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.


Anonymous said...

And as I recall, some pretty special work came out of "Small, but tough" too. So double headed briefs can be just as good too.

Anonymous said...

I have never had a single minded proposition. Lucky if I get a double.

shotmug said...

I wish to God this kind of thinking was in evidence in any of the many agencies I've worked in. I quickly get a reputation as being 'difficult' because I question briefs with bad props (I don't think I've seen a true USP) since Award School.

Anonymous said...

Have always loved that VW campaign. One thing that makes it work is the VW brand, built up over decades. Hundreds of millions of dollars invested in telling the world that VW = quality.

So when a value brief appears, the creatives can trade off the perception that no one expects to see such high quality at a lowish price. Surprise!

Wouldn't work for Ford, for instance.

Lubomir said...

Hey, Scamp I have a case for you - it’s about judging creative work.

I think last month I’ve watched a video about the judging process for Black pencils at D&’s on youtube... I remember that David Droga liked a particular campaign because of its strong idea but then some other judge said “But the result of the campaign was 0” - and they started to argue.

Now today I had the same argument at our office - last weekend we had our national creative awards - in one of the categories the big award went to a political campaign. Nicely shot, well narrated - my problem is that the candidate remained third or forth in the race... so the result of the campaign is that... it lost the elections... but still the ad judges gave it an award...

So what you think - if you are a judge will you vote for it?

Scamp said...

Hi Lubomir.

Difficult question, difficult answer.

For me, it is an important part of judging the creativity of an idea, to decide whether it would actually work.

If an ad is extremely clever, beautiful or funny (for example) but we feel it wouldn't work then it is definitely lacking something. Persuasive power, I guess.

However, whether an ad 'would' work is completely different from whether it 'did' work.

In advertising, we only control the advertising. A brilliant ad won't work if the client prices the product wrongly, if the distribution is flawed, or if technology changes the market, or a better competitor comes along.

In the case of your political campaign, I don't know the circumstances. But what you need to judge, even if you can only do so subjectively, is whether the ads were persuasive as ads - ignoring all other factors such as whether there were other parties with better leaders, better policies, etc. Hard to do, I know.

But who knows? Maybe with worse advertising, this party would have come fifth rather than fourth...

cuts both ways said...

Why is it that ideas/ads always get interrogated, sometimes beyond belief, yet briefs seem to sail through unscathed?

I think briefs should be critiqued just as heavily as the creative work is.

Then you'd end up with better briefs. And better work.

Old enough to know better, young enough to still be doing it said...

Can I offer a tiny tid-bit of information that's worked for me many times...

If the brief's vague, see it as an opportunity to interpret it however you see fit.

Which means come up with an awesome ad and go 'oh.... how is that off brief? I mean I was just looking at this part of the brief out of the million other ones....'

Loose briefs are a blessing in disguise. It's the tight as a nun's nasty ones you need to worry about.

Lubomir said...

Thanks, Scamp!

I’ve asked about it Ben Kay too and he said (almost) the same thing.
I am still in a dilemma about the particular campaign but I am sure that you both are telepathic :)


P.S. About the one proposition brief... what's that? ha-ha

Martin said...

Joy is not unique to chocolate, making good colour screens is not unique to Sony, telling a good story is not unique to Canal+. But it is one thing that is true and that they do well. Dramatize that in a creative way and it will stick in the consumer's mind and swim to the surface when they're making a buying decision.

The attempt to say something no one else can say is what leads to multiple attributes being combined. (Other people are cheaper, other people are more convenient, no one has our unique combination of cheapness and convenience).

USP's are your problem, not your solution.

Scamp said...

Martin, good point and I agree with it. My riposte to people who claim that a proposition isn't 'ownable' because it isn't unique, is that it can be ownable if it is said in the brand's distinctive tone of voice. For example, many car brands talk about performance, but only BMW says it like BMW.