Make better advertising decisions

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

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A brand leader has to be skilled in so many areas–strategy, planning, leadership management and execution. While there are a few areas in marketing that separate good from great, how the brand leader shows up in the advertising room might be one of the biggest discriminators. The reality is that you can still be a pretty good brand leader even if you’re just OK at the creativity of advertising. However, you won’t be great if you can’t make the right decisions on what advertising will work for your brand. I see many brand leaders show up in a confused state, unable to lead the process and incapable of making a decision. Many hope that the research results make the decision for them. That makes you a facilitator, not a leader.


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When faced with new creative options, a brand leader has 3 choices in their decision-making process:

  • Approve the work
  • Reject the work
  • Change the work.

Brand leaders rarely approve advertising out right, even if they love it. It’s just not in their nature. And most times, they are too uncertain of the advertising process to reject work so they keep it alive, especially if the agency says they like it. And who hasn’t seen the “we’re so excited” speech. So that really just leaves one last option: Brand Leaders opt too many times to CHANGE the work, usually adding messages or toning down the potential alienation of the creativity. My challenge to you: if you aren’t talented enough to come up with an ad in the first place, why are you now talented enough to do something even harder: to change the ad!!!

So the agency is left spinning and scrambling stretching out the creative process from weeks to months–while many times, the work gets worse (safer), not better.


Brand Leaders get confused on the “hot seat”

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Many brand leaders are uncomfortable when they get into the advertising room. We always assume the creative team is nervous because they are presenting their work, but the Brand Leader might also feel a bit of nervousness as well. After all, the Brand Leader spent a ton of effort on writing a great brand plan and creative brief which they sold into management and now they are expected to deliver great advertising that will accomplish what they said they would. Here are some of the problems I see Brand Leaders facing when they get in the advertising room.

  • You never find your comfort zone in the advertising room, almost convinced you’re not good at advertising, because you have limited experience, you feel awkward or had a bad experience. Given the months that advertising projects can take, I can tell you that a good leader gets better work than a bad leader–no matter how good you are at advertising.
  • You may have convinced yourself that since you’re a strategic leader, and you’ve also convinced yourself that you’re not that great with tactics.  These types usually show up skeptical, uptight, too tough and too easily annoyed at the creative side. I’ve actually seen Brand Leaders refer to ads as the fun creative part and the smart strategic part.
  • You show up too passive, not knowing if it’s really your place to say something. You figure the ad agency is the expert—that’s why we pay them—so you give them a free rein (aka no direction). Or worse, you give them the chance to mess up, and blame them later.
  • You settle for something you hate, because of time pressure, or you don’t know why. The worse thing you can do is approve something that don’t really love, because it seems ok for now. You might find the agency pressures you with timing that adds to your anxiety that you’ll miss our air date and have to give up your media to another brand.

Another concern you might have is how you will sell it in to management–worried what your boss will think. Being a good client takes experience, practice, leadership and a willingness to adjust. Don’t write yourself off so quickly. Challenge yourself to learn how to be a good client.


Here’s a tool that may help you make advertising decisions

Branded Breakthrough + Move-able messaging. The best advertising breaks through the clutter in the marketplace, where consumers see an estimated 6,000 brand messages a day and it should motivate the consumer to take the desired action you want in your strategy.  Great advertising combines “branded breakthrough” (how you say it) and “move-able messaging” (what you say)


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The “Branded Breakthrough” happens when the Ad breaks through by connecting the brand to the ad and communicates the brand’s story. Achieving the “Move-able Messaging”, we see that the main message connects with consumers and motivates them to think, feel or act differently about the brand.

If we take this thought one step further, we would see that the Best Ads: 

  • Break through the clutter
  • Remembered for the Brand
  • Communicates Main Message
  • Makes brand seem different

Said another way, we believe that the best ads start with a Creative Idea that helps to:

  • Garner the consumers’ Attention to break through (A)
  • Puts spotlight on Brand so it’s remembered (B)
  • Communicates brand’s benefits through story (C)
  • Sticks over time making brand seem different (S)

That leads to our tool called the ABC’S which looks at Attention, Branding, Communication and Stickiness





You have to get noticed in a crowded world of advertising. Consumers see 6000 ads per day, in every part of their lives. If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight. You have to EARN the consumers’ attention.

  1. Be Incongruent: get noticed by being a bit off kilter or different from what they are watching. A lot of brand leaders are afraid of this, because they feel it exposes them. Avoid being like “wallpaper”   If you want a high score on “made the brand seem different”, it starts with acting different.
  2. Resonate: Connect with the consumer in the true way that they see themselves or the true way that they interact with the brand.
  3. Entertain them: Make them laugh, make them cry, or make them tingle.  From the consumers view—they interact with media to be entertained.
  4. The Evolution of the Art of Being Different: As much as Movies, TV, music continues to evolve, so do ads. As much as your art has to express your strategy, it needs to reflect the trends of society to capture their attention.  
  5. Location Based: Be where your consumers are open and willing to listen. Make sure your creative makes the most of that media choice.  
  6. Be Part of the Content: As much as consumers are engaged in the content, not the advertising, then having your brand front and center and part of the story. Watching a movie and seeing a product or creating content on-line that engages like Toyota’s Swagger Wagon or the brilliant BMW Films site from 10 years ago.   
  7. Be Sharable: Amazing story-telling ads getting passed around on social media vehicles.These long videos are great for engaging the consumer emotionally.  



Ads that tell the story of the relationship between the consumer and the brand will link best. Even more powerful are ads that are from the consumers view of the brand. It’s not how much branding there is, but how close the brand fits to the climax of the ad. There is an old advertising saying “half of all advertising is wasted, but we aren’t sure which half”. The average brand link is 50%–we have to get past that mark.

  1. Make your brand part of the story: in the spirit of big ideas, how do you tell a story, using your brand. It’s not how much branding you use, but rather how closely connected the brand to the climax of your ad.
  2. Is it the truth: It sounds funny, but if there is a disconnect between what you say, and what you really are, then the brand link won’t be there.
  3. Own the Idea area: Be a bit different—make sure that what you do sets you apart from anyone else.
  4. Repeat: simplest way to get branding is to repeat and repeat and repeat.



Tapping into the truths of the consumer and the brand, helps you to tell the brand’s life story. Keep your story easy to understand. Communication is not just about what you say, but how you say it. Communicating is about selling. Keep in mind, communication is not what is said, but what is heard.

  1. Start a dialogue: If you can do a good job in connecting with the consumer, the branding idea can be a catalyst that enables you to converse with your consumer.
  2. What are you selling? You have to keep it simple—you only have 29 seconds to sell the truth. Focus on one message, keep asking yourself “what are we selling”.
  3. Powerful expression: try to find one key visual that can express what you are selling.This visual can be leveraged throughout
  4. Find Your “More Cheese”: Sometimes it’s so obvious what people want, but we just can’t see it or articulate it. Don’t over-think it or you’ll miss the obvious.
  5. Sell the solution, not the problem: Brands get so wrapped up in demonstrating the problem, when really it is the solution consumers want to buy.



Sticky ads help to build a consistent brand/consumer experience over time. In the end, brands are really about “consistency” of the promise you want to own. Brands have to exist in the minds of the consumer. We all want our ads to stick. Ask “will this idea last 5 years”

  1. Dominant characteristic: things that are memorable to the senses (visual, sounds, smells, etc) and have something that dominates your mind
  2. How big Is the idea? It’s proven that a gold-fish will get bigger with a bigger bowl. The same for ideas.
  3. Telling stories: while visuals are key to communicating, people remember stories—that’s how we are brought up—with ideas and morals designed to stick.
  4. Always add a penny: With each execution, you have a chance to add something to the branding idea.
  5. Know your assets: there has to be something in your ad that sticks, know what that is and then use it, in new executions or in other parts of the marketing mix.


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In the room, when viewing advertising for the first time, think fast with your instincts:

When you get in the advertising room, start with your instincts and thinking fast. Clear your mind from everything else on your job so that your instincts can come to the surface. When you see new advertising work, first answer the question: “do you love it?”. How passionate are you? If you don’t love it, how do you expect your consumer to love it? If you “sorta like it” then it will be “sorta ok” in the end. But if you love it, you’ll go the extra mile and make it amazing. Would you be proud of this work as your legacy?

Then, use your gut reaction, which is the immediate logical view. What’s your immediate reaction when you reach for your instincts? Relax, slow yourself down enough to soak it in, right in the meeting. It’s easier to quickly reject out of fear than find what your gut really says. Many times, instincts get hidden away because of the job. You’re not doing anyone a favor keeping work you don’t love.


After the room, take your time and think slowly with strategy:

First, ask yourself “Is it on strategy?” Is the Ad an expression of what you wrote in your strategy documents? Use the ABC’S tool to help frame things, so you can evaluate it past how you feel. The tool gives you something to ground yourself. Take your time with this thinking. 

Then assess the long-term potential of the advertising. Is it BIG IDEA, you can see lasting for 5-10 years, going across various mediums (mass, on-line, in store), capable of speaking of the entire product line up, Think about leaving a legacy—which forces you to think of campaign-ability. There’s nothing wrong with taking your time, to let things soak in. This is where you make better strategic decisions.


Feedback can make a great ad, or destroy a relationship. 

Remember to relax and smile: I always find that the room gets so tense, stiff and serious: we forget to laugh, smile and be real. Have Fun with it. Take the attitude that If we are having fun, then so is the consumer. Give your feedback in three ways:

  1. What are your first Impressions? During the presentation, it’s great to be engaged enough to say “I like that” or ask a question.
  2. Giving Direction: Focus on giving direction, not feedback: Feedback is static, direction has action. Speak on behalf of your consumer and your brand, trying to react how they would react. 
  3. Leave the Detailed Direction on how to make it better for the day after. Moving the details (copy points, placement, colors) to the next day, helps focus the immediate comments on big picture items. Take 24 hours to digest all the little details.

Below is a powerpoint version of the Workshop we run on getting better advertising.

If how you show up to the agency will produce better advertising work.

Then show up right.

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We make Brands better.
We make Brand Leaders better.™
We offer Brand Coaching, where we promise to make your Brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your Brand’s full potential. For our Brand Leader Training, we promise to make your team of Brand Leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at or phone me at 416 885 3911


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