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But recently I've started to wonder if the proposition is an out-of-date concept, that might be holding us back.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


Ben said...

I hate benefit amplification. It's just bullshit, isn't it?

I understand why (forgive me, Scampy) people would recall and enjoy the image of a bunch of cops hiding behind a little VW but I don't think any intelligent person would take that message seriously enough to do anything about it. I know it does a job of making VWs more top-of-mind when it comes time to buy a car, but an ad is capable of persuading beyond that level.

More truthful work (Grrr..., John Lewis 'More than a woman', Barnados 'kid getting younger') is surely better as it engages without lying. After all, how do you regard someone who you know exaggerates? You feel a bit sorry for them because they don't believe the truth is adequate so they have to embellish with bollocks.

An and to that would be a good thing indeed.

crimesinspace said...

As a junior in the process of building a book, this approach is capital.

All hands in.

Anonymous said...

Hey Scamp,
I wouldn't be so quick to kill off the proposition and replace it with a mission statement. A creative brief needs both.
For example, if a creative team received a brief with "To organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful", I can only imagine the swearing that would ensue. - It simply feels too lofty to base creative on.
Sure, the brand needs to stand for something, and that should be the underlying platform for everything the brand/organisation does (not just their advertising). Years ago at Cannes, Maurice Saatchi spoke about 'one-word equity'. Essentially, he said that a brand should be distilled down to one word (for example, Nike might be all about 'participation', Disney might be about 'happiness', Volvo might be about 'safety').
In a similar way, Ted Horton will tell anyone who will listen that "the idea is what you own".
So it might be semantics and different people may be saying the same thing in a slightly different way, but every brand needs to claim a piece of territory and state what it is they stand for. Then, underneath that is the proposition (which should always ladder back into the brand purpose). Problem is, these days when you ask a lot of marketers what their brand stands for, they can't tell you.

Pseudonym said...

Top stuff.

Nah said...

Sorry mate, but how is google's 'mission' any different from a proposition? You're just replacing one buzzword with another. Missions, propositions, brand visions, brand mantras, usp's etc etc. It's all the same shit.

Scamp said...

I don't think it is the same shit. I think it's slightly different, slightly better shit. And since this is the shit we have to deal with, day in day out, I suppose I'm looking for this shit to be as inspirational as possible.

Chizzy said...

I agree, mate. Props are not 'the heart' of the brief and shouldn't be glorified in bold, a bigger font size or a box. Instead, in the case of a one-way communication like a TV ad, I'd rather us debate the desired brand association - the output of the communication (an emotion , a feeling) rather than the input (a message, a fact, a rational promise). And then, as you say, focus more on what the brand's purpose is - what the brand can actively do for people and culture. rather than just promise something. I agree. Thanks for discussing.

Unknown said...

Kind of agree with Dingosbreakfast. This isn't anything new. All great propositions come out of the brand/vision/philosophy/platform, or what Ogilvy like to call the "Big Ideal". Basically, a statement that says "[Brand] believes that the world would be a better place if [people were against dirt, information was organized, etc]."

So a big new brand campaign would be based on this "Big Ideal" rather than a proposition. But you can't have every single piece of subsequent work, from a supermarket offer to the launch of a new model of laptop, incorporate that "Big Ideal". You need a proposition that stems from the "Big Ideal".

Daniel said...

I'm with David Blacker in this. Brand purpose, or Mission (or whatever we call it), helps us tell the message through the brand's worlview. It gives us context.

However, ditching the proposition (which, I agree, lots of times can be inane), would leave many not-so-great brands with no meaningful ground to present to people.

Lest we forget that not every brand is Nike, McDonalds, Honda or Guinness, and that a vast majority of business (regarding shitty and navel-gazing onions and whatnot) have indefferentiation built-in into their DNA.

But also, that some brands do have great/new/interesting... products, which help people better relate to such brand (in that order. There's full of boasting brands, with deceiving goods. Ads notwithstanding).

As a writer, I think that "Mission" may help us show what kind of culture or world the brand stands for, and the "Proposition" inspires the different details (which can take over the whole ad: Grrrr was "better, cleaner world" THROUGH a "better, cleaner new engine").

So, given the Mission provides powerful/interesting context, the Proposition-driven adverts may add the distinctive bricks which revert into a better long term imaginary for the brand.

Anonymous said...

There's usually one mission but there can be more than one proposition.

I learned as 'give me a reason to buy the product and express it in terms of human experience.'

No buzzwords but it pretty much much sums it up I think.

Unknown said...

Agree with Blacker, Daniel and Anonymous.

There is one mission or purpose. There can be hundreds of propositions which deliver on the mission or purpose. Ideally propositions should be an interesting and specific angle. Perhaps your criticism is leveled at uninteresting or non-specific propositions... which I agree there are too many.

Scamp, the point you make which is worth calling out is that mission/purpose statements are most inspirational when they have a sense of momentum.

IKEA's purpose 'improving the everyday life of the many people' has a real momentum. You can think of hundreds of ways to 'do' that.

As a planner therefore, verbs win in my books. I always focus on what the brand want to 'do' in the world. Saving the world from X, championing Y, nurturing z etc.

Verbs lend themselves to the type of bad ass work you can execute against in participative and in one-way contexts.

Yet surprisingly few brands have an actionable brand missions/purposes.

Anonymous said...

when my furniture breaks I don't need store's mission nor its proposition nor its context.

I need an effing screwdriver.

when my problem is solved I don't give a shit about you anymore. I don't care whether your service was friendly or not. I don't give a rats ass how your next ad will strenghten your main mission (or whatever). I don't even know how much hammer costed. and I'm certainly not going to tell my friends about you. you're out of my life. period.

which planet are you guys on?

your sincerely,
everyday consumer

Daniel said...

Dear Everyday Consumer,

If your furniture breaks (pretty f**ked up, not just a loose screw) there's a high chance that, instead of tinkering with it, you'll end up in a Swedish furniture store (which has been delivering tons of lovely ads into the telly, a store that other people like/talk about), and get a new piece.

That, only, if you are a proper everyday consumer.

Our philosophical disquitions may be, in real life, worth a shit. But when sitting in front of a blank page, believe me, having something useful or inspiring to star with, is relevant.

Of course, then you can turn off your telly/computer, or walk "blind and deaf" through the streets. What we do is not that important for common people, and I absolutely agree with that.

HenryHoover said...

This just did the rounds. I can't see either mission statement or proposition in here. Just RDJ channeling the douchebag Tony Stark.

Anonymous said...

dear Daniel.

first, no Ikea in close vicinity.

second, start from my problem (which is completely tactile, so to speak). there's no mumbo-jumbo in my need to find a screwdriver fast. nor do I care what's the brand's world-mission. gimme a break! just shut it and show the aisle.

yours sincerely,
everyday consumer