Most marketers appear confused as to what their role should be in getting great advertising. Having spent 20 years in the world of CPG marketing, I have seen it all when it comes to clients–the good, the bad and the ugly.
There is usually one brand person on the “hot seat” for getting a great ad, and then a bunch around them who either give input or approve. Everyone on the client side knows it, but most on the agency do not know it. They assume the person approving the ad is their client. That’s completely wrong, especially when the person on the “hot seat” is very good. While you are talking to the “approver” in the room, the smart person on the hot seat will carry influence over the person approving outside the room. You might end up surprised.
Here are 3 ways to get better advertising.
- You should control the strategy but give freedom to the execution.
- A great client can get great work from an OK agency. But an awful client can get awful work from the best agency in the world.
- Stop thinking that your role is to change whatever work is presented to you.
1. Control the strategy, but give freedom on to the execution.
Too many Marketers have this backwards. They give freedom on the strategy with various possible strategic options layered within the Creative Brief and then they attempt to try to control the creative outcome by writing a long list of tangled mandatories.
The reality of advertising is that clients want options to pick from, and agencies hate giving options to pick from. This is where things get off the rails. The client decides to write options INTO the brief. And the agency presents a bunch of work, yet miraculously all 12 people on the agency side agree on which one is the best one.
I have seen briefs that say “18-65, current users, competitive users and employees”. I have seen briefs with 8 objectives throughout the brief. I have seen briefs that say “we want to drive trial among competitive users, while re-enforcing the brand benefits to our current users to drive up penetration and we want a tag for our new lemon flavor at the end”. Ugly!!!!
When you write a big-wide Creative Brief with layers of possible strategic options within the brief, the Agency just peels the brief apart and gives you strategic options. For instance, if you put a big wide target market of 18-65, the Agency will presents one idea for 18-25, another for 25-40 and a third for 40-65. If you put two objectives into the brief, asking to drive trial and drive usage, you will get one ad that drives trial and one ad that drives usage. Ta-dah, you have options. However, now you are picking your brand strategy based on which ad you like best. Wow, what the brand leader now says is “I like that 18-25 year old one, but could I also like that drive trial one. Could you mold those two together?” If you are up against your media date or the agency is over-budget on this project, the answer you might hear back is “sure”.
This means is you are really picking your brand strategy based on which ad idea you like best. That is wrong. Pick your strategy first and use the creativity of execution to express that strategy.
Make tough decisions of what goes into the creative brief to narrow down to:
- one objective
- one desired consumer response
- one target tightly defined
- one main benefit
- up to two main reasons to believe
Avoid the ‘Just in Case’ list by taking your pen and stroking a few things off your creative brief! It is always enlightening when you tighten your Creative Brief.
As for the creative, it is completely OK to know exactly what you want, but you cannot know until you actually see it. The best creative advertising should be like that special gift you never thought to get yourself, but was just perfect once you saw it. What I see is a brief with a list of mandatories weaved throughout the brief that begin to almost write the ad itself.
Years ago, I was on the quit smoking business (Nicoderm) and received word that my team had told the agency to “eliminate any form of humor, because quitting smoking is very serious”. I can appreciate how hard it is to quit smoking, but levity can help demonstrate to consumers that we understand how hard it is to quit. After some disastrous work, I finally stepped in and said “what about some humorous ads?” Here’s the spot we final made. This ad turned a declining Nicoderm business into a growth situation and won J&J’s best global ad of 2008.
There is no way we could have written that ad. After a few grueling months of creative, I remember seeing that script on the table and before we were half way through the reading of the script, I thought “we gotta make this ad”.
2. A great client can get great work from an OK agency. But an awful client can get awful work from the best agency in the world.
I never figured this one out till much later in my career. For an average Brand Manager, you will only be on the “hot seat” for so long in your career. Ugh. I wish it was not true. I loved advertising. However, coming up through the CPG world, most brands only do 1-2 big campaign ads per year. And, if you do a pool-out of a successful spot, it is just not as fun. Finding that gem must be a similar exhilaration that a detective has in solving a crime. The reality is that you spend 2-3 years as an Assistant offering your advice to a table that does not want to listen. And most brand managers will spend 5 years on the “hot seat” where you are either a Brand Manager or Marketing Director. Then you are approving stuff outside the room.
Yyou likely will only make 5+ ads where you turn nothing into something. If you are lucky. I had one campaign that ran 10 years and another ran 5 years. Trust me, the true excitement was really on that first year. Depends on the size of your agency, but they might make 20, 50 or 100+ new campaign spots each year. The math is that your agency can mess up your ONE spot and still win agency of the year. The client matters way more to the equation than you might realize. A great client can get good-to-great work from an OK agency. Equally so, a really bad client can get disastrous work from the world’s greatest advertising minds.
I want to ask you one simple question and you have to be honest: “If you knew that being a better client would get you better advertising, do you think you would show up better?” Do you think you show up right now?
Your main role in the advertising function is to provide a very tight brand strategy, to inspire greatness from the creative people and to make decisions”. Too many clients treat their agency in ways that they have to make great work because we hired them. True. But remember the math. If they make 99 great spots this year and one god awful spot (yours) who has more at stake in this math? You or your agency. Sure, you can fire them. But they take their 99 spots on the street and secure more clients. You on the other hand, will be put into a ‘non-advertising’ role for the rest of your career. People behind your back will say “they are really smart on the strategy, but not so good with the agency”.
Stop thinking your agency has to work for you and try to inspire them to want to work for you. All of our work is done through other people. Our greatness as a Brand Leader has to come from the experts we engage, so they will be inspired to reach for their own greatness and apply it on our brand. Brand Management has been built on a hub-and-spoke system, with a team of experts surrounding the generalist Brand Leader. When I see Brand Managers of today doing stuff, I feel sorry for them. They are lost. Brand Leaders are not designed to be experts in marketing communications, experts in product innovation and experts in selling the product. You are trained to be a generalist, knowing enough to make decisions, but not enough to actually do the work. Find strength being the least knowledgeable person in every room you enter.
3. Stop thinking that your role is to change whatever work is presented to you.
A typical advertising meeting has client on one side and agency on the other. Client has a pen and paper (or laptop) feverishly taking notes. I never bring anything to a creative meeting. As soon as the creative person says the last tag-line, all of a sudden, there is a reading of the list of changes about to happen. “Make the boy’s shirt blue instead of red. Red is our competitor. Can we go with a grandmother instead of the uncle because we sell lots of cheese to older females. Can we add in our claim with a super on it. I know we said in the brief it’s about usage, but can we also add in a “try it” message for those who have never used it before. And lastly, can we change the tagline? I will email some options. That’s all I have.”
Wow. Stop thinking that the creative meeting is just a starting point where you can now fix whatever work is presented to you. You hired an agency because you do not have the talent to come up with great ads. Yet, now you think you are talented enough to do something even harder: change the ad. I have learned over the years that giving the agency my solutions will make the work worse. Giving them my problems makes the ads better. Just like being surprised by a great ad in the first place, if you just state your problem, and let them come back with solutions, you might be surprised at how they were able to handle your concerns without completely wrecking the ad.
I once heard a brand leader describe the creative part of the ad as “their part” and the copy-intensive brand sell as “our part”. I never thought about it that way. And I wish I could get it out of my head. An ad should flow naturally like a well-tuned orchestra. The creative should work as ONE part. The creative idea should be what attracts attention, the creative idea should be what naturally draws attention to the brand, the creative idea should help communicate the brand story and the creative idea should be what sticks in the mind of the consumer. There is no us or them part of the ad.
Lastly, I want brand leaders to stop thinking that Advertising is like a bulletin board where you can pin up one more message. Somehow Marketers have convinced themselves that they can keep jamming one more message into their ad. The consumer’s brain does not work that way. They see 5,000 brand messages a day. They may engage in 5-10 a day. When they see your cluttered messy bulletin board, their brain naturally rejects and moves on. Not only are you not getting your last message through, you are not getting any messages through. Start to think of Advertising like standing on top of a mountain and just yelling one thing.
If you knew that showing up better would get you better work, would you show up better? You should.
If you want to learn how to show up better, we train marketing teams on how to get better Marketing Execution. We go through how to write better briefs, how to make better decisions and how to give inspiring feedback to realize the greatness of your creative people. Here’s what the workshop looks like:
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