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Beware the Donald Trumps of Advertising

We live in complicated times. And in complicated times, simple solutions become seductive.

Especially those that hark back to a bygone era – coincidentally, the era before the complications began.

It’s true in politics, and it’s true in advertising.

Donald Trump has taken the complexities of America’s 21st century immigration issues and come up with a three-word solution: “Build a wall.”

On trade and foreign policy, four words – “Make America great again.”

Aside from the fact that there’s nothing behind Trump’s soundbites, the reality is that fixing difficult problems is rarely a simple process.

As Obama put it: “Sometimes there are simple solutions out there, but I’ve been president for seven-and-a-half years, and it turns out that’s pretty rare.” 

A fascinating recent article in The Atlantic called ‘The Tyranny of Simple Explanations’ discusses how even in a field as objective as physics, scientists can be seduced by the elegance of simple solutions. But these solutions often turn out to be wrong, because reality is more messy than we’d like it to be.

So it’s no surprise that we see the same phenomenon in a business as subjective as advertising.

One of the great demagogues of our field, The Ad Contrarian, has become ‘online famous’ by writing multiple variations on the theme that, as far as online advertising goes, “Agencies have sold their clients a truck load of baloney.” 

He is quite right to point out the issues we have with online advertising, such as click fraud, and lack of transparency around viewability metrics.

But the central appeal of his argument is that it harks back to a simpler time – when TV was king, and the far more complex medium of the internet had not been invented.

He’s a great writer. “The marketing and advertising industries are marooned on some distant planet and are still yapping about the death of TV,” he says.

But he constantly over-simplifies. For example, no one is saying “TV is dead.” The truth, as we all know, is surely more complex – the internet won’t kill TV, just as TV didn’t kill radio, and radio didn’t kill print. All will co-exist. Nothing will get neater, only messier. And the ad tech that he just wishes would go away, won’t.

Another ad guru loves to trot out the fact that “89% of advertising isn’t noticed or remembered.”

I won’t name him because he’s a good friend, and an awesome person… but he’s not right about everything.

The appeal of his argument is, once again, seductively simple: all we need to do is create ads with impact. We should dramatise facts. Write slogans, maybe jingles. Like in the good old days.

But it ignores the evidence, which shows that the majority of human information-gathering and decision-making takes place at an unconscious level.

Impact isn’t everything.

“Simple is smart, complicated is stupid,” this guru tweeted, only yesterday.

Hate to say it, but I disagree.

‘Solutions’ that sound simple have an intrinsic appeal, but the reality is usually more complex.

Both in advertising, and in politics.

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Why Can't It Be April Fool's Day Every Day?

I’m not talking about the pranking part. I’m talking about the high levels of entertainment and relevance that marketers will be aiming for (and often achieving) today.

Let’s start with the entertainment factor. There’s an analogy with the Super Bowl here: it’s the one day a year when brands make the kind of TV ads they ought to be making all the time – big, emotive, entertaining.

April Fool’s Day has begun to look the same in social media. It’s the one day a year when brands worry less about ramming home their messages, and worry more about being entertaining.

Of course a brand shouldn’t be clownish every day. And not every brand is a suitable candidate for humour. But for those that are, why can’t we set the bar to ‘funny’ every day? Or at least shoot for funny, then we might at least hit ‘amusing’. I’ve seen too many briefs that put the word ‘witty’ in the tone of voice box. Let’s be honest - ‘witty’ refers to anything that you can tell is trying to be funny, but actually isn’t. How about if we tried to be as entertaining every day, as we are today?

Now let’s turn to the relevance question.

Online advertising has always over-indexed on relevance. Sometimes to its detriment, as when a news story about salmonella on a cruise ship triggers ads for cruising holidays.

Nevertheless, relevance remains a key goal for brands. Topicality is a quick way to get some, and it’s easier to be topical in Social than almost any other medium. Hence the orgy of “Eggcellent” posts around Easter time and Star Wars-themed posts on May the Fourth.

Yes, if done in a crass way, it’s very crass. But at least topical ads are speaking to something that is going on in people’s lives, rather than just what the brand wants to tell people.

We know that people aren’t very interested in brands. But because we live and breathe our brands, it’s easy to forget that. But what if we started each piece of activity with a firm determination to create communications that are relevant to people’s lives, and not just saying what we want to say?

So I’m looking forward to today’s April Fools. Being rather gullible, I may even be fooled by some of them. But mostly, I’ll just enjoy the fun.

Although, at the risk of taking a slightly heavy tangent for a column about April Fool’s day, there may be a more profound reason for our enjoyment of it. Apparently, one reason people are so keen to celebrate annual festivals such as Christmas, Easter and April 1st is that they fool us into thinking life is cyclical, rather than the reality of our straight-line journey to the grave.

And there you have it. April 1st - not just a bit of fun, but potentially a template for how brands should behave all year round, and also, deeply comforting on an existential level. Perhaps not such a trivial day after all.

 

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Are You Too Old For Social Media?

Obviously, ageism is a social ill – on the same spectrum as racism and sexism.

But let’s not forget that discrimination is only bad if it means undervaluing someone without good reason.

Discrimination for good reason is completely justified.

Discriminating against the over-70’s if the selection was for a 100m race, for example, would be entirely rational.

And it just may be that Social Media is the first communications discipline in history for which ageism is justified. Do you see a lot of over 40’s on Snapchat? You don’t.

Ageism in advertising has always operated at both ends of the scale. If you were ‘just a kid’ (i.e. 25 or under) you wouldn’t be trusted to make a big TV ad.

And if you were 45 or over, you were told you were being taken to ‘a really fun place for cool people’, before being led gently into a back alley and never seen again.

But within the agency-acceptable 25-45 year old age band, there was broad agreement about how advertising should be conducted. We maybe watched slightly different TV shows and read different magazines and newspapers, but there was no disagreement about whether those media ‘worked’ or not.

And yet now, for perhaps the first time, there is.

The vast majority of social media critics are an older generation. Bob Hoffman, who runs the notoriously social-sceptic Ad Contrarian blog, is an older guy. And although he is careful to base all his arguments on fact, I still suspect he’s a bit like the musicologist who feels he can ‘prove’ that The Beatles are superior to hip-hop.

Ad Contrarian: Bob Hoffman

Ad Contrarian: Bob Hoffman

The facts certainly indicate the emergence of a definite age divide. Let’s take a look at them.

The most salient and inescapable fact about media and advertising today is that digital media consumption is growing, and everything else is shrinking.

(This is from a presentation that Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget delivered last week – see it here).

Furthermore, only about 15% of Americans aged 16-24 claim to watch TV, versus 70% of those aged over 65. And the 18-24’s have begun watching 30% less TV in just the last four years. (Meanwhile, they check their phones every 10 minutes).

The average person watching TV is old. The median age of a US network viewer is 62-64. For Fox News, it’s 68.

Of course TV isn’t dead. It will settle down and find its niche, just as radio has, and print.

But that niche could be old.

And the people (like Bob) queuing up to slam social media… well, I don’t want to be ageist here (and I’m no toddler myself), but I have to wonder… are they just old?

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Does Your Dry Cleaner Really Need To Be On Social Media?

Nowadays it seems everybody from your dry cleaner to your local fish & chip shop has a social media account, and they all want you to follow them.

Type “Follow us on Instagram” into Google and you get 887 million results.

Logically, if we followed every pet shop, petrol station and party planner that wanted us to, and read every one of their posts, we wouldn’t have time to brush our teeth or go to the toilet.

Has it all gone too far?

The other day I was walking past my local convenience store, and I saw that even they have an Instagram account.

Now why in the hell would I follow my local convenience store? For news of their latest special offers on biscuits? A chance to win an icy pole?

Out of curiosity, I checked the account - fully prepared to unload a dump truck-sized load of cynicism onto them.

But as it turns out, I should ask if they stock humble pie.

Because the Redfern Convenience Store, amazingly, has 7,182 followers. The owner, Hazem Sedda, is clearly a natural community-builder.

He loves taking pictures of his customers, and his customers love being in them.

 

@redfern_convenience_store

@redfern_convenience_store

“These are my beautiful customers who are a part of my life,” runs the description at the top of his feed.

And the whole account is like that; shot through with a genuine warmth and sincerity.

But Hazem is also not afraid to deploy humour, frequently describing his business as “The Greatest Redfern Convenience Store on Earth.”

He’s also fabulously supportive of his fellow local traders, captioning this photo: “he owns the dock pub which is one of the best places to be in #redfern any night of the week!”

@redfern_convenience_store

@redfern_convenience_store

Okay, so the dude’s clearly a hipster, but Hazem can’t help what neighbourhood he’s in.

He’s worked in that same convenience store for 15 years, since he and his parents arrived in Australia from Palestine. For the first seven years, he worked 18 hour days. Now apparently he’s done well enough to be able to make several real estate investments. Good on him.

Friendliness, hard work, and a commitment to your community.

If you want to achieve success, isn’t that a model that every brand should be following, in every social channel?
 
P.S. here’s a picture of a girl eating pasta, from the Instagram account of my local pub.

@chippolord

@chippolord

564 likes.

 

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What if the #YourTaxis ‘fiasco’ is actually good social media, not bad?

News.com.au called it “the social media fail of the year.” It was featured on Gruen, Buzzfeed, in The Australian, The Guardian… and of course it trended on Twitter.

In case you haven’t heard, the Victorian Taxi Association’s request for people to share their taxi stories attracted a shitstorm of tweets such as “It smelled like a wookiee’s armpit” “I was preached at about how Somali immigrants are destroying Australia for 25 minutes” and “Driver fell asleep on freeway and almost wiped out car in next lane because he’d pulled an all-nighter.”

And that’s before we even get onto all the reports of assaults, sexual assaults, and epic rudeness.

Undoubtedly, they didn’t mean for this to happen. The VTA probably confused the huge public usage of their service with popularity, when the truth is they are just a monopoly. Or close to one.

When you’re unpopular, it perhaps isn’t smart to ask people in a public forum what they think of you. (McDonalds made the same mistake with #McDStories back in 2012).

VTA chief executive David Samuel, in response to the media attention, commented that: “The response online over the past 24 hours isn’t anything we didn’t expect.”

I’m sure that’s not true.

But he also said some things that are actually quite sensible: “We asked for feedback and we got it. The good and the bad and everything in between.”

Later statements even implied some kind of learning was taking place: “We want to make sure our service continues to meet customers’ expectations in a period of rapid change,” said Samuel. “We will respond to everything that comes our way on YourTaxis.”

And this is where I see a glimmer of hope for Vic Taxis. One of the remarkable features of the internet is the increased transparency and democratisation of criticism. Just take our own industry. Whereas once, the creators of an ad could think they’d done a good job because there was no forum to critique their work, they can now find out what everyone really thinks of it, via the comments section of the ad blogs.

It is my belief that a person or organisation has nothing to lose from criticism, and in fact has everything to gain.

Domino’s pizza launched a fantastic campaign in 2010 via Crispin Porter & Bogusky which showed the company’s chefs and executives being exposed to dire criticism of their food, and having the courage and integrity to use that criticism as fuel to create a better product. It worked.

And if there is to be a future for the traditional taxi in a world of Uber, they will have to do the same – improve the product. Like, make it not smell bad.

So, whereas a lot of social media campaigns might lift a brand’s awareness or make it marginally more popular, the Vic Taxis “fail” actually has the potential to transform their business entirely. If they choose to let it.

Which could make this one of the most beneficial social media campaigns of the year, not the worst. And certainly not, as many commentators demanded, something that the agency behind it should be fired for.

Although three days later, they did tweet this:

Now for this, yes. For this they should be fired.

And indeed were.

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Does the rise of social media signal the death of the professional creative?

Clients, you still have a job. Planners, you still have a job. Creatives, don’t get too comfortable.

Why do I say this?

Because the audience has now well and truly clambered onto the stage.

Armed with cheap yet impossibly impressive cameras, and fuelled by a level of creativity that no one knew they had, they are now perfectly capable of creating the content on which ‘professional’ creatives depended to earn a living.

The quality mostly isn’t that great, but you can’t argue with the quantity.

An old friend of mine used to write a blog called Loser-Generated Content, which critiqued the phenomenon. At that time, most user-generated content was rubbish.

And it still is.

However, there is now so much of it, that even though only a tiny percentage may be any good, that’s enough. As long as you can find it, of course.

Hence the rise of companies like Stackla. This outfit uses sophisticated software to trawl the internet for content about brands. Which actually isn’t as easy as it sounds. For example, a teenager might take a picture of themselves on a beach in summer, drinking a Coke. It might be a fantastic image, that Coke would love to use. But the problem is, the teenager probably doesn’t tag it ‘Coke’. So how would Coke ever find it? Stackla have their methods.

Of course, just to re-iterate, most of these images will be low quality. But some won’t. Some will be great, exuding a naturalness and authenticity that a professionally-cast shoot could never achieve.

Even if brands end up having to pay for this content, they typically don’t have to pay too much.

A professional creative expects a salary, so they can buy a car, and rent an apartment. And, you know, eat.

But the amateur creator already has a day job; they are creating just for the love of it. I’ve heard stories of creators making high-quality videos for brands in return for nothing more than some free product.

How do you compete with free?

Goodnight, everybody.

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Facebook's Unfair Advantage Over TV

Have you ever been to Facebook’s office? I have. It’s your standard ‘urban loft’ style media space in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, where staff walk around eating free bananas and admiring the tasteful graffiti.

In fact there is only one thing about the office that is in any way remarkable – just how few staff there are in it. (Apparently about 40).

Fewer people work at Facebook Australia than it takes to staff the NT News.

 

And yet its reach is – how can I put this politely – just a tad higher than that of our nation’s foremost chronicler of crocodile-related incidents.

Every day, 10 million Australians are active on Facebook. About 5 million Australians watch a video on Facebook every day.

Perhaps a better comparison, since Facebook is turning into a video medium, is with broadcasters.

And thinking that through, I just feel tremendously sorry for the broadcasters.

Consider Australia’s No.1 TV show, The Bachelorette. It’s well-made, fantastically entertaining, and fully deserves its haul of around a million viewers per episode. But just think of what Channel 10 has to do, to get those million pairs of eyeballs.

Screen-Shot-2015-09-25-at-9.56.46-am.png


In the first episode alone, they had to hire an actual helicopter, which touched down in the middle of the SCG (also rented for the afternoon). In subsequent episodes they’ve put contestants up in vintage planes, sent them skydiving, even flown them to Perth. And that’s before you get into the cost of the mansion itself, the writers (sorry, producers), cameramen, editors, directors… plus of course the wine and cheese that seems to be a mandatory presence on every date. And the tux hire.

Whereas all Facebook had to do was build a website.

Channel 10, as a business, is running a kind of circus. To get people into their tent they have to provide a never-ending parade of entertainment. They’re paying for trapeze artists, strongmen, clowns, horses, midgets… many of whom are earning a fortune (Osher doesn’t come cheap, I’m sure). Whereas Facebook is like the circus owner who doesn’t put on any entertainment at all, but just puts up a tent – not even a real one, a virtual one – and suggests the attendees show each other their holiday photos. And we do.

Channel 10 is paying a fortune to create content. On Facebook, it’s the punters who create the content themselves.

And if anyone is thinking that it’s ridiculous to compare a website to a TV station… bear in mind that they’re both competing for exactly the same advertising dollar. Actually, they’re competing for the same investment dollar too.

I love TV and I also love Facebook. They can obviously co-exist. But if I was an investor, I know where I’d put my money.

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‘Does Social Media advertising work?’ made very little sense as a question. And now it’s been answered.

Unilever's Ben & Jerry's brand

Unilever's Ben & Jerry's brand

Not long ago, it was quite common for marketers to question whether social media advertising “works”.

It’s actually a bit of a strange question, if you think about it.

Social media, like all media, is just a place where people rest their eyeballs. (Actually social media is more than that. But I digress).

And if enough eyeballs go there, then so will advertisers. That’s the way it’s always been, for every medium.

The first cinema in the United States – Vitascope Hall, in New Orleans – opened in 1896. Cinema ads were being produced less than a year later.

The first commercially licensed radio station in America went on air in 1920. In 1922, the first radio advertising was broadcast.

Of course, people questioned those media at first. “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value” was one early critique of radio.

Similarly, when Twitter launched in 2006, commentators speculated it would never be possible to monetise it. This year, it’s looking at an estimated $2 billion in ad revenue. (And the revenue estimate is $13 billion for another prominent social media site called ‘The Facebook’).

Perhaps it’s appropriate that it fell to Unilever – that most blue-chip of all advertisers – to give social media advertising the official seal of approval. It happened at an advertising measurement conference in Miami Beach a couple of weeks ago (Miami Beach! Who says bean counters don’t party?!)

Shawn O’Neal, VP-global people data and marketing analytics for the FMCG giant, didn’t reveal specific results (because they’re proprietary) but did announce that his findings on Unilever’s extensive social media activities were enough to convince the company’s senior leadership to “give us tens of millions more to continue what we’re doing.”

We can probably expect more detail when O’Neal speaks at Ad Age’s Data Conference in New York tomorrow (October 8th).

But in summary, it works.

(Though it could be working a lot better, since most of the actual creative in Social today is very average. But that’s a story for another time).

So what do you think? We are all in agreement that Social Media advertising works now, aren’t we?

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Which Is Better For A Sports Team’s Social Channels – Winning Or Losing?

This last week has seen the starkest possible contrast in fortunes for two of Australia's sports teams.

The cricketers were thrashed by the English. Australia ‘lost’ the Ashes – although technically it never really had them, since the actual urn, for reasons of colonial oppression, remain on permanent display at Lord’s – leading to the retirement of Michael Clarke, the captain. Yes, the ‘Pup’ has been put down.

Meanwhile, the Wallabies ended a four-year drought with a sparkling 27-19 win over the All Blacks, and are being tipped as World Cup winners.

So, enough of their performances on the field, how are the two sports faring in the digital arena?

It turns out that the Australian Rugby Union has a far higher percentage of their audience engaged at 44.0%, compared to Cricket Australia which has 2.8% engaged.

The most effective medium for Cricket Australia – by far – is Twitter. In fact it has the leading Twitter engagement rate of any of the 44 Australian sporting bodies tracked by BrandData. (In addition to having the most successful website). Yet curiously, it is the second LEAST effective of all 44 bodies on Facebook.

The Australian Rugby Union, by contrast, is the MOST effective on Facebook. (And also first on YouTube). But is nowhere on Twitter.

Since one is weak exactly where the other is strong, and vice versa, the obvious conclusion is they could create a real social media powerhouse by simply combining the two sports.

For sure, the merger would throw up some challenges. Like… which ball to use? It certainly wouldn’t be easy to hit a rugby ball very far with a cricket bat. Nor would it be a cinch to locate a cricket ball in the ruck. As far as personnel, there are some easier calls. Steve Smith surely has the physique to be a scrum half. Mitchell Johnson could power down the wing, no problem. And if Matt Giteau can bowl as well as he kicks, that would really help this ‘Crugby’ team succeed.

But other than a merger, the Brand Data conclusion for what each body needs to do to enhance their online presence is clear:

Lose.

For despite its on-field success, the ARU has dropped three places in the last week, in terms of the digital league table of sporting bodies. While Cricket Australia, despite its defeat – or let’s face it, probably because of the excitement that the team’s crisis has created – increased seven places (to 12th).

 

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Does This End The Logo Size Debate Forever?

It's just possible you may have seen this campaign for the iPhone.

It has apparently run in 70 cities and 24 countries, in magazines, newspapers, billboards, transit posters and more. 

I attended some research groups the other day. The first question was "have you noticed any ads recently?" and the answer came back "Apple, Apple, Apple, Apple." Always Apple.

As well as its huge media spend and undoubtedly high impact and recall, it can't be considered too shabby from a creative point of view, since it won the Cannes Grand Prix for Outdoor this year.

But amidst all the hype, one aspect of the campaign has been overlooked.

The teeny weeny size of the logo.

Running a rough ruler over it, I calculate that the logo occupies only 0.12% of the total area of the ad you see above.

And yet the branding is super-clear.

Partly this is because there isn't any extraneous communication here, so there's not too much for the eye to wade through before it reaches the logo. 

But mostly it's because the whole ad is an Apple ad, not just the part where the logo appears.

As I've argued before, branding should be in an ad's DNA, not slapped onto it like the branding on a cow.

That means each ad needs to be part of a consistent brand world. This is essential for proper attribution, and so that each ad contributes cumulatively to brand image, building a coherent picture in people's minds.

Apple have used a consistently clean and minimalist style for years - they have a brand world, for sure.

But assuming your brand has that - and it isn't a cheap & cheerful one where a big logo and starbursting price are appropriate - try to stand firm the next time someone asks you to "up the branding".

You could perhaps mention that the only brand in the world which has people camping out in the street to buy its latest product, uses a logo that's just 0.12% of the ad. 

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Our Industry Is A Little Unwell. Will This Guy Put A Bullet In It?

Steve Jobs killed the compact disc. Henry Ford killed the horse & buggy.

Now ex-Havas CEO David Jones may be about to do the same to the ad agency.

He has raised the enormous sum of $350 million to set up a global "brand tech" company that will build brands using technology. His plans are a little vague at the moment, but he is adamant that "Everything that the traditional model does, we will do the opposite."

I've written before about the need for a new agency model - let's face it, this is an urgent problem - so props to Jones. He's going for it.

And I applaud his focus on technology. No one knows exactly what the evolution of the agency model will look like, but we have to assume that technology will play a big role.

However, like anyone touting a new model, Jones is obliged to say that the old model is shit.

Therefore, he lays a out a damning series of accusations against the agency business.

Are they justified?

Let's take a look.

"I’d rather give 100,000 film-makers $10,000 and the opportunity to create content than give one overpaid, under-talented creative director $1 million," he says.

Hmm. Maths may not be his strong suit. If you give $10,000 to 100,000 film-makers, you've actually spent $1 BILLION, not $1 million. (I'll be charitable and assume it's the journalist's mistake, not Jones's).

But the idea that there is an under-talented creative director out there earning $1 million is just laughable. You simply can't get to that figure in our industry, or even a third of that figure, without being insanely talented.

Here's his next criticism of ad agencies: "You could only create if you were one of the 10 per cent of the agency that were in the creative department," Jones says. "In fact, if anybody outside of that 10 per cent had an idea, it was automatically the dumbest idea on the planet."

So, so, so, much wrong with this. So much. First of all, why the hell was he running an agency in which only 10 per cent of the staff were creatives? No wonder he wasn't impressed with them. They were probably run ragged...

But the bit about how you could 'only' create if you were in the creative department? So annoying.

I'm a CD and my whole job is to deliver good ideas to my clients. I'm always on the hunt for ideas. I'm desperate for more ideas, better ideas, different ideas. And there is nothing stopping the suits and planners from coming up with ideas. In fact, in my experience, they do continually make suggestions. Not usually fully-formed ideas, but 'ways in', thought-starters, and 'angles' - which is as it should be. 

The suggestion that any ideas from outside the creative department are considered automatically dumb... I've heard this one so many times, it's really starting to tweak my wiener.

I definitely don't care where ideas come from. Why would I? Gold is gold, and whoever puts it on the table, I will take it straight to the bank, believe me.

I think what happened to David Jones is that he suggested an idea, it got rejected, and he assumed it was rejected because he was an account man. Easier to think that, perhaps, than to accept that the idea wasn't very good.

The typical creative team might have to put up ten, twenty, thirty or fifty ideas to get one the CD thinks is good enough to show the client. It ain't easy.

And despite his good intentions, I worry that David Jones thinks it is.

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Advertising Haiku


For anyone who doesn't know, a haiku is a three-line poem of 5 syllables/ 7 syllables/ 5 syllables.

The acknowledged master of the form was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), whose most famous haiku (titled 'Old Pond') goes like this:
old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water's sound
Not terrible. But imagine if he'd been writing haikus about a subject as exciting as advertising?

My old friend McDermott (a suit) once wrote one called 'The Account Executive':

Remember to smile.
Give 'em the ol' shuck and jive.
You have people skills.

My effort:
I got a new brief;
It said: "Wanted. Big idea."
Thank God for YouTube.
(It's always nicer to be self-deprecating than to slag other people off, I feel).

And yes, I do acknowledge that mine is pretty shit.

So let's hear yours. 

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Why What Won, Won



Juries no doubt think they are objectively choosing the best work they see.

But the fact that every year certain styles of work are more heavily awarded than others has to mean that juries aren't just choosing the smartest, most emotive, or most insightful ideas... but also what is somehow on-trend.

Hate the word 'trends'. It implies a flash-in-the-pan - buzzwords like 'big data' and 'storytelling' which flare up one year and disappear the next.

But in terms of trends that have been around for a while and look set to be with us for a while longer, you'd have to pick out two - cause-related marketing, and technology ideas.

Cause-related marketing used to be something that was done separately, by a company's 'CSR' department. Now it's at the heart of many brands' communications.

Dove was one of the first, and they're still doing it - this is a brand that sells itself not on its moisturising qualities, but on its concern for female self-empowerment. P&G's Always doesn't talk about 'no leaks', it encourages respect for women by asking us what it means to do something #LikeAGirl. And Honey Maid is sticking up for tolerance and diversity in society, with its re-definition of what is wholesome.

Trend 2. New technologies have revolutionised our entire world, and that includes advertising. From the dawn of subservient chicken, to today, when a Cannes Grand Prix is awarded to Crispin Porter for a piece of utility that enables consumers to order Domino's by tweeting a pizza emoji.

If 'cause-related marketing' and 'technology' are the two mega-trends, then it stands to reason that work which sits at the intersection of the two, will be the most on-trend.

And so it proved.

The biggest winner of the year was probably Volvo Life Paint, by Grey London, which took out two Grand Prix - in Design, and also in Promo & Activation.

This is a brand addressing a social problem, using the technological innovation of invisible reflective paint. Cause, and tech, in one. 


Across all the categories, the Golds, Silvers and Bronzes, you will see multiple examples of juries' love for the place where ‘cause’ intersects with ‘tech’. 

A stationery store in the UK tries to reduce the environmental consequences of discarded ink cartridges - Ryman ‘The Eco Alphabet Project’. 

Samsung. They sell phones. They sell TV’s. What can Samsung have to do with road safety? Samsung Road Safety Truck by Leo Burnett Buenos Aires. 

Now, it’s highly possible that some of these projects were made more for awards juries than the public.

This has certainly been the accusation in a lot of commentary during and after Cannes.

But set against that, you’d have to acknowledge that Volvo’s Life Paint idea got great PR for Volvo all over the world.

These ideas are spreading, and spreading organically via social media. They’re associating the brands involved with good causes – in a way that’s relevant, and likely to make them more preferable to consumers. 

They work.

But it's because they’re on-trend - and not necessarily because they're the cleverest or most insightful ideas - that they're winning the biggest awards.


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Hidden Gems Of Cannes 2015


While the Grand Prix and Golds get most of the attention, I like to pick through the Silver and Bronze pile, to find the hidden gems.

These are the ads that won't change the world, and didn't get huge coverage (if any) in the trade press, but are nevertheless excellent. In my opinion, obvs.

In amongst the usual big-budget promotions for batteries and Sharpies, there was actually some rather nice print work.


Sweet. Simple. Silver in Outdoor and Press.
Simple and funny. All you want in a beer ad. Bronze in Outdoor. (Click to embiggen).
 


Why don't more people make ads using the company's logo? The result is inevitably both strong and well-branded... Bronze in Outdoor. (In case you can't read the line, it says "Bi-Xenon Headlamps").




Maybe I'm biased, as this work is from our sister agency A&E DDB London. Or maybe I'm biased because I'm a cat fan. (If you're one too, you'll want to check out the awesome making-of video). But I absolutely love this campaign for Mars Temptations, which won Silver in Outdoor and Press.



S7 Airlines must be from Russia, although they hired W+K to make their ad. Wise choice, because it's brilliant. Starts out like a cliché, then twists hard, so stick with it.



Melanoma Likes Me. Wow, just wow. Best use of Instagram so far? Almost certainly. So simple, and yet so sinister, really. Silver in Promo & Activations, Bronze in Creative Data. (Is that a category now? I guess it is).



Taco Bell Blackout. Ballsy, counterintuitive thinking... that sounds like it really paid off. Bronze in Cyber. 


Honourable mentions to the Dead Island trailer (Bronze in Film), Saving Aslan (also Bronze in Film) and Nazis Against Nazis (Bronze in Cyber).

Something caught your eye in the silver and bronze pile? Share it in the comments. Or just general opinions about this year's work. Why not.

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'Twas The Night Before Cannes



I reckon this year's Cannes will showcase the best work our industry has ever produced.

Buoys that detect sharks, children's books that are also eye tests, radio stations for dogs... the sheer creativity is staggering.

But so is the irrelevance.

This article by Havas strategy dude Tom Goodwin, published in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago, gained wide attention. Its title: 'What if Cannes Lions celebrates the worst, not the best of advertising?'

Goodwin's argument is that much of the work at Cannes isn't solving real business problems, and isn't being seen.

It's a tough, tough bind. Last week I was searching for an old commercial, and found it as part of an ad break that someone had recorded from about 1997. The production values were miles ahead of what we have today. And while the work was arguably nothing more than a succession of high-quality pub gags, it was entertaining stuff.

But the point is that this work was being widely seen. (TV audiences were huge). And it was solving real business problems. (Admittedly, business was a lot simpler then. A category disruption meant someone adding alcohol to lemonade, not developing an app that eliminated an entire industry).

I'm not too worried about Cannes. The festival is well organised, it's a lot of fun, and is doing a great job of its core mission - to celebrate and inspire creativity. (Although it's not a good sign that people are taking the piss out of it - witness this Grand Prix Generator thing).

But I am worried about our industry.

We need to ensure our creativity is as relevant and as widely-seen as our clients need it to be, or I fear we may one day look back on Cannes as little more than a highly public suicide note.

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This Is My All-Time Favourite Asterisk


There has never, in the history of the world, been a competition that had no terms and conditions.

I don't even know if such a competition could exist.

Okay, let's try to imagine it. A competition without terms would have no entry mechanic. It would have no cut-off date. And it would have no means of deciding a winner. So it would basically be a competition open to anyone in the world, forever, that they could enter any way they wanted, and there would be no way of knowing who won.

That is the grim future that a heroic lawyer at the Mazda corporation is protecting us from, in the ad above.

Unfortunately, this lawyer remains anonymous. We will never know his or her name. Their achievement will go unrecognised, unrewarded.

And I, for one, don't think that's fair.

I have therefore taken the liberty of composing a short poem in honour of this fine lawyer.

As you will shortly realise, I am not experienced - or indeed skilled - in the art of writing poetry.

But I hope that my sincerity and genuine appreciation for this unsung hero (or heroine), will nevertheless shine through.


Ode To A Lawyer

Lawyer, lawyer, burning bright
In your office, late at night
Knees are weak, arms are heavy,
Just finished the last of mum's spaghetti,
Such a long day, your brain feels floppy
But before you go home,
Got to check this Mazda ad copy

It's a one-word headline
Should be simple enough
No dubious claims
Or marketing fluff

But o horror of horrors -
Most unfortunate day
You can't pass this ad
Not like that
Oh no way.

People might think that everyone can win
And that is no state for society to be in

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
Ignore the agency when they continually moan
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are totes losing their shit
Then you're doing your job well
So you don't falter, not one bit

You won't be deflected, you won't be deterred
You act out of love, you're protecting the herd
With shift 8 on your keyboard - the asterisk key
You keep the world safe, you keep our world free*



*'Free' in this context refers to free as in 'freedom', not free as in 'no cost'. Charges for living in our world may apply. E.g. for food and whatnot.

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Soon, You May Not Be Working In An Ad Agency




I had dinner with a friend the other night, who happens to be a headhunter. Her general comment on our industry was this very straightforward bombshell: "It's shrinking."

Of course there's still the same amount of stuff being made. It's just that less of it is being made by ad agencies.

It's starting to be made by clients in-house (e.g. Apple), by media agencies, by media owners (including the 'new media' owners like Google and Facebook), and by a barbarian horde of all-around content providers, such as Vice, Maker Studios, etc.

Have you seen 'Dear Kitten'? (above). If not, watch it immediately.

This was made by BuzzFeed.

Not an ad agency.

BuzzFeed.

(Incidentally, I love the way there's a header at the beginning which announces 'BuzzFeed Presents'. Wouldn't it be cool if we could open our ads with 'DDB Presents...')

An article in last week's Wall Street Journal picked up on this trend.

Titled 'Tech Firms Pull Talent Away From Ad Agencies', it cites someone called Amy Hoover, the president of recruiters Talent Zoo, saying that "almost 50% of creative jobs available today — including copywriters, designers, creative directors and content creators — aren’t at agencies, compared with 30% in 2010." 

And more than 50% of Facebook’s North American in-house creative unit, Creative Shop, come from an agency background.

Despite perceptions that the pay is higher at tech firms, money isn’t necessarily the draw at these new creative destinations. There is “pop-culture cachet that some of these new players can offer, which is attractive to people in their 20s and 30s,” according to Bob Jeffrey, non-executive chairman of J. Walter Thompson.

It’s a challenge for agencies, but if you're a creative person it’s surely good news, as it means you have more options.

So in summary, I'm actually feeling a little less doom-and-gloom than usual.

Because despite the seismic changes that are tearing through our industry like an electric carving knife through a pair of testicles... we will all still have jobs, people!

They just might not be in an ad agency.
 

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Everyone Is Saying 'We Need To Know The Client's Business Problem'. Do We?

This post is basically the same as last week's - I just thought of a new way to write the argument.

So if you've read last week's, you can skip this.

One day, Jonathan Topp-Guy - managing director of AdWow, one of the biggest advertising agencies in BigTown - had a eureka moment. Why were AdWow restricting themselves to solving crappy old marketing problems? It was just so damn limiting. Didn't they have the brainpower, the skills and the creativity to tackle real

business

problems?

So the next day, he made an appointment to see the CEO of FineBread.

"I'd like to know - what's your business problem?" he asked.

"Oh, I'll tell you," said the CEO. "The supermarkets are selling bread for $1, as a loss leader. They're killing us. We reckon it could be classed as anti-competitive practice, so I've hired an expensive firm of lobbyists to try to get the politicians to sort it for us. Can you help with that?"

"Um, no."

"All right, well can I tell you about our marketing problem?"

"Sure."

"We're struggling against our main competitor, TasteBread.

Consumers seem to prefer their

products over ours.

It's pure image, really, since the breads are

virtually identical. But it's a problem that's far from trivial - each point of market share we win from TasteBread is worth $7.5 million. Can you help with that?"

"Yes."

The next day, Jonathan Topp-Guy went to see the CEO of the well-known airline, SkyAir.

"What's your business problem?" he asked.

"Oh, I'll tell you. The price of jet fuel has shot up. It used to be 23% of our operating expenses, now it's 28%. That's a whopping 5% reduction in our margin. I've had several investment banks come in to talk to me and the CFO about buying fuel derivatives, but I'm not sure which is the right deal. Can you help with that?"

"Um, no."

"All right, well can I tell you about our marketing problem?"

"Sure."

"We could sure use some help advertising our new flat bed - it's better than any competitive offering, and a genuinely better experience for our customers - and we've run ads about it, but somehow the message hasn't gotten through. Can you help with that?"

"Yes."

The next day, he went to see the CEO of travel agency HolidayShop.

"What's your business problem?" he asked.

"Oh, I'll tell you. People are becoming more and more comfortable booking holidays online. It's only the older crowd who feel the need to come into bricks-and-mortar stores like ours. Currently we have 700 stores but we believe that in ten years there will be none. It's basically a dead category - a technological innovation has rendered our business model obsolete. Can you help with that?"

"Um, no."

"All right, well can I tell you about our marketing problem?"

"Sure."

"While we manage the decline, we're still spending millions of dollars a year on TV ads, but they're rather formulaic. I believe that if we had better ads, we wouldn't need to spend as much on media. Can you help with that?"

"Yes."

Look, I'm being extreme here, to make a point. Of course it's helpful to know the client's business problem, and maybe sometimes we

can

use our creativity to solve it. And hey, we'll at least then have more context around their marketing problem. But let's not be so self-effacing as to decide that

our marketing communications expertise is not significant and valuable. It is. 

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Is It Smart For Us To Go Upstream?

I've suggested

before

that instead of constantly cutting costs, we should consider how to

make

more money.

However, there's a right way to do that and a wrong way.

The wrong way, IMHO, is proposed in an

article

in

AdWeek

this week by Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, chief strategy officer at

FCB Garfinkel New York.

Kofi starts by summing up what he sees as the problem, by using a quote from a Diageo marketer that has gained quite a bit of attention recently: "Agencies unable to prove they are driving value for clients risk becoming little more than dust."

It's an attention-grabbing quote, but even a quick analysis shows it to be somewhat meaningless. Surely

any

business, in any field, anywhere in the world, faces oblivion if it is unable to prove it creates value?

But I guess it's his solution that I really disagree with. Kofi writes: "The client-agency relationship needs to start way upstream of the communications brief. Clients need to invite agencies into the depths of their business, to share all of their data...

we need to become true general contractors."

Presumably, becoming 'general contractors... upstream' means going into areas beyond marketing.

Sounds exciting. But here's my question. What are we actually going to do, when we start getting involved with areas beyond marketing? Are we really going to get involved with finance? HR? Distribution? Manufacturing?

We just don't have the skills.

Are we really proposing to send a Comms Planner to a finance meeting, to sit alongside the Client's Finance Director, and a couple of guys from Goldman Sachs?

Are we really proposing to send a Copywriter to a meeting about building a new factory, alongside the Client's Head of Manufacturing, and a couple of guys from Balfour Beatty?

It's a joke.

And worse than that, it depreciates what we actually

can

do.

In an age of commoditisation, marketing (and hence marketing communications) are more important than ever.

Land Rover was once a unique product. Now everyone makes an SUV. Gordon's once had a near-monopoly on gin. Now there are 50 gins. 

In fact I'd turn the Diageo marketer's question back onto the client companies themselves: how is the average maker of a vodka, beer, training shoe, mid-size sedan, vitamin, juice, or coffee... or provider of insurance, mortgages, or personal loans... doing anything to drive value for their corporations?

Their products are almost completely undifferentiated. The corporate structures (of large corporations) are almost all identical. Their financing and management techniques do not significantly differ.

It's primarily

marketing

that can make the difference.

And yet

80% of CEOs do not trust their marketers, and 70% of CEOs believe marketers are disconnected from business results. (

Source

). 

The truth is that it's not we who need to go upstream, it's our Clients.

The Marketer is able to create far more value for the corporation than the Manufacturing Guy (since most companies are making me-too products), or the HR person, the legal counsel, etc.

Given the importance of marketing, every Marketing Director should sit on their company's board. Hell, every CMO should be sitting right next to the CEO.

And we should make it our mission to help them get there.

Because if they rise - which they deserve to - we rise.

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The ECD Who Doesn't Sign Off Any Work


Very interesting interview this month with Nils Leonard, Chairman and CCO of Grey London.

The bit that really jumps out is that he claims he doesn't sign off any of the work.

Let's rewind. When Leonard first took over at Grey, a few people carped along the lines of 'how can he be an ECD when he's never done any great work as a creative', which is a rather foolish argument, akin to questioning Arsene Wenger's managerial ability on the grounds that he was a mediocre left-back.

Leonard's success is undeniable. Grey London has been utterly transformed under his watch. The agency where people "went to die", and whose creative floor was once known as "Jurassic Park", is now arguably one of the most dynamic in the world. In the last five years, the place has won a shitload of awards, and more than doubled in size.

So what did he do that was so different?

I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but he himself prefers not to tell us. Because it certainly can't be any of the three points he makes in his interview.

The first of these was his decision to go open-plan. As regular readers will know, I'm not a fan. But perhaps Leonard has a new take on it? "We tore down the offices", he says, "and for a reason: it literally is a physical barrier between an idea happening or not if you have to stop outside a door and knock to go and talk to somebody." 

Sounds hip, yeah. But if you actually examine it, I reckon this argument is super-weak. I mean... is that really such a huge barrier - a fucking door? Last time I checked, doors do open. And fairly easily, too. I don't recall them being much of a barrier when we had them at DDB London. They certainly never kept any suits out who wanted to come in. Or indeed anyone. They simply knocked, and entered! And once inside, you could actually have a proper chat... which in an open plan office, you can't.

But anyway, whatever the merits of open-plan, this move cannot be the cause of Grey's recent successes (21 pitches won out of 24), since every other agency in London has gone open-plan too. Hence, no competitive advantage there.

His second point is around looking for what he calls 'long ideas' rather than 'big ideas'. This means ideas that people want to spend time with, rather than simply ideas which can support multiple executions. And he's walked the walk here, for example producing a stage show 'The Angina Monologues' for the British Heart Foundation that was also broadcast on TV.


He's phrased it beautifully - "long ideas" - but a commitment to producing longer-form content cannot be the source of Grey's competitive advantage either, since every other agency in town is doing the same.

His last point is around "no sign-off". Leonard explains that a team consisting of a creative, a planner, and "I guess, a suit, or a producer" (he means a suit, but doesn't want to sound old-school) takes ultimate responsibility for the work - not him.

There are arguments both ways here. Yes, it's true that if people know the buck stops with them, they feel a greater sense of ownership, and may create better work. But on the other hand, you could argue it's a mistake to remove the CCO from the process - does it really make sense for the agency's best creative not to be involved in the work? 

He's certainly being a little disingenuous by reducing the CCO's role to a mere 'sign-off'. The good ECD's or CCO's or whatever the top person is called in an agency are doing a hell of a lot more than just signing off the work. They're adding to it, improving, finessing... sometimes transforming it.

In any case, once again this can't be the secret of Grey's recent out-performance, since many other agencies in London operate exactly the same system - including the last two where I worked, DDB and BBH - as do many other agencies around the world.

And it's certainly not true that this system is, as Nils Leonard claims, significantly faster. "If you trust people," he writes, "you don’t put barriers in the way and you speed up the process... you’ll be twice as fast as most agencies."

Really? Twice as fast? The ECD gets a day or two max to have their input - sometimes an hour. That's not 50% of the entire strategy/ideation/creative direction/presentation process. It's way, way less.

So what is the real reason for Grey's success, and why does Nils Leonard not tell us, instead making claims for the success of his agency which sound modern and groovy, but which aren't actually any different to what every other agency is doing?

In my view, the major change that has made the difference at Grey since the arrival of Nils Leonard... is the arrival of one Nils Leonard.

Obviously he doesn't say that in the interview, since it would sound horribly immodest (not to mention old-fashioned) to claim that one great creative leader can make the difference. But we all know that they can.

I have no interest in crawling up the bloke's arse, since I'm 10,000 miles away and not planning to go back. But by all accounts he's just very, very good at his job. Highly charming, highly creative, great with clients, great with ideas, great at hiring... and of course, great at PR.

And surely it's this latter quality that explains why in his interview he weaves a compelling story - a parable of modernity and inclusivity - rather than revealing the rather boring and old-fashioned truth.
 

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