Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bad Ginger

I once worked with an account exec. Let’s call her Sam (that’s her name after all). On most days Sam would write a long email listing every detail that happened or was going to happen on a particular job. THEN she would add her email to a long chain of long emails she had written earlier. She created a sort of parliamentary hansard. All the information was there.

Sam thought she was doing a fantastic job. She wasn’t. She was transferring information not meaning. She was carpet bombing her audience (me) with words, in the belief that the useful content would stick.

Whenever I received the latest update, I’d phone Sam and ask her to just tell me what she needed. She couldn’t understand why I needed telling. Hadn’t she put it all in the email?

Matt Shervington used to be a runner with Olympic potential. He is most famous for running without wearing underpants … it was very obvious. During the rugby world cup Matt starred in a flat screen TV commercial. I can’t remember the brand name.

I watched quite a few of the games so I saw Matt quite a few times. It wasn’t until about the 10th viewing that I realised Matt was telling me this TV was especially good to watch at night. He’d told me 10 times before but I hadn’t heard him. Well I’d heard him but it didn’t register. Why not? Because he had just said it. It was not illustrated or brought to life in any way. And I still can’t remember the brand name!

Garry Larsen’s ‘Bad Ginger’ cartoon speaks for itself. One of his best!

Sam, Matt and Ginger’s owner committed the error we all make occasionally. They thought that saying something was the same as communicating it. It is not.

How many ads tell us the facts rather than bring them to life? How many ads use the dreaded power point/bullet point method of information dump? Who knows. We probably miss hundreds every day.

Communications must be presented in a way the consumer will absorb, often by using surprising words, visuals or music. OR sometimes by going the other way. Clichés are clichés because they mean the same thing to everyone. The insurance industry uses umbrellas an awful lot because they immediately say ‘protection’. The umbrella is a cliché but it works.

In advertising don’t ask, “ Can it be understood?’ Ask, “Can it NOT be MIS-understood?’

(If I haven’t made any sense, please call and I’ll explain over the phone.)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Unforgettable Advertising

Are jingles making a comeback? I don’t mean a ‘rented’ song, with or without new lines.
I mean an original ‘short song’ as veteran adman and jingle genius Alan Morris calls them.

The sung brand message was huge in the 70’s and 80’s. Masters of the craft, Morris (Mo) and partner Allan Johnson (Jo), created an agency on the back of the technique, and a fortune for themselves in annual rollovers.

Most Aussies of a certain age will be able to sing the slogans of Tooheys Beer, XXXX beer, and Meadow Lea margarine, 20 years after last hearing them. Can you name the current tag lines for these brands? I certainly can’t.

So if jingles can be so effective, why don’t we see, I mean hear, more of them? The answer is that in agency-land they are not cool. In fact jingles are down right daggy. The quickest way to lose cred. in the eyes of your creative director or industry peers would be to suggest a jingle. So don’t expect your agency to volunteer one anytime soon.

This didn’t worry Martin Drinkrow, Marketing Director of Clorox. He had a new product to launch and a small budget (sound familiar?) He reasoned that a jingle would be more memorable and therefore drive his media dollar further.

‘Launching a new product like Chux Cleaning Wipes meant we had to get a rational message across. But I also wanted communication that stayed with the consumer and helped build the brand over time. Creating our own jingle does just that.’ Martin says.
‘The jingle has also helped our trade and sales people. Buyers and consumers alike think they’ve seen the ad more than they have!’

And while most marketers are judged quarter by quarter, it’s nice to know that an effective short-term solution could also keep working for your brand for years.

I can sing the jingle from the New Zealand brand Griffins GingerNuts. I last saw this ad when I was about 3! The creators have probably died of old age but their commercial
continues to work in my brain. I still ask for GingerNuts to be sent across the Tasman.

How many of us expect today’s communication to stay with a consumer for life? It’s a big responsibility!

HISTORICAL NOTE: St Augustine of Hippo (AD430) was an early advocate of the power of jingles. He said, ‘He who sings prays twice.’

Monday, October 1, 2007

Industrial quantities of Shazoom

Last weekend I enjoyed a video called Razzle Dazzle. In it, Mr Jonathan, a children’s’ dance instructor, decides the only way to win the big dance competition is with ‘industrial quantities of shazoom.’ His phrase was amusing and yet familiar, like some of the briefs and debriefs I’ve received overs the years.

Other unhelpful instructions have included, “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” “We want to ‘out Coke’ Coke.” and “I hate orange.”

To quote Melinda Eskell, one of the world’s best agency suits now working for Heineken, “Creatives want specifics.” Her 3 word statement is almost military in it’s directness and brevity. But it sums up perfectly what we need to do our jobs well.

Defining specifics is hard work but someone has to do it to start writing ads. If you leave it to the creatives we’ll wander all over the place. We might go to the right place but probably not. No, this tough job should be dealt with by the client.

As regular readers will know, I am a big believer in giving the specific of budget. Some clients keep this a secret. Much time wasting and heartache usually follows. AND they don’t save any money!

Concrete specifics like media, size and timing are usually not too hard. If logos are needed, supply them. If reference would help, supply it. You want your creatives answering the brief, not searching for an ad your company did in the US ‘a while ago’.

More abstract specifics might include, ‘Who are we advertising to … really’ I spent years advertising Philips products to consumers. Over a beer with the client I discovered the real target was the sales staff in the stores!

Debriefing is no less demanding. “It’s just not there yet.” is a very lazy way to respond to initial creative work. This sort of phrase fools no one. The speaker is usually out of his or her depth. If so, they should admit it and ask for help from their agency. They’ll get more respect, do a better job and be more knowledgeable next time.

Go through the brief to see that it has been answered. If the work is off brief it is wrong. Either change the brief or ask (a second time) for the work to be ON brief. End of discussion.

Sometimes creative work IS on brief but is still not exciting or interesting. If so, be specific about what doesn’t work. Don’t say, ‘it needs to be more surprising.’ You’ll get Eskimos fighting Aliens next time round. Be specific. For example you could say, ‘A mother cooking dinner in her kitchen is a bit familiar. Can she be preparing the meal somewhere else? A boat, a beach house, a friend’s house?’ Being specific gets you involved in the process rather than sitting in judgement. And it gives your creatives some direction.

So get specific and get great work. Or cross your fingers and ask for industrial quantities of shazoom.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Ditch the pitch

In the past few weeks two marketers have handed their accounts to agencies without a pitch. Sunbeam awarded Brave New World it’s $6 million account and CommBank gave BMF $50 million worth of business both without a pitch. Let’s hope this trend continues and the outdated practice of pitching is abandoned once and for all.

Pitches are bad for existing clients for 2 reasons.

1. Cost to you.
If your agency is pitching for new business (and they probably are) they are using time, money and staff to do the work - lot’s of it. Is the company they are pitching for paying the true cost of this pitch? Almost certainly not. Who is then? You are. Agencies that regularly pitch have to allocate a budget and as they have no other way of making money than by charging you, you pay the extra to cover pitches.

An agency’s chances of winning new business (to cover the cost of pitching new business) is small. The odds are as simple as the number of agencies pitching. 3 agencies – 1 in 3 chances. 10 agencies – 1 in 10. That’s if all things are equal. They never are.

2. Service to you.
If it’s so expensive and hard to win new business you’d think an agency would treat existing clients like gold. No? Sadly attention is often diverted away from existing business towards the shiny new client that is just out of reach.

Pitches are bad for new clients for 2 reasons.

1. It’s pure theatre.
Pitches are ritualised performances that give you no real idea of how the relationship will pan out. The chairman, managing director and creative director who were your best friends during the pitch process will suddenly become much harder to find. They certainly won’t be working day to day on the business. The work presented may well have been done by freelance creatives and presented by a full time ‘new business director’.

So how does a marketer select a new agency? Easy. 1-Ask around. 2-Do a little research. 3-Make a contact. 4-Brief a single project to a single agency. 5-Judge the success of the project. Either award all of your business, give another project or try someone else.

There is no better way of deciding how you (and your team) can work with someone (and their team), than by working with them. A real life project will reveal many of an agency’s strengths and weaknesses, that a pitch never would.

You’ll get a much better fit. And if everyone in the industry ditches the pitch, marketers will save a fortune.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Dead funny

Serious issues require serious ads. It’s a given. Or is it?

Until recently nearly all public service ads looked the same. Smoking ads always showed guts, diseased organs, or very sick people. Road safety ads always started with a normal drive that ended in a smash. When it comes to public health we creatives are not very creative.

That’s what I thought, until recently. Then I noticed 2 very different, but quite funny ads …. for serious issues.

The first launched a week ago in Australia for the RTA. The tradition is to tell young men they are acting dangerously by driving carelessly. It’s waste of time. Young men drive carelessly BECAUSE it’s dangerous.

The RTA decided that a far better way to cut through to this target was to imply that ‘hoon’ behaviour is indicative of having a small penis. Their agency borrowed a gesture that exists in the real world: the device is a waved pinkie that symbolises the driver’s inadequate masculinity.

The second humorous ad I stumbled across is a fund-raiser from the UK.

British comedian, Bob Monkhouse, was resurrected (pardon the pun) for an anti cancer commercial.

The twist?

Bob died of prostate cancer 4 years ago. Yet there he is cracking jokes as he asks for donations. He even looks at his own grave.

It’s a well-crafted mix of historical footage, new close-ups and hand shots, and a ‘sound-alike’ voice over. See Bob back from the dead here.

Both campaigns work because they do more than state the message. They use comedy to smash through the usual doom and gloom that is expected in this category. They break through the ‘noise’ and traditional ways of doing things.

Too many ads have a message but fail to cut through the noise: the noise of competitive brands and the noise of consumer apathy.

Will ‘small penises’ or ‘dead comedians’ cut through the noise?

They have with me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Learning from a 10 year old

My 10 year old daughter Sophia and her mate Coco have an occasional retail business. They set up a table at the front of one of their houses and sell items to passers by. Anything from Easter eggs to old toys.

The learning curve has been steep. Early Saturday morning - lots of customers out exercising but not carrying cash. Late Sunday afternoon - No customers at all!

A week ago they hit upon the idea of setting up shop at the same time as an auction was being held next door to Coco’s house. They planned to break up a packet of biscuits and sell them individually.

They had finally hit the marketing sweet spot.

They had found a large group of people, with some cash, waiting around and keen to have a small diversion to take their minds of the stressful auction.

The biscuits were priced well – high enough to make a profit and low enough to be attractive to the auction goers.

All the girls had to do was tell the consumers that they were selling biscuits (not just playing make believe).

Marketers, whether 10 years old or 80 years old, are just people who need to sell something. So what did the 2 little girls do? What a lot of marketers do.

They rang a bell and screamed!

“We want to sell our biscuits!” “Hurry up and buy our biscuits!” “We want your money!”

I asked Sophia how this worked. ‘Not very well’, she admitted. “The people just ignored us”

What the girls were doing was not that different from most advertising campaigns ie. Talk about yourself, your product and your problems. Ignore the consumer’s needs, the consumer’s wants and the consumer’s desires.

The result is that consumers try to ignore the message and only a mega media spend will drive the message into their unwilling minds.

But there is a happy ending. Sophia and Coco were smart enough to realise a change of approach was needed. They simply smiled and spoke to each person as they passed. “Hello, would you like to have a yummy biscuit before you go to the auction?”

The auction goers loved it. Instead of being screamed at they were having their needs met: needs they didn’t even know they had! The need to have something to take their minds off the auction. And the need to helping cute, entrepreneurial kids.

Maybe we can all learn something from these 10 year olds.

Sophia and Coco’s 4 rules for advertising.

1. Don’t scream at, or annoy your consumer. (Bad creative and repetitive media schedules do this every night on TV)

2. Don’t tell your consumer about yourself, your product, your factory (9 out of 10 advertisers do this without even realising). Tell your consumer about THEM: how you, your product and your factory WILL HELP THEM.

3. Do be engaging, cute, pleasant, watchable, readable, listenable or appealing in some way. (Even the most rational ad has room for some sort of charm).

4. Do put familiar ideas together in surprising ways. Combining Biscuits and Home Auctions has never been done to my knowledge.