With advertising, what comes first; the media or creative?

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

When I started in marketing, way back in the mid-90s, life was a little simpler because the media and the creative were both under one agency roof. The meetings were simple: you’d see your various TV script options, give some feedback and then the room would go silent and the account person would say “now let’s look at the media plan” and the media person would talk.  

Then one day, our media folks from our agency were spun off, had a new name, moved offices and had a new President. 

It now just meant we had two presentations and the Brand Leader now had to make sense of things and try to piece it together. 

About a year into that new relationship, I was sitting there confused and asked the question: “So what comes first, the media choice or the creative idea?”

The room went silent for about 5 minutes. Then, both sides talked over each other, each saying it was them that came first.

If you have ONE agency for both creative and media, you now have an expert give you the answer.

Otherwise, chaos. You the brand manager with no expertise in either creative or media, has to make that decision. We are not supposed to be experts in anything. 

Making the media or creative decision

All marketing execution has to do something to the brand, whether that means getting the consumer to think, act, or feel differently about your brand. Media is an investment against your strategy, and creative is an expression of your strategy. Both media and creative are only useful if they connect with consumers. Great advertising must connect through very insightful creative that expresses the brand’s positioning and told in a way that matters to those who care the most. Great advertising must be placed within the consumers’ life, where it will capture their attention and motivate them in the expressed desired way to meet the strategy. So really, the consumer comes first, and strategy comes second. Media and creative need to work to jointly capture the consumer and deliver the strategy. 

With separate agencies, the problem now rests with brand leaders to figure it out. While one could theoretically argue that if the Creative Idea of the advertising is so big, it should work in every medium. That’s just not always true in reality. Some ideas just work better in certain mediums. Yet the media people could also theoretically argue that if you go for the most efficient and effective media option, the media will do the work for you. That’s also not true. The best overall advertising should work to focus on what has the most impact and what has the highest efficiency. 

Here's a solution for Brand Leaders

The three questions you always need to keep in your head at all times: 

  1. Where is your consumer open to listening?
  2. Where is your brand?
  3. How does the creative idea work? 

1. Where is your consumer open to listening?

Place your media on the part of the consumer’s life where they will watch, listen, learn, engage, decide, and act. Align with life moments, whether they are parts of the day, the week, the year, or even milestone moments in their life. 

2. Where is your brand?

For unknown or indifferent brands, invest in the early part of the consumer journey, with media focused on building awareness to establish the brand positioning in the mind of consumers to separate your brand from the pack. You also need to get your brand into the consumer’s consideration set.    

Brands at the like it stage must separate themselves from others, to build momentum and create a following. Focus on closing the deal, by motivating consumers to buy. You can use search tools and deal-closing claims at the point of sale to resolve any remaining doubts. You can utilize your own e-commerce website or sites such as Amazon, Expedia, or Groupon.

Brands at the love it stage must turn your consumer’s repeat purchases into higher usage frequency and become a favorite part of your consumer’s day. The creative must instill emotional benefits, linked closely to the consumer’s life moments. An excellent tool to use is to map out the “day-in-the-life” of your target consumer and place messages where they are most likely to engage. Use consumer insights to make the messages personal to make consumers feel special and attached to your brand.

At the beloved brand stage, you should begin shifting to a maintenance media plan, enough to maintain your brand’s leadership presence and perception. Stay aware of the competitive activity, which may force you to adjust your budget levels. At this point, you can shift some of your media resources into enhancing the consumer experience, to retain your happy consumers, and to drive a deeper love to harness an army of brand lovers. You can begin creating shareable experiences for your brand lovers to share with their friends. 

 

3. How does the creative advertising work?

The best advertising should draw ATTENTION, be about the BRAND, COMMUNICATE the main message and STICK in the consumers head long beyond the ad.

  • Attention: You have to get noticed in a crowded world of advertising. Consumers see 7,000 brand messages per day, and will likely only engage in a few. If your brand doesn’t draw attention naturally, then you’ll have to force it into the limelight.
  • Branding: 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 consumer’s view of the brand. It’s not how much branding there is, but how close the brand fits the climax of the ad.
  • Communication: 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—because that says just as much.
  • Stickiness: 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 existed in the minds of the consumer. 

 

In the reality of advertising, not every ad execution will be able to do all four of the ABC’S.  When I’m in the creative room, I try to think about which of the two ABC’S are the most critical to my strategy. If it is a new product, I want all four, but I have to have: Attention and Communication. If the brand is in a competitive battle I have to have Brand and Communication.  If the brand is a leader and beloved, I need to make sure the advertising is about the Brand and that it Sticks.

My recommendation

At the start of any creative project, it is hard to know the exact media choices because you have not seen the creative work yet. While writing the brand communications plan, work on a media guideline that picks a lead media only and a few potential secondary media options to explore without committing. At the creative meeting, ask to see each creative idea presented as a 30-second TV ad, a simple billboard, and a long-copy print ad. With this request, you will be able to see how each idea plays out across almost every possible media type. 

  • The 30-second video script can be repurposed to fit TV ads of any length, movie theatre ads, viral videos, or a video on your website. 
  • The long copy print can be repurposed to fit with content blogs, news stories through PR, newspapers, magazines, website information, and sales brochures. It can even be atomized, broken down into digestible bits to populate a brand’s social media content. 
  • The billboard can be repurposed for outdoor signage, digital display billboards, posters, in-store display signs, or even a magazine’s back cover designs. 

The media math from a client's view

Obviously, we always recommend that you focus. So we’ll likely recommend a lead traditional media and a lead digital and lead social option. You need to make the most out of your limited resources of dollars, time, people and partnerships. However, if we want a creative idea to last 5 years, seeing it work across this many media options gives me a comfort that should I need that option, I know the creative idea will work.

While the media agency owns the media math that blows your mind, here is some simple client-side media math. As clients, we have to make the most of our budgets. 

Your production budget should be around 5-10% of your overall advertising plan. If you have small budgets, that may creep up to 20%, but that’s it. Every time you do a new piece of creative, the production dollars go up and the media dollars go down. I’d recommend you focus on one main traditional media and have only one secondary option. This keeps your spending focused. 

When it comes to social media, keep in mind there are no free media options. Instead of financial capital, you are now exhausting people’s capital. Just like the traditional options, I would recommend one lead social media and one secondary focus. Do not try to be all things to all people.  

The other reason to focus is to ensure you do great executions and not just “ok”.  Pick the media that maximizes the power of the creative. Don’t exhaust the team by spreading them against too many activities.   

Allow 80 to 90% of your media spend be on the highly effective highly efficient media plan. That means 10-20% of your media spend can now go against high IMPACT creative ideas that you know will breakthrough.  

Work with both the creative and media at the same time. Figure out what gives the highest return on investment and effort

How to lead the creative advertising process

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