Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's Christmas!

Happy festival of capitalism, everybody!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Of Course You Can Crack Any Brief. But What If There's Two?

Sometimes, the agency brief is not the only brief. Sometimes, the client writes their own brief first. And then the agency writes a brief based on that (called a 'reverse brief').

This system, quite frankly, sucks balls.

Because when you have two briefs, the potential for confusion is immense.
I remember one occasion at a previous agency, when the most senior client had a strong view on what their next ad should be about. This was translated by their team into a client brief. Which was then translated by our team into a reverse brief. The proposition our creatives got was 'fun'. We duly wrote ads to fun. But when the work got back to the senior client, it had apparently wildly diverged from what was wanted - they had asked for ads about 'great service.'

Again I quote Mark Fitzloff, Global ECD of W&K, who said in a recent panel discussion: "Everyone between the CD and the most senior client is playing a game of telephone." ('Telephone' in some countries is called 'Chinese Whispers'). At first I thought this was a tad arrogant. But maybe he's right...

Having a great strategy is a great advantage in the creation of advertising. But even the best strategy will be unhelpful if it's one of two.

Maybe we have to accept that sometimes the client has their brief, and that's what they want answered. Planning was invented in an age when clients walked in with a product and not much else. It was up to the agency to decide how to sell that product. Nowadays, the client often has their own insights manager, has done their own research, and has their own view on what they want to say. What they want the agency to do, is to say that well. Not write another brief.  

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Worst Brief In The World the agency Christmas card.

Why? Well there are plenty of briefs on which creatives complain "everything's been done."

But in the case of the agency Christmas card, that might just be true.

You can see a mahoosive collection of them here and here.

So what to do?

Well, obviously it has to be something digital. You don't want to imply that your agency is a stegasaurus.

Though the irony is that although it's the most 'instant' medium, anything digital actually takes longer to make. And is often expensive.

Over the years, Mother London have probably produced the most interesting examples. The one that still sticks in my mind is this video, in which Mary and Joseph are depicted as modern-day asylum seekers, and get turned away by every hotel in London.

But that was 10 years ago.

I wonder if, by now, 'digi-card fatigue' is setting in.

Will clients and rivals truly be wowed by "a Christmas gif for you" turning up in their inbox? Or will they simply press 'delete'?

Uber-planner Russell Davies writes in his Campaign column this week: "Don’t do an agency Christmas card... no-one wants a Christmas wish from a corporation."

And he might have a point.

Especially when you consider that, for the same cost as that self-indulgent e-card, you could send every client a bottle of champagne.

I know which I'd rather get...

Sunday, December 01, 2013

What's Bigger, Your Ego Or Your Insecurity?

Last week I bought 2,000 Twitter followers.

It only cost me $5, via, and now my mundane Twitterings are reaching two thousand more individuals than they did before. Largely in Bangladesh, I gather.

I'm not quite sure why I did it, but if pushed, I would have to say it was either ego or insecurity. 

Having insecurity means worrying that everything you do is shit, or meaningless, or both. Having ego means other people think you're a dick.

Creatives are regularly slammed for being egotistical. We're told that we shouldn't think of ourselves as the most important people in the agency, and that it's wrong to believe that all of one's ideas are brilliant.

But conversely, we are also viewed as insecure. People accuse us of getting overly defensive when our work is criticised. We also exhibit other insecure traits, such as envy, and a constant need for validation in the form of awards.

Is it possible to be both egotistical and insecure at the same time?

I guess it must be.

One of John Lennon's biographers, Larry Kane, wrote: “People would be surprised at how insecure he was, and his lack of self-esteem. Throughout his life, even during the height of Beatlemania, he had poor self-esteem, even though he exuded confidence.”

Another point: Insecurity is only a problem for those who have it, whereas Ego affects everyone around them. Maybe that's why the phrase "Creative insecurity" returns 7.1 million Google results (in just 0.27 seconds!) whereas "Creative ego" gets a whopping 50 million. 

I don't know. For us, it's a simple cause-and-effect, isn't it? We have the urge to be creative, but because what we create is out there for all to see, we feel insecure about whether anyone will like it - and in fact people are queuing up to tell us what's wrong with it. Therefore, we are forced to develop an ego, just to survive until Friday.

Does that describe you?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The One Place Where Teamwork Doesn't Work

Last week, AMV BBDO promoted Paul Brazier to Chief Creative Officer.

"Creatives start fightback against the bean counters," screamed the headline in Campaign.

Now, obviously I'm delighted to see a creative (and by all accounts a highly talented one) taking a spot in the 'C-Suite', alongside the CEO and CFO.

But although ours is an industry built on teamwork, is it really appropriate at the top?

I'm always amazed that a start-up - typically an equal partnership between three individuals from the disciplines of creative, strategy, and account management - is able to function, when you consider the average size of these people's ego's.

I suppose what happens in reality is that the account man, the person whose actual skill is leadership, ends up running it.

Apparently Wieden & Kennedy take deliberate steps to prevent this happening. Mark Fitzloff, Global ECD of W&K, explained in a panel discussion that Dan Wieden insists every W&K office is run by two creative people and only one account person, because "If you have one creative person and one account person running a company, there will be a death-match, and the account person will kill the creative person. Because they will be better prepared for the fight... it will be in their schedule." 

It's an amusing story, but for me it still illustrates the central problem of having a team run things - there will be a fight.

And fighting is a waste of energy.

Call me old-fashioned, or a fascist, or both, but I believe in having one CEO on top.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that person has to be a suit. There are numerous examples of successful CEO's coming from a planning or even a creative background.

I don't care what discipline the leader comes from.

But in the words of Highlander, surely 'there can be only one.'

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What's The Point Of 'The Point Of Difference?'

At first sight, this infographic is so shameful it should make any self-respecting ad person want to crawl into his den with his tail between his legs.

It's a map showing how consumers perceive different financial brands. They're all spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising to explain why they're different, and why consumers should choose them over their competitors - and yet consumers just think they're all basically the same.

I got into an argument about this subject last week, over on Ad Contrarian, where I said that differentiation was hard to achieve, in today's era of product parity.

And a B2B guy called Tim Orr took me to task.

"In my opinion," he wrote, "'product parity' is mostly an excuse used by lazy ad people to justify not doing their homework. I once heard a talk by a guy who had made his living selling chemically pure sulfuric acid to industrial customers. There's no greater parity than that! And yet, somehow, he managed to differentiate his offer enough to beat his competition. Every product, every offering is different from every other. Find that difference and exploit it!" 

Unfortunately I'm not aware of the solution that Tim's acid salesman devised.

But I'm not sure I agree that laziness is the factor at play here. In my experience, ad people usually do put in the effort to find out everything about the product, and uncover differences. It's more of a deliberate decision not to use them.

Fallon probably discovered that Sony Bravia TV's have a special TLX-3000 chip in them or something, but decided it would be more effective to do a beautiful and emotive ad on a generic quality of colour TVs - great colour. Similarly, John Lewis has differentiators, but the agency has for the last few years been going with a generic 'emotion of Christmas' message, and it's leading to great work, sales are up, etc. Budweiser is brewed slightly differently (using rice) but consumers don't really care about that, and a generic fun/ socialising message ('Wassup') worked pretty well.

Maybe ad people have instinctively realised that product differences don't matter.

Martin Weigel, the Head of Planning at W&K Amsterdam and writer of the excellent Canalside View blog, has long argued that differentiation is pointless.

"Positioning theory argues that brands must develop and maintain  points of differentiation and uniqueness," he writes. "And who has not been in a strategy meeting which has centered around what our brand can ‘own’?  Yet the data repeatedly shows that if a characteristic matters in a category, it is shared by brands. Indeed, brands share characteristics more so than they exhibit marked differences."

Instead of trying to achieve differentiation, Martin argues we should just aim for salience. And hey, if one of the world's leading planners says that our objective should simply be to come up with some cool ads, then who am I to argue with him?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How Do You Storyboard A Smile?

Why is the latest John Lewis Christmas ad so good? In large part because it's so damn emotive.

And of course, that emotion comes through a lot more strongly in the finished ad than it would in the script.

The ad takes us all the way from super-sad hare... joyful hare.

Via wondrously surprised bear.

And as the animals feel, so do we.
Because our emotions are very linked to other peoples faces.

(It's irrelevant that the characters are animals in this ad, since the animators have given them basically human features).

Of course the ad is clever too, and has lovely music, but at its core it is just an incredibly successful elicitation of emotion, which then inevitably becomes associated with the brand.

It instantly reminded me of Bill Bernbach's famous "How do you storyboard a smile?" quote. With those six well-chosen words, Bernbach asserts the centrality of emotion in successful advertising, that the script is often only a fraction of the communication, and that performance and directing are so important. 

(The importance of emotion perhaps explains the recent success of all those Candid Camera-style ads, since little is more effective than seeing real people moved. Example - Dove Sketches). 

Bernbach reminds us that we should constantly be striving to put more emotion into our work, and to be courageous in explaining to people that we show our work to (whether that be creative directors, clients, or account teams) why something that seems quite basic and perhaps unimpressive on the page will actually be powerfully effective.

An old buddy of mine, David Chriswick, who is now a top strategist at DDB Chicago, tells me he has started using Paul Ekman's facial expression tool with clients when formulating a brief. 

(Paul Ekman is the psychologist who worked out that all emotions can be seen through no more than seven basic facial expressions, and this is universal from Amazonian Indians to London bankers.)

This chart helps Chizzy to have a conversation not just around messaging but "what emotion are we trying to elicit." Good on him, I say.  

Sunday, November 03, 2013

What's Your Brief Like?

I once asked a Creative who had changed agencies what the brief was like at his new place. He replied: "Same shit, different boxes."

It's certainly true that every agency is obsessed with having their own unique format of brief... but it probably has far less impact on the work than their culture and clients do.
And yet... the document does communicate something about the values of the agency behind it.

Some briefs are aggressively unconstrained (see Fallon's brief, above). Others have the complexity of a psychology examination. 

And of course, they do influence an agency's output to some extent. They must do.

We are in the process of overhauling our creative brief here at Naked right now, and it feels like an exciting time.

What form of words can we come up with, that will have an inspirational effect on everyone in the agency, and produce work that blows juries' bollocks off?

I quite like this BBDO one.

Then again, I do slightly worry - about this one and especially the Fallon one - that although they look fantastic, and feel like they offer a lot of creative freedom, they could actually trip the Creatives up; for example by not including crucial info like the desired tone of voice, or any mandatories that are realistically going to have to be addressed. Maybe these follow on a separate page, I don't know.

So what do you like to see in a briefing document? Is there a good one you've worked to in the past? 

Do you like to see stuff like the business problem or brand purpose in there? Do you get upset if there's no proposition? Or is the format of the briefing document pretty much irrelevant to you... as long as there's some clarity and insight, it could be written in comic sans on a piece of bog roll, for all you care? 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

I Am Actually Warming To Millward Brown

Like many creatives, I have always considered Millward Brown to be the anti-christ.

Everything I had heard from them seemed to be a guide to how to make ads worse. Often much worse.

And since nearly every ad on TV has 'passed' Millward Brown, but nearly every ad on TV is shit, I just assumed they were charlatans or fools.

But recently, I was sent a copy of one of MB's 'Knowledge Point' reports... and it's f***ing great.

Full of useful advice. And actual science to back up its claims. I tell you, the thing has rocked my world a little bit.

This particular report was about branding, and offers a beautifully balanced point of view.

They annihilate agencies who would make an 'art film' or 'random comedy sketch with the brand tacked on at the end', insisting that "The brand [should be] integral to the idea, story or structure," a thought which they also express as "Can I describe the story of this ad without mentioning the brand?"

But they also undermine the commonly-held view that an ad should have repeated packshots or branding, by demonstrating (with data) that "Strong branding is not achieved by showing the brand early or often." And "Brand linkage is not related to the time at which the brand appears in the ad" and "There is little relationship between the number of brand appearances and the branding score."
Best of all (for us creatives) - the Number 1 most important quality an ad needs, to score as well-branded, according to this new report from Millward Brown? "Creative stopping-power." (Which MB defines as 'involvement' and 'enjoyment')

Guys and girls, I reckon Millward Brown is our new best friend.

I'm now going to read the rest of the reports on their site. Maybe you should too.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Let's Play 'Fantasy Agency'!

Everyone keeps remarking that the current agency model is broken. But, they never propose a new one.

So here goes.

First let's look at the current model. It goes something like this:

(Click to embiggen)

For simplicity, I've left many people out, including Production, Reception, Security, I.T., U.X., Executive Assistance, Catering, and Technologists. Doesn't mean they're not important. They are. They're just not departments I have a new structure for.

And I'm not meaning to call out any particular type of agency here. I'm meaning to refer to 'traditional' agencies, digital agencies, integrated agencies, above-the-line, below-the-line, through-the-line, never-heard-of-the-line... everybody.

Also, though I've put Traffic at the bottom, I don't mean to say they're the least important. I would love to show them permeating the whole system - like the oil in an engine - but I just don't know how to draw that.

Now, here are three alternative models: 

Alt. Model 1: 'The BBH'

This is the model that was put into place at BBH in London, about three years ago.

The thinking behind it was that clients come to agencies for great creative, and great strategy. They don't come for 'great account handling'. (N.B. their words not mine). Therefore Account Handling becomes more of a support function, with the role of Traffic subsumed within it, which saves a little money.

The crucial 'Team Director' role needs an extremely talented, super-organised person, but they could potentially come from a Traffic background, and may not need to be as well-paid as the top Suits previously were.

However, this is not a cheaper model overall, since as you can see, the savings are ploughed into hiring extra Planners. The goal of this model isn't to cut costs, but to increase quality (clients are theoretically receiving more of the expertise they actually want from an agency) and to increase efficiency (there are fewer moving parts).

I hope it's not a trade secret. If it is, apologies.

Alt. Model 2: 'The Hybrid'

Account Handlers and Planners both make an extremely valuable contribution to the advertising process, no doubt about it.

But with margins crumbling across the industry, perhaps it's time to look at merging the two departments.

In many cases, this won't be a problem at all. There are many 'strategic Suits' out there, and tons of Planners who have first-class account handling skills.

Of course, it's too much to expect that every Account Handler will be as adept at planning as a Planner is, and every Planner as adept at suiting as a Suit. So, some decrease in the agency's quality and efficicency is inevitable. 

Oh, and in case anyone thinks I'm being biased towards Creatives - by merging Planning and Account Handling while leaving Creative untouched - I'm not. Take another look. I've eliminated the separate Art Director and Copywriter roles, thus making Creatives hybrids too. 

Yeah I know, it sucks. But this is a considerably lower-cost model. When times are tough, you can't eat foie gras and go to the theatre every week.

Alt. Model 3: 'The Ad Guy'

This is a radically lower-cost model.

It does away entirely with the three traditionally separate roles of Planner, Creative, and Account Handler, and instead merges them all into one - the 'Ad Guy'.

Obviously, very few individuals are capable of performing all three roles to the same standard that today's specialists can. So some drop-off in quality may be expected. Though arguably this may be offset by an increase in efficiency, since there are many fewer moving parts to this model.

I'm envisaging that each Ad Guy would have a young apprentice, who is gradually trained up to become an Ad Guy (or Ad Girl) themselves.

Now, before you write off this scheme as complete lunacy, consider this: it is in fact the model in most common use by other providers of professional services today, such as Management Consultants, Lawyers, Bankers, Architects, Accountants, and (perhaps most pertinently to us), PR professionals.

Also it's so low-cost, we could all go back to driving Porsches again. 


Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Hollywoodisation Of Advertising

Hollywood now generally makes either big-budget spectaculars, or much cheaper indie fare, with very little in the middle.

And I reckon advertising is going the same way.

The business model of Hollywood was transformed by the introduction of the first 'blockbusters' in the late 1970s - Jaws and Star Wars.

The strategy - a response to increasing competition from home entertainment (first cable, then VHS, then DVD, then gaming) - is now to create 'event' movies that people feel they have to see at the cinema.

These event movies, such as Iron Man, Superman, and Batman, cost about $100 million to make, and the successful ones make good money. 

At the other end of the scale there are indie or arthouse movies, such as Lost In Translation, Little Miss Sunshine, and Moonrise Kingdom. These generally cost under $10 million to make, and the successful ones in this category make good money too.

But in the middle - the $10 million to $100 million bracket - there is almost nothing.

This hasn't happened because film-makers no longer want to make medium-sized films, such as Serpico, The Thing, or Dead Ringers, but because the economics of the industry have changed, due to the advent of competition.

And I believe that we are seeing a similar pattern emerge in advertising, as a consequence of the competition that TV now faces from online.

In short, it still makes sense to make a big-budget TV ad for a car, a beer, or a telco. And it increasingly makes sense to produce inexpensive video content for the web. But the space in the middle - the medium-sized TV commercial - is getting squeezed out.

Chats I have with directors nowadays return constantly to the same theme - that budgets (except for the 'blockbuster ads') have collapsed. And production companies that specialise in 'content' - i.e. less expensive video - are popping up all over the place, both in the production company field, and also within agencies.

It's a slightly painful transition for some, and the economics and process for 'content' are something that we're all still figuring out, but like it or not, the change is here.

As creatives, we should embrace it. Because the 'Hollywoodisation' of advertising, while a big change in economics, doesn't necessarily impede creativity. Look at it this way: Hollywood produces some moronic and derivative blockbusters for sure, but also some fantastic ones, while the arthouse world is equally capable of spawning both genius and drivel. In the same way, we get some fantastic big-budget TV ads and some dumb ones; some highly innovative and creative content pieces, and some cheaply-produced shit.

It feels very different making a big TV ad than it does making a content piece. But the opportunity to do something good is there with either, since just as with movies, the quality of an ad is something independent of its budget. It always has been.

P.S. I saw Gravity the other day, and I can't understand why everyone's raving about it. It's basically a $100 million special effects extravaganza with a somewhat cheesy storyline - essentially a similar product to Avatar or Battleship - isn't it?

Sunday, October 06, 2013

We All Think We're Driving The Bus

We all talk constantly about how advertising is a team effort, and it is. But I reckon everyone secretly thinks their own job is the most important.

Us creatives are perhaps the most openly arrogant in this regard. Bob Hoffman sums up our attitude on his blog The Ad Contrarian: "Creative people make the ads. Everyone else makes the arrangements."

You have to dig a bit harder to find the evidence that everyone else thinks they're driving the bus too. But it's there. 

Exhibit A. This quote from a Planner involved in the Old Spice campaign: "Our strategy  led to the inception of “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”, a crusader against 'lady-scented body wash.'" (from Cannes effectiveness submission).

So the Planners thought it was down to them. Yes, maybe script-writing (and surely casting) played a part, but it was all driven by the strategy.

But wait. The media planner on the campaign says: "Our communications strategy played a huge role in enabling the success of “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like."(from Effies submission). So it was down to the comms planning.

While a client voice on marketing blog The Essential Orange reckons that "A well executed marketing strategy was key to the brand’s success." Yup. You could argue the clients are driving the bus, and we're just singing the songs as it drives along.

Then this. I read a quote from a project manager the other day: "Talented people make great advertising" - he hypermodestly excludes himself from the ranks of the talented - but then adds that "a good process helps those talented people make advertising profitably." In other words, if it wasn't for him the agency would go bust within weeks.

And I ran into a senior suit, who works for a fast-growing agency that has recently taken over a business-challenged competitor. First of all he sang the praises of the creatives at the company they'd taken over. But then he averred that the management had been poor, and there wasn't much point having creative talent if no one wanted to work with you. In other words, he was driving the bus. Without him stopping the bus at places where clients were waiting to board, and opening the doors for them, the creatives would be unemployed passengers.

Anyway, I'm not too sure what to do with this information. Obviously I still think it is we creatives who are driving the bus... which means that everyone else must be deluded. But I suppose I have to recognise the possibility that we creatives are deluded too.

So who in your opinion is driving the bus? Maybe it varies by agency, and by account.

Or maybe no one person is actually driving, but there's just a forest of hands pulling the wheel in different directions. Which is why the bus ends up taking a consensus route. Or sometimes, crashing.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

We Don't Lie To People. In Fact, People Lie To Us

Advertising people are viewed as liars, only marginally more trustworthy than car salesmen.

But the truth is that we actually don't lie to consumers. In fact, it's the consumers who lie to us.

Yes, we probably exaggerate a little. And paint products in their best possible light. But that's just salesmanship - as employed by every industry. We don't lie. In fact there are strict rules against that. Having worked (briefly) in finance and in journalism, I can tell you that advertising is a far more honest business than either of those professions. 

People, on the other hand, do lie to us.

Russell Davies was reminiscing the other day on his blog about "Endless focus groups with company car drivers - constantly lying about why they drove the car they did."

I remember once going to a car research group myself, where they had given the punters some magazines to flick through. From the other side of the one-way glass, I watched a bloke spend several minutes studying a text-heavy ad. Then the moderator asked the group - just to get them talking - whether any of the ads had caught their eye. "No," said the guy I'd watched read every single word.

In research, the punters always say they're not influenced by advertising. That they buy on substance, not on image. And that they'd far prefer a car ad that simply gave them the facts - the car's price, engine size, speed, etc.

And then they go out and buy purely on image.

Hardly surprising, I guess.
According to a 2002 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, 60% of adults can’t have a ten minute conversation without lying at least once.

In business, it could be even higher.

But this is never discussed. Because to accuse someone of lying is a highly aggressive manoeuvre. There's no way back for a relationship after that.

Nevertheless, it goes on. It must do.

So, next time you're pondering something someone has said to you - whether they be a consumer, a client, or a co-worker - don't forget to factor in this extra little possibility into your assessment: they may be lying.

Though of course, you yourself don't tell any lies at work. Do you?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Are We Losing The Ability To Say 'No'?

One of the best creative directors I ever worked under, Jeremy Craigen of DDB London, has many different talents. For example, he has a sixth sense about directors, is great with music, and has an acute understanding of brand tone of voice.

But his best skill - his superpower, in fact - is his willingness to say 'no'.

The way advertising works, there is actually a constant pressure on the creative director to say 'yes'. The suits want him to say yes because they want to have work to show, and don't want to call the client to put the meeting back. The traffic people want him to say yes because they want briefs to keep moving through the system; time is money. And of course, the creatives want him to say yes, because they want to get their ideas made.

So the CD is sitting there, looking at the work, while the creatives are looking at him, their eyes pleading in the style of the cat voiced by Antonio Banderas in Puss In Boots. It may be that the work isn't bad. It may be on brief, and rather buyable. Everyone in the room may want him to say yes to it, especially if they feel that the client (not yet in the room) would say yes to if if they were.

But Jeremy would still say no. A lot. Nearly all the time, in fact. He would find things wrong with the work that you had never even considered were a problem until he raised them. He would see potential in every brief, and smoke you out straight away if you were trying to sneak something average through, even on an average brief. And if it was a brief that everyone saw had potential, his office would become a killing field of ideas. He was a First World War machine-gunner, mowing concepts down by the dozen. So any idea that did make it through his defences, had to be superhumanly good.

However, I wonder if he can still do that. For Jeremy always seemed to have time.

There were entire months to come up with a new campaign idea. Weeks on a TV brief. Many days for a print ad. And if it hadn't been cracked in that time, more time seemed to magically appear.

Nowadays, we're all being given less and less time. It's often cited as a factor in why "the work isn't as good as it used to be." We all know that less time compromises production quality, means less time for the creatives to think of ideas, less time for the planners to write great briefs… 

But crucially, it's also eroded the creative director's ability to say 'no'.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Power Of Negative Thinking

The new Chipotle ad is undeniably awesome.

Yet I wonder how many clients would have rejected it, with the dreaded critique "but you're dramatising the negative."

Quite rightly, clients want us to dramatise the positives about their product.

But what I contend is that if you start from a negative - and the Chipotle ad spends about 85% of its duration in a very dark place - then when you do reach the positive (Chipotle uses only real food) you have a much more powerful ad, because you have taken the viewer on a journey. 

An ad that was 100% positive and focused only on the wonderful fresh food and happy times you can have at Chipotle would probably look something like this:

No journey = flat.

Fear of the negative may partially explain why most ad-breaks depict a smiley, fake world that is barely recognisable as our own. And has doubtful selling power.

The fact is that many of the greatest ads of all time were actually very negative.

Apple's '1984' depicted the nightmare of a world ruled by the conformity of IBM.

Guinness 'Surfer' spends 50% of its timelength on the negative of 'waiting'.

And one of my favourite recent ads, for Devondale Dairy Soft, portrays the comically negative consequences of using hard butter.  

So we're faced with a major bummer, my friends.

I do have one tip though.

The secret training course at which clients are taught to reject ads that 'dramatise the negative' - the same course which has a class on 'maximising logo size' - also has a module on 'the power of the problem/solution ad'.

Problem/solution seems to be acceptable to clients.

Therefore, if you can re-frame your ad that dramatises a negative scenario as a problem/solution ad, you may just be able to sell it. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Isn't Advertising Like Politics?

Advertising is not a science. In the world of science, we know how things work, and we can predict with some accuracy how they will work in the future.

But despite 150 years of research and discussion, we can't really agree on how advertising works. And despite the best efforts of Millward Brown and the brain-scanning neuromarketers, we can't predict with much accuracy how consumers will respond to it.

So if advertising is not a science, what is it?

I'm going to say politics.

Maybe politics is just top-of-mind due to yesterday's election in Australia, but I do think the commonalities are striking.

Both draw from science - politics draws from economics, and advertising from psychology (of which certain agencies have a more up-to-date understanding than others) - but both fields are riddled with competing theories as to how to go about things, rather than any agreement about what works best.

In their own way, advertising theories are as oppositional as the clashes between socialism and capitalism, or progressives v conservatives.

For example, some argue it is essential that advertising has impact - if you don't 'cut through the clutter', your message won't be heard. But others argue that the brain works mostly by Low Involvement Processing - we process marketing messages at least as much when we are paying little or no attention to them as we do when we consciously take them on board, therefore cut-through is irrelevant.

Should we be trying to rationally persuade, or emotionally engage? Sell product, or build brands? Is the purpose of advertising to show how a product meets someone's needs, or to create a badge-like brand that enables consumers to display their personality or values to others?

No one has 'the answer', and that turns advertising practitioners into politicians - out there trying to persuade clients to vote for their way of doing things, rather than another agency's.

The irony, of course, is that when a client does decide to make a change, they probably wake up the next morning, go into their new agency, and find that things are much the same as they were before... but just with a different set of people in charge.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Should Advertising Be A Force For Good?

Advertising was once considered so unethical, a famous ad-man entitled his autobiography: 'Don't Tell My Mother I Work In Advertising, She Thinks I Play Piano In A Brothel.'

But that could be changing.

Not because advertising or the people within it have changed. We're still the same (creative businesspeople) and our job is still the same (help clients with their communications needs). 

But our clients are changing.

Last week I was writing about how every brand should have a 'purpose', and today it seems many companies are concluding that this purpose should not just be any old purpose but actually 'a higher purpose.'

Again, I don't think companies have suddenly become more moral just for fun. But they've realised that their consumers want them to be.

I went to a presentation on this theme a couple of weeks ago, it was given by Craig Davis, former ECD of Publicis Mojo in Sydney, who is now a speaker and consultant on 'conscious capitalism'. You can see his talk here. I'll probably mess this up, but the idea is along the lines of how every company should be striving to do more than just generate profit. Every company should operate ethically, truthfully, empathetically. A company should genuinely care about its employees, and its customers, and should be actively trying to make the world a better place. 

A great example is TOMS shoes. For every pair of shoes they sell, the company donates a new pair of shoes to a child in the developing world.

But where Craig gets really clever is with an assertion (backed up with data) that the stock prices of companies operating 'conscious capitalism' are outperforming their peers. Presumably because members of the public prefer to buy goods from companies that have a higher purpose over companies that don't.

And that affects us.

Increasingly, as our clients put ethics at the heart of what they do, our work will no longer be about selling products, but about communicating values.

Amir Kassaei, DDB’s global chief creative officer, put it pretty well at Cannes:

"We can’t get away with it any more," he said. "We can’t go on selling bullshit products and fooling people… it is time to start adding real value to people’s lives."

He's right, no?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Is It Time To Retire The Proposition?

If you're anything like me, the first bit of the brief you look at is the 'proposition box.'

And the second question anyone asks you after "what are you working on?" is "what's the proposition?"

Meanwhile, within the agency, everyone endlessly debates 'what the proposition should be' and whether a certain proposition is "interesting" or "crap."

But recently I've started to wonder if the proposition is an out-of-date concept, that might be holding us back.

The proposition derives from Rosser Reeves' USP, which he developed in the 1940s. It tends to lead to what I call 'benefit amplification' communications...e.g. 'light' products that float in the air, 'easy to use' products that allow the consumer to relax in a deck-chair, or 'great value' products that allow the consumer to buy lots of other things with the money they've saved.

Frankly, I think it's old hat. And I bet consumers are getting tired of it too.

The worst sin of the proposition is that it's static, and the second-worst sin is that it's hard to get it to lead to modern, interactive communications.

Nowadays I'm trying to think more in terms of 'brand purpose', aka 'brand philosophy' or 'mission' (if you have a useful distinction or preference between these terms, let me know).

A brand purpose, as defined by Jim Stengel (former chief marketing honcho of P&G) is “the brand’s inspirational reason for being. It explains why the brand exists and the impact it seeks to make in the world."

Examples: Method expresses its purpose as "People against dirty." Google's mission is "To organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

The advantage of a brand purpose - in my eyes - is that it's far more active than a proposition. It's more interesting, and it has inherent momentum. And you can get consumers to interact with it. Who wants to interact with 'value' or 'time-saving'? So basically, I believe it is more likely to lead to better, more modern work.

Also, it's probably a more powerful selling tool too. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” as Simon Sinek famously said.

The latest Nike TV ad - the best commercial I've seen in the last 3 months - is a great example of a purpose ad. Nike's always had a purpose. It's not a brand built on a proposition such as speed, strength or endurance. It's a brand built on a mission, to inspire athletes.

So that's where I'm at. Propositions are out. Purposes are in. What do you reckon? Who's with me?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Do Analogies Still Work?


This ad about 'Marmite Neglect' is great, but it's copped a lot of flak (over 400 complaints so far) because some people apparently think it's disrespectful.  

I find that quite sad. The subject obviously isn't animal neglect at all, it's just an analogy.

But analogies seem to have a bad rap at the moment.

The current mega-trend is 'reality advertising', and analogy-based ads get called addy or contrived.

In fact I think there may be a broader cultural rejection of analogies going on.

If so, the slide began with Swiss Toni. For anyone not familiar, Swiss Toni was a car salesman character in sketch series The Fast Show, who compared every experience in life - whether it was selling a car or preparing a cup of coffee - to "making love to a beautiful woman". Yes, the sketch was primarily skewering a certain type of sleazy middle-aged man. But I feel it also satirised the very concept of analogies.

I don't know if it's just my imagination - but I get the feeling that analogies are no longer considered an impressive form of argument. I'm sure it used to be possible to win an argument - or at least score a big point - with a witty or clever analogy. But I'm finding they don't work that well any more.

Some people think that if they can find an inconsequential aspect of your analogy that doesn't resemble the situation at hand, then they've won - forgetting that 95% of the analogy is still valid, and an argument that is 95% valid (in the 100% non-scientific world of advertising) is actually a pretty good one.

And there are even people who don't seem to accept that analogies create a valid argument at all. For example, I was once arguing that even though the product we were advertising was inherently appealing, we needed to do more than just show the product, we needed to make the ad itself appealing, and I used the analogy that even though dogs find bones inherently appealing, the dog-owner still waves the bone in the air to attract the dog's attention before handing it over. The response I got was "but our product isn't a bone, and the consumer isn't a dog." 

I'm considering dropping analogies from my life entirely. Like someone you got on well with at school, but don't want to be seen with at university.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Will The Next Person To Use The Word 'Storytelling' Please Report For Their Slap

What we do is increasingly being called 'storytelling' but actually I think that definition is completely wrong, and it's really starting to annoy me.

Yes, ads do often have a narrative. This brilliant spot that came out last week, for Devondale Dairy Soft butter, uses many common narrative techniques - it has an 'inciting incident', comedic misunderstanding, and even a twist. Not bad for a film that's only 30 seconds long and also sells a product. But it's still not a story.

A story - lest we forget - has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Ads very rarely conform to this definition. The only one I can think of, off the top of my head, is Chipotle's Back To The Start. (Interestingly, it was also produced by the Hollywood agents CAA rather than an ad agency...)

But I would argue it may actually be a bad thing for an ad to tell a proper story. Reason being that a proper story has a definitive ending. E.g. at the end of Titanic, Jack dies. (Apologies if you're a teenage girl who unaccountably hasn't seen it yet). This is why sequels are nearly always worse than the original - the original story has finished. But brands don't want their story to end. They want it to go on and on.

Another important difference is that a story is about a character (or occasionally a group or community) that undergoes significant change. E.g. at the beginning of The Lion King, Simba is a naive young cub. He then goes through a period of adolescent irresponsibility ("Hakuna matata") before finishing up as the wise and mature leader of his tribe.

So although a brand 'has a character' e.g. it might be fun-loving or stylish, we don't want that character to change, we actually want it to stand for something fixed, so that people know exactly the role it can play in their lives. 

Brands often have an 'origin story' (example - Innocent smoothies "we made smoothies at a festival and put up a sign saying 'should we quit our jobs to make smoothies instead?' and had two big bins marked 'yes' and 'no' for people to vote with their empty bottles"). But this is normally better told through PR rather than advertising. Innocent should stand for naturalness, not entrepreneurialism.

Please note I'm not arguing against interactivity, or what is today being called 'letting consumers be part of the story.' Interactivity is great, but what consumers should be interacting with is not 'a story' but 'a quality of the brand' or 'the brand's point of view'. 

For example, IKEA's fantastic Facebook Showroom app, which allowed people to tag an IKEA item online with their name if they befriended the store's manager, was not about letting consumers be part of a story but rather enabling them to experience a quality of IKEA ('quirky good value').

Yes, the use of the word 'storytelling' is probably just a language issue, and advertising has long been the victim of a succession of stupid buzzwords, but I do worry that incorrect language can lead to a proliferation of wrong behaviour. In our case, a bunch of charlatans jumping out of the woodwork claiming that we all ought to be 'storytellers'.

Or am I getting upset about nothing?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Onion Unfairly Maligns Us

So The Onion wrote an entertaining story about last week's Omnicom/Publicis deal, headlined 'Merger Of Advertising Giants Brings Together Largest Collection Of People With No Discernible Skills.'

"These two ad behemoths will have the industry’s largest and most formidable talent pool of people called ‘creatives’ who have never created a single thing in their lives," the piece went on.
And we were all amused, in a crying-on-the-inside kinda way. 

But I think they got it wrong.
Granted, most of The Onion is funnier than nearly all ads are. And there's hardly an ad ever made that deserves a spot on the same stage as the best movies, books, paintings, or TV shows. Though a few surely do.

But the fact is we are playing a game that's of a higher order of difficulty to the game played by comedy writers, novelists or film-makers.

Because not only are we attempting to make our work funny, dramatic, or beautiful... but we must also make it a compelling sales message for a brand.

I'd like to see the folks at The Onion try that. Ain't as easy as it looks, fellas.

I mean, just imagine how terrible certain well-known movies would be if they were also ads for brands.

Actually, no need for you to boot up your imagination. Behold once again my amateur Photoshop skills:

First up, a classic tear-jerker if it also had to act as an ad for Philip Morris products.

Brad Pitt in 90-minute commercial for Spanish fashion chain:

Hey Pixar: let's see your guys write a story that's equally engaging as your normal ones, but you only get 30 seconds, and it has to make people want to visit a particular supermarket chain.

In conclusion, we are not worse than the people in other creative industries. If our product often is, that's because we just have a harder job, do we not?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

There's Something About Mazda...

This is going to seem like I have a vendetta against Mazda. Genuinely I don't. But I just can't let their new print ad go unpunished.

I've seen so many briefs over the years where the product is described as "revolutionary"... "a paradigm shift"... or "a real game-changer."

And the example often used is the Fosbury Flop, the 'backwards-over-the-bar' high-jump invented by American athlete Dick Fosbury in 1968, which was a complete departure from the previous 'straddle' technique. 

In fact the Fosbury Flop is such a cliched metaphor for 'revolutionary change', I never thought anyone would be so crass as to actually make an ad out of it.

But Mazda have!

The saddest part of this story is that the Mazda 6 actually seems like a really good car. It's well-built, looks great, and is excellent value for money. But it's no Fosbury Flop, and the comparison is a ludicrous over-claim.

As a creative, when you get the "it's a game-changer" brief, your first task is to get everyone to calm the f*** down, and then hunt for something concrete to talk about. Buried in the copy here, and mentioned in passing in the TV ad, is talk of 'skyactiv technology', which could probably have been the basis for distinctive and believable advertising, but they didn't pursue it.

It also begs the question, now they've wasted the Fosbury Flop metaphor, what are Mazda's ad agency going to do if the company comes out with a vehicle that is genuinely revolutionary?

If anyone from the Mazda design team is reading this, I have come up with a few ideas of my own, that I modestly submit really would 'change the game':

Skyactiv technology in action

By the way, as regular readers will know, I'm from a copywriting background, and this is only the second or third time I've ever used Photoshop. How'd I do?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How Do You Go About Writing Something This Bad?

I've always been perplexed by ads like this new global spot for the Mazda 3.

Clearly it's an extremely bad ad, in the sense that it will not perform well by any of the common metrics such as recall, persuasion, or effect on brand perception scores.

But what confuses me is that it is not a bad ad in the sense that it was trying to be good, and failed. It isn't even trying to be good.

Nowadays, thanks to technology, we can make advertising that consumers can interact with. They haven't tried to do that. In the 1960s, Bill Bernbach showed we can make ads that are insightful, engaging, and entertaining. They haven't tried to do that. Pre-Bernbach, there was a belief that a good ad focused on a USP. They haven't tried to do that.

They basically haven't tried to make a good ad at all, they have basically just shot the brochure.


Are they scared of interactivity? Were they worried that if they tried to be insightful, engaging or entertaining, that would be bad?

Was there even an agency, or did Mazda just lend the car to a production company? 

If there was an agency, did Mazda direct them not to include an idea?

Was there a script? If so, I don't even know how you write a script like that.

But just as an exercise, I'll have a go.

I'm guessing it would go something like this:

We open on a Mazda 3, on a rooftop. A man approaches. He walks around the car. Cut to a shot of the interior. Cut back to an exterior shot of the car; the man touches it. Close-up of his eye. Cut back to interior of the car, the man is now inside. He presses the 'Engine start' button. Cut to a driving shot of the car. Cut to another driving shot of the car. Cut to another driving shot of the car. Cut to an interior shot, the man turns a knob. Cut to the instrument panel - he has selected the Facebook option on the onboard computer. He has received a Facebook message from a friend. Cut to the speedometer. Cut to another driving shot of the car. We see under the car's 'skin'. A super appears, 'Skyactiv technology.' Cut to machinery inside the car. Cut to another driving shot of the car. Another super appears, 'The all-new Mazda 3.' Cut to logo.

So... did someone write this? Did an actual copywriter sit down in front of a computer and type those words?

It's like they're playing a completely different game.

If anyone knows how ads like this get made, please enlighten me.