Monday, December 22, 2014

"But It's Not Ownable"

One of the most common criticisms we Creatives get thrown is that an idea we've had is "not ownable."

And that's a very hard bomb to defuse.

Obviously an idea should be ownable, shouldn't it? So, oh dear, it looks like we've failed, and we'll have to start again. Bad creative.

Unless... could it be that this criticism is completely bullshit?

First off, let's do a quick evidential survey. Here are 30 good ideas - as expressed via taglines, from the US, UK and Australia - that I collected for a presentation not long ago.

Have a look, and see how many you think are truly 'ownable'. 

Finger lickin' good (KFC)
The appliance of science (Zanussi)
Beanz meanz Heinz
A diamond is forever (De Beers)
Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet
Have a break, have a Kit Kat
The burgers are better at Hungry Jack’s
The future’s bright, the future’s Orange
Does exactly what it says on the tin (Ronseal)
You can be sure of Shell
A newspaper not a snoozepaper (Mail on Sunday)
It takes a licking and keeps on ticking (Timex)
The car in front is a Toyota
Fly the friendly skies (United Airlines)
Let your fingers do the walking (Yellow Pages)
I’m lovin’ it (McDonalds)
It could be you (National Lottery)
Oh what a feeling! (Toyota)
Can (CommBank)
Start something (St. George) 

I reckon that only THREE of these are truly ownable, in the sense that no one else could say it.

Beanz Meanz Heinz (no other baked bean brand could claim to be the definitive baked beans), A Diamond Is Forever (no other product can claim to last as long as diamonds do, and De Beers has no branded competitor), and Have A Break Have A Kit-Kat (no other chocolate snack 'breaks' in the way that a Kit Kat does).

Some of the other lines are phrased in a way that makes them appear ownable, but they're not really. For example, You Can Be Sure Of Shell sounds pretty ownable, because of the alliteration. But there is nothing unique to Shell in that positioning. There would be nothing to stop Total coming along and saying Total = Total Reliability.

Once we discount brands that are attempting to make their positionings ownable via snazzy language, and allow only brands with properly unique ownable positionings, by my calculations fully 90% of these ideas are not 'ownable'.

And yet many of them have created or contributed to brands that are worth many, many billions of dollars to their owners.

Smarter bloggers than me have pointed out that consumers don't see most brands as being particularly unique or distinct in reality, and indeed don't mind that, focusing instead on their differing personalities. (See this great post from Richard Huntington on brand personality, or this one by Martin Weigel about how it's far more important for a brand to be interesting than different).

What the ideas in the list above have in spades - what made them successful - is not ownability but personality.

Ideas like Finger Lickin' Good and The Future's Bright The Future's Orange are not ownable. Any chicken shop could claim you'll lick your fingers, and any telco could say they're forward-thinking. But the way these non-ownable thoughts are expressed help create a distinct (and attractive) personality.

And that's what consumers are drawn to.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Could A Robot Do Your Job?

We like to think that because advertising is a 'creative business'... we're immune from the march of automation.

But are we?

History would suggest the process is relentless.

The first human jobs to be eliminated were agricultural. Advanced ploughs, improved crop rotation systems and Jethro Tull's invention of the seed drill in 1701 were some of the factors that saw agricultural efficiency skyrocket. The threshing machine, invented by Andrew Meikle in 1784, displaced hand-threshing with a flail, a laborious job that took about one-quarter of agricultural labour. In 1500 the British population was 76% rural. Today it's 2%. 

Next to be replaced were the blue collar jobs. The industrial revolution began in the late 18th century in England, spawning machines like the power loom, which could do the job of 40 hand-weavers. Today, Amazon employs 15,000 'Kiva' robots in its warehouses worldwide. Back in the year 2000, more than 20 per cent of all jobs in America were manufacturing jobs.  The most recent figures showed only about 5 per cent of all jobs in America are now manufacturing jobs.

And now, the increasing sophistication of computer software has started to eliminate white collar jobs. Text-mining programs are beginning to displace professional jobs in legal services. Biopsies can be analysed more efficiently by image-processing software than by lab technicians.

So could robots replace us?

Well, Account Handlers are arguably under threat. One of the biggest effects of the internet has been disintermediation. For example, fewer people use the intermediary of a travel agent now that they can go online and book their travel themselves. As a result, Thomas Cook closed 195 UK stores last year. Disintermediation has affected financial services (people can buy shares online so no longer have to call a stockbroker), real estate, education, and many other fields. Is it possible that someone could develop an online interface that would enable clients to access strategy and creative directly, without the intermediation of an Account Handler?

And before any Creatives reading this get too smug, consider that machines are already turning basic sports results and financial data into good-enough news stories. They are writing. And there are already websites that generate automated advertising concepts. Right now these are mosty spoofs, but how long before they become real?

It's harder to see how robots could do strategy. Even if it's true that "there are only six possible strategies for any brief", selecting the right one is quite an art. But could someone develop a computer simulation, where different strategies could be tested in a game-like environment containing all the real-world market variables, to enable selection of the optimum strategy?

If you consider any of the above ideas to be fanciful, please note that the process has already started. Programmatic (i.e. computer-controlled) media-buying now comprises an unknown but fast-growing slice of the online media market, and may soon extend to other media.

If robots can replace media buyers, how long before they replace you?

Monday, December 08, 2014

In Praise Of Banner Ads

There was a bit of a hoo-ha last week, when Google announced that 56.1% of all paid-for display ads never actually appeared on anyone's screen.

"Google admits that advertisers wasted their money on more than half of internet ads," was the view of a typical commentator

But are the attacks on banner ads justified?

Yes, it's true that click-through rates are low.
Perhaps you've seen a list that's been going around the interwebs - '5 Horrifying Stats About Online Display Advertising'.
It goes like this: the average banner ad has a 0.1% clickthrough rate, therefore…

  • You are more likely to be dealt a full house in a poker hand than click on a banner ad. (Source: Solve Media)
  • The average person is served over 1,700 banner ads per month. Do you remember any? (Source: comScore)
  •  You are more likely to give birth to twins than click a banner ad. (Source: Solve Media)
  • About 50% of clicks on mobile ads are accidental. (Source: GoldSpot Media)
  •  You are more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad. (Source: Solve Media)

    Is there anything good about display advertising?

    Yes. First off, ads appear next to the content you're already consuming and are interested in. That's handy. Also, retargeting can be used to hit people who have already visited a website; that means you're targeting a pretty hot prospect.

    Most of all, they work. Their results are highly measurable. So we know they work.

    Click through rates are indeed low on banner ads, and have been plummeting for years. The very first ones, like the 1994 ad shown above, which was for AT&T and is thought to be the very first banner ad ever served, had click-through rates as high as 10%.

    The average is a hundredth of that now.

    But hey, we can’t click on TV ads or radio ads or outdoor ads either.

    And as for that stat about 56% of online ads not being viewed... surely it's the same with print.

    What percentage of the ads do you see, when you read a newspaper or magazine? Chances are that you don't flick through every page of the newspaper, therefore the ads on those pages never appeared on those screens that you commonly call your eyeballs.

    Same as with banner ads.

  • Monday, December 01, 2014

    Enter The Weasel

    The general public seems to believe that advertising is mostly lies.

    That is not the case. In fact we operate under stringent requirements to be "legal, decent, truthful and honest."

    However, we are very often guilty of employing 'weasel words', a phrase I generally shorten to just 'weasels'.

    The weasel's favoured habitat is in claim lines.

    "May improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles" is a weasel that really pisses me off. "May" means absolutely nothing. They might as well write "may cause nuclear war" or "may cause you to be recruited as the next member of One Direction."

    "Up to 70% off" is another favourite. This could mean that nothing in the store is reduced at all, apart from one pair of socks, which is 69% off.

    "A toothpaste that fights oral bacteria" is a classic weasel, because 'fighting' means nothing of any significance. A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel could charge aggressively towards a Tiger Tank, get instantly cut down by one of its 7.92mm MG34 machine guns and then be run over and squished, and you could still fairly claim it to be "A dog that fights tanks."

    I believe consumers are too smart to be taken in by weasels. And the vast majority of clients know that.

    Still, a few seem to slip through.

    Tell me your favourite weasel in the comments, and at the end of the week I may crown a King of the Weasels.

    Sunday, November 23, 2014

    Bob Says "Social Media Marketing Is Worthless"

    Bob Hoffman does an entertaining talk called 'The Golden Age Of Bullshit.'

    It's about how, in his opinion, social media doesn't work and we should mostly just make TV ads.

    This blog post isn't about whether he's right or wrong. (Though for what it's worth, I think he's wrong).

    What I want to say here is that even if Hoffman were right, it would be our duty to make him wrong.

    Bob was cock-a-hoop last week, because he found a research report which concludes, according to his post on The Ad Contrarian, that "social media marketing on Facebook and Twitter is substantially worthless." 

    Bob's writing is full of such zingers; here's another: "As an advertising medium, the web is like communism. It's never very good right now, but it's always going to be great some day."

    Bob is now making his living from 'debunking' social media.

    He often compares social media practitioners to snake-oil salesmen, which is a bit harsh. It's an evolving medium - the frontier of commercial communications - and you're always going to get a few shysters on any frontier.

    But let's leave aside the occasional shyster. Let's leave aside the occasional gloomy research report.

    Instead, let me lay a fact on you:

    Twelve per cent of Australians' entire media consumption today, is Facebook.


    That - to me - is an absolutely staggering, world-changing figure.

    We just have to make it work, people.

    We just have to.

    Every time a new medium is invented, it takes the ad industry a little while to crack the code, and figure out the best way to make advertising for it. Ever seen the first TV ads? They were crap. But eventually, we managed to make TV effective as an advertising vehicle.

    Bob reckons social media advertising doesn't work. I disagree with him.

    But as I said at the beginning... if Bob IS right, we need to make him wrong.  

    Monday, November 17, 2014

    Manifesto Ads: Worthwhile Exercise, Or Spawn Of The Devil?

    The phrase 'manifesto ad' seems to make Creatives want to jump out of a window.

    Even a brief that alludes to a Client wanting to discuss their values will have teams exploding with righteous rage: "For Christ's sake, it sounds like they want a bloody manifesto ad!"

    But is this type of ad unfairly maligned?

    It's true they tend to follow a formula. Normally either "Here's to..." as in "Here's to the crazy ones" or "We're for..." as in "We're for dogs."  Or you can take an abstract noun and write an essay about it (see example above).

    And Creatives hate formulas.

    But they don't have to be done in a formulaic way. Chipotle's last two Super Bowl ads were essentially manifestos, as was Honda's famous "Hate something, change something" epic.

    We really should just be grateful that we're getting to make a brand ad for once.

    The term 'brand ad' seems to have become a dirty word in marketing circles - they're viewed as fluffy and self-indulgent. I've even seen one marketer quoted as proudly saying he would "never" make a brand ad. This is despite the excellent work by Simon Sinek in describing how people "don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

    And it's despite our understanding that you have to pay attention to every stage of the purchase funnel. (I always feel that brands who only do retail advertising, and no brand advertising, are failing to stoke desire for their product, and thus end up communicating to people "Hey, you know this product you don't want? It's really cheap!")

    So manifesto ads should surely be welcomed not slated.

    I think the key to making them interesting is in not just saying what you're for, but what you're against. That's where they get their energy. It's also the form's history. Take the manifesto of the Communist Party, for example. Those guys were livid. They were convinced that there's something wrong with capitalism, and they gave it a jolly good kicking. The same with the Futurists. They'd had it up to here with boring, traditional art. And that's what made their manifesto so exciting. If slightly loopy.

    I reckon you can actually have a lot of fun with manifesto ads.

    Confession time: I'm even enjoying the manifesto 'films' that we make for pitches nowadays.

    Sunday, November 09, 2014

    What In Heck Is The 'CVP', And Is It Safe To Ignore It?


     Advertising makes me laugh sometimes.

    Just a couple of years ago, no one had heard of the CVP (Customer Value Proposition). Yet today, it's apparently the most vital tool in marketing.

    It's as if astronomers suddenly announced a new planet - bigger than Jupiter - sitting right in the middle of our solar system, which had hitherto gone unnoticed.

    Is that plausible?

    For anyone who doesn't know, the Customer Value Proposition is an equation of the value that a buyer will derive from the product. For example, the CVP for the Smart car might be "All the safety and driveability you get in a regular car, but at a lower price and easier to park."

    So does the CVP replace the USP?

    In reality, the poor old USP went out the window a long time ago, and any brand that talks about being the biggest, the fastest etc nowadays just sounds like a snake oil manufacturer.

    Next came the ESP (Emotional Selling Proposition) which was based around how a brand would make you feel. So Haagen-Dazs ice cream, for example, felt sexy.

    The problem with both the USP and the ESP is that they ignore price, and they ignore all the other options a consumer has. The truth is, price comes into nearly every decision. As does an assessment of the alternatives. People don't just buy an ice-cream because it's the creamiest, or because it promises to make them feel sexy. They buy it when it offers those benefits at an acceptable price, and when there is no more compelling option available.

    What the CVP captures is the real calculation that consumers are (perhaps unconsciously) performing in their heads.

    What it's not is an advertising proposition. No one should be advertising an equation, for God's sake. Good advertising is single-minded.

    But where the CVP can be really useful, is in pointing to what the proposition should be.

    Either highlighting a strength on one side of the equation, or bolstering a weakness on the other.

    Because with any purchase, there is always a trade-off. The manufacturer has to make a margin, so if he's going to charge you $100, he can't provide you with a product that's worth $100, he can only provide you with a product that's worth $70. Or alternatively, if you want a product that is worth $100, you are going to have to pay $130 for it.

    For example, Aldi has great prices, but the products are not the high-quality brands you are used to. And L'Oreal makes great cosmetics, but they're not cheap.

    From here, it's relatively easy to see what the advertising needs to be. 

    Aldi has to reassure people that the products are actually pretty good. (See ad above). And L'Oreal has to tell you that you're worth it.

    So that's my take on the CVP. It doesn't replace the proposition. But it can help us write the right one.

    Are people talking about the CVP at your place? And do you think it's useful, or yet more meaningless jargon?

    Monday, November 03, 2014

    Is It Okay To Argue With Your Boss?

    The hierarchy in ad agencies isn't quite as absolute as in the armed forces, but it's not far off.

    We're all bright, friendly, 'cool' people... and yet our decision-making is surprisingly dictatorial.

    But if you think about it, this does make sense.

    In fields like engineering, medicine, and finance - where there are actual facts that can be brought to bear - it's possible to make an objective challenge.

    But advertising is mostly subjective. Our debates are more like one person saying "I like tomatoes" and someone else says "I don't like tomatoes, I prefer avocados."

    So someone's got to make the decision, and the person being paid to make the decision is your boss, and that's it.

    In a previous agency I once got a dressing-down for being "too challenging."

    My ECD flipped out because I was so convinced an idea was great, I came back to him with it three times. (Along with other ones). Incidentally this was quite hypocritical because he would often tell account teams to "go back and try again" when the Client hadn't bought something, but he didn't seem to like the approach when it was applied to him.

    Yet if you don't argue with your boss at least a little bit, and don't put your point of view across even if it doesn't match his, you will be viewed as a passive, spineless, yes-person. That is not good.

    So my conclusion is that it's actually essential to argue with your boss. But you have to do it carefully.

    A good tip is to ask questions. For example, if your boss tells you to fill a wheelbarrow full of shit, you could ask "Do we worry that the smell could be a problem?"

    Another option is to fill one wheelbarrow full of shit and a second one with beautiful plants, and present both.

    Re-presenting the same idea? Yes, but it's like a murder trial. You can put the case back in front of the judge, by all means, but the second time around, you have to have new evidence. A new spin on it.

    Anyway, that's my POV, but I'd be interested to get yours. Is it okay to argue with the boss where you work? Have you ever gotten into trouble for doing it, or do you have a way of arguing that you've found effective and would be willing to share?

    Sunday, October 26, 2014

    Some Philosophical Bullshit For You

    I studied Philosophy at university. Well, in theory I did. Like many students I was more interested in going to discos and eating kebabs, so I only really got around to seriously looking at Philosophy in my last term, which was probably a little late.

    Nevertheless, occasionally I observe something in advertising that dredges up a Philosophical memory.

    Last week I was wondering... are many of the disagreements that we have with Clients, and among ourselves within an Agency, real disagreements, or are they just disagreements about language?

    The splendid fellow with the pipe you see above is Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), one of the founders of the Analytic School of philosophy, who believed that most philosophical problems aren't really moral disagreements or religious disputes or whatever, just disagreements about language.

    He argued that if we could just be super-clear in our use of language, the problems would go away.

    I reckon that's a cool tip we should try to adopt in advertising. I mean, so many problems arise because you show someone some ideas, but what they wanted was what you call strategies (although they call them ideas). Or you ask someone for ways-in, and they come back with scripts, which is what ways-in means to them, although you meant something else.

    So, can we not just agree upfront what we all mean by terms like 'idea', 'strategy', 'thought', 'execution', 'territory', 'way in', and 'platform'? 

    Then we'll hopefully spend less time floundering around like a fish in an empty bathtub.

    Monday, October 20, 2014

    Has The 'Ta-Da' Moment Had Its Day?

    On another website, a Chief Marketing Officer was saying that he hates the 'ta-da' moment, when an agency does the big reveal of their new campaign.

    So... why do we do it?

    If we scrapped it, we would certainly save time and money. A 'big' presentation takes a day or two days of studio resource, plus the cost of the materials, which pretty much all ends up being wasted.

    And it would save stress. There's always a late night or two putting that ta-da together. And the big build-up to the reveal can create big anxiety; if you haven't cracked it, it's a disaster.

    I also wonder whether it's harder for clients to give honest feedback in that kind of session. The agency have clearly been to such a huge effort, and (hopefully) show such passion in presenting it, that human nature surely dictates at least a little positivity, even if none is warranted.

    Yes, the passion and presenting skills of the agency can sometimes get a client excited, even over-excited. But is that necessarily a good thing? It's like when you go shopping - sometimes the pumping music and the gushing enthusiasm of the sales staff gets you buying something that you later realise doesn't suit you, and nobody wins.

    So what's the alternative - emailing the work? We could theoretically give clients an email update every 24 hours.And the advantage of this method is that we wouldn't go for any longer than 24 hours on the wrong track.

    But it seems a bit of a shame.

    As a CD, I'm a buyer of ideas myself, and I know from experience I'm much more likely to respond positively to something if the team is there to bring it to life in front of me, rather than just sending it via email. Also an idea is much more likely to grow and evolve, in a face-to-face session.

    So call me crazy, but how about if we deployed some technology to help? Like a Google Hangout?

    I'm proposing what I modestly suggest we henceforward call the 'Veksner Triple-Screen Method'. You divide the screen into 3. On the left, the brief. On the right, the work. And in the middle, the face(s) of the people you are talking to. 

    What do you think?

    Or are you a fan of 'ta-da'? 

    Monday, October 13, 2014

    Don't Care About Grammar? Stop Reading.

    There is a Facebook group called 'If You Don't Know The Difference Between You're And Your, You Deserve To Die.'

    Quite amusing. Although personally, I don't get too wound up about grammar. It's far more important to be saying something interesting than to be saying something correctly.

    In fact, I don't believe there even is such a thing as correct and incorrect usage. Not really.

    However, I'm making an exception for the new trend towards using initial caps for every word in advertising headlines. This has to stop. 

    Immediately, please.