies that don't are irresponsible, incompetent, or just not really aware of how advertising works. I've just seen even more evidence that proves the impressive ROI of this approach through my links with Mars. Advertising that creates and build 'distinctive memory structures' (established by past encounters with the brand) are far more effective. That said, the big idea still needs to be executed as good single pieces of work. I'd swap 10 years of good one-off, unrelated ads for a shit big idea that remains around for 10 years. Big ideas are hard to come by, but they are so worth it. Brand campaigns that build and develop distinctive assets in the mind of the punter through these kind of ideas are more likely to noticed, remembered, and understood, without fail. The conversation with your planners and clients should be around what your distinctive assets are currently, and what can the creative process create from new to become distinctive assets of the future. Skittles has a big idea that delivers some very powerful distinctive assets - it doesn't have to be the same story, over and over. Compare the meerkat is a different type of big idea based on a character that's synonymous with the brand. There are heaps more! The advertising that delivers those assets consistently has to be great, of course - and perhaps we just don't have many great big ideas these days. But don't underestimate the power of distinctiveness created through these 'big ideas'. We should always be striving for big ideas, and one-offs should be seen as a symptom of bad brand management.

Scamp said...

Hi Chizzy, great to hear from you. And a good point well made. Mars seems to be one of the few marketing companies out there that is still successfully creating campaigns. Snickers and Skittles are good examples. As is, dare I say it, the Food Creatures...

Chizzy said...

Re: Food creatures...No comment.

Anyway, yes, Mars do value big ideas (longevity, breadth, scale) for many reasons - the latest being their Whiskas work.

Not that they nail it every time, and I do think that sometimes the quest for longevity, breadth, and scale can often sacrifice quality of originality and impact, but, worth striving for, nonetheless.

Hope you're well, mate.