Creativity

A show all marketers should see is Martin Parr’s photos at the National Portrait Gallery

If only to see the original artwork for the excellent “Oneness” idents for BBC 1, a  fine example of that classic thing – a great creative idea executed in a fresh way.

The idea – like the best ideas – is uplifting and inspiring. “Oneness” is about the joy of  getting together with like minded souls who share the same passions,  and how this dissolves differences between people through shared experiences and common humanity. It is also an timely idea- a big spirited riposte to the narrow mindedness engendered by Brexit

But there is another lesson. It is difficult to create something fresh and distinctive by sitting in your London office and just doing data analytics.  Martin Parr travels all round Britain looking, really looking hard, and capturing the sheer diversity and quirkiness of people.

We used to call this “insight”. A vital stimulus to ideas that I fear might not come from staring at a screen.

Don’t get me wrong. I used to work at Google and I know how rich data analytics can be. But if everyone is using the same data to “optimise their message” then all the work will start to look similar.

Parr’s work for BBC 1 is a reminder of what you have to do to be fresh and different.

Get out of the office and look really hard at people and how they live

 

Simon Jacks, BBC business correspondent, said, on the 10 O’Clock news, that Sir Martin was thought off more as “a money man than an adman”, thus repeating some of the snooty and hoary old remarks that were said against him by the likes of David Ogilvy years back .

Jacks seems to me to have missed something important about the man

Sir Martin was certainly creative about business and, less well known, is his delight in winning new business pitches. This is as vital to the health of a creative agency as the creative department. In fact without the wins you have nothing for creative people to get their teeth into.

Here is my Sir Martin story.

In 1998 I took over as Chief Executive of red cell advertising ( a WPP company)  and immediately found myself a re-pitch for my largest client – Bank of Scotland’s direct banking arm- up against BBH and McCann. Not good news. I knew BBH would field Sir John Hegarty and McCann had big resources and, at that time, offices throughout the UK. red cell was an agency of some 40 people with some decent clients – Singapore airlines, Alfa Romeo, Wales Tourism board amongst others- but I was heavily outgunned.

My calculation was the BoS would be more likely to know who Martin was ( he was not Sir Martin then) than Sir John Hegarty

I pick up the phone to Martin and said I would aim to keep the business  by proposing a WPP team in partnership with Ogilvy One. Would he come to the pitch? He seemed delighted to be asked  and said he did not just want to “be decorative and to give him an active role”. He wanted to present the offer to the board of Bank of Scotland as part of the team. I also commissioned a radio program about the future of finance – ie a piece of content marketing- to show our creative credentials and so as not to look like our whole pitch rested on Martin.

Well it probably did. We won. I well remember the squeek of delight Martin let out when I called to let him know. red cell was an agency dedicated to challenger brands and challenger thinking. In other words we stood with the underdogs. Although Martin went on to head a huge company, I think he never lost his passion for winning against the odds and seeing off staid and established competitors. That is why i think he responded so full heartedly to my call.

So Jacks I think missed something essential about the man – his creativity in business and the sheer visceral pleasure he takes in competing to win. In this respect he is an adman to his finger tips

was the big idea of this year’s Marketing Society conference. It proved an inspirational platform. A great conference theme- credit must go to new CEO Gemma Greaves and her team.

This being an individualistic culture (and age) stories were often told as personal triumphs over fear, especially in extreme sports (a big theme of the conference which I suspect made most of us feel distinctively queasy and meek.)

Bravery is enabled by encouragement

Yet , for me, a sub text kept surfacing: brave people (often) could not have acted without both support and encouragement. (Encouragement literally means being given courage by others)

Syl Saller refused to be drawn into the “I” word and insisted on “we”- on the collective corporate bravery that built by internal champions and consensus builders ( like her)  Extreme Surfer Garrett McNamarra said he could not have recovered from injury and found the monster wave that broke the record without his wife. Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to scale Everest, was initially told “no” by her father, when she announced her climbing ambitions, yet received his blessing shortly after. Hassan Akkad, a refugee from war torn Syria, had bravery forced on him by circumstances and has subsequently received support from (amongst others) The BBC in telling his story. His bravery was the most humbling – causing me to reflect on how very fortunate and selfish we are. 

Bravery as solidarity

Francis O’Grady, general secretary of TUC, framed bravery as sticking up for others rather than individual triumph. TUC as a brand has been stuck with dated associations of the “big men” of trades unionism. They seemed to be in denial about the opportunities of a globalised, technologically driven, individualistic world. That’s why Thatcher set out to weaken them.  Yet that promise has turned sour. Economic growth did not “float all boats” but has resulted in gross inequality. So Francis’s call for solidarity, mutuality is timely. She even suggested that a union for the gig economy should be launched – now that would be “a big idea” and perhaps “a symbol re-evaluation” (in Adam Morgan’s phrase) for TUC      

There was another theme that kept surfacing. Not a new one. A  theme of many a conference of old. But always valuable to companies. It is the stuff that actually builds brands and businesses ( not chasing people round the internet with programmatic ads). It was:-

The power of big ideas.

To galvanise everyone, especially your own people

To make teams braver and more focussed

To inspire designers and agency creatives to do their best work

Here are my three favourites from the day:

NEW YORK TIMES. THE TRUTH IS HARD: a clarion call for investigative journalism in the face of mendacious attacks from Donald Trump.

BABYLON APP. Brilliant new AI powered app that enables more accurate self diagnosis of illness and triages people in the right direction. Sure to be a hit with hypochondriacs everywhere – and (hopefully) save time and labour

Pedigree’s insight that it is the innocence of dogs that breaks down barriers and brings people together. This inspired a great social experiment in getting Trump and Clinton supporters to be nice to be each other.

As for my act of bravery from the day:

I think I am off to join a union and buy a dog

 

 

Beats by Dre won a gold in the APG awards with what, I think, is a great piece of advertising thinking. The brand and the agency (R/GA) may be super hip, yet the thinking is classical.

The brand found a fresh, simple and easy to understand emotional promise and dramatised it brilliantly – the idea that music helps top performers (in sport) to come out on top because of “focus”.

Reason to believe – Top athletes use Beats by Dre noise cancelling headphones to cut out the noise/the distractions/the detractors so they can be in the right mental state to win

Like a lot of the best advertising thinking this is a revealed truth – top athletes attest that, at top level, winning is not about skill but mental strength and clarity in critical moments. This was brought to life in their film Hear what you want 

Planning tips.

What thought processes can we take from this case to apply to other projects?

Barriers ask yourself – what are the barriers to this brand succeeding/and or why will this fail? This forces you to avoid conventional approaches and to think about the competitive bear pit that the brand will find itself when it goes to market. Beats by Dre had a big obvious barrier: It couldn’t fight it out on technical specs/product innovation because competitors already more cred’ (Sennheiser/Sony/Bose ) and anyway Beats had historically been dissed as a posers brand. Not for people who really love music.

Benefit of the benefit of the benefit. This is creativity exercise that I was taught by the creative director at my first agency. Start with a product fact/innovation and see if you can convert it into a powerful (but credible) emotional promise through lateral thinking

Example: we are a big mortgage provider. so- we approve lots of mortgages. so- that means lots of couples get to buy the home they want. so- we help young couples create a family home. ( That is a NatWest ad that has been on air recently. The ad is a bit “John Lewis lite”. But the promise is good.)

Beats Example. Our new phones cut out noise so you can hear the music not the background- so- that means you will not be distracted by the world around you. so- that means you will be calm and focussed So- that means you will have the focus that is needed to perform at your very best.

Then of course Beats by Dre executed this  promise in a famous way using famous sports stars. And fame – as Binet and Field have shown in the IPA studies- makes for some of the most effective advertising.

Top news. The 2017 APG awards book is out.

Reading it is one of the best “strategy workouts” that a planner can do.

So, that’s what i am going to do – and i am going to use it illuminate what we mean by that much used word – “Insight”- and how it helps unlock great work.

First up The Grand prix for Barbie – which, i think,  has not one, but three great pieces of insight.

Founding vision of the brand’s creator. Billed as the “story of how a woman can re-ignite her power, her fierceness, her purpose by returning to who she is deep down inside”, the planners got right back into the original vision of the brands creator and found this ” My whole philosophy of Barbie was that, through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman had choices” ( Ruth Handler).

This had become obscured by the belief that Barbie play was just “make-believe” rather than a time when “girls try out possibilities.” . This insight was the inspiration behind the new film “Imagine the possibilities”

Insight tip: Uncover the history of a brand and its original idea. Good questions to ask are : who founded it,why, what did they want to change or challenge or do better? and why did its earliest buyers love it ?

Symbol of re-evaluation. Great brands are like supertankers- it is very difficult to change their direction. Barbie was stuck with the belief that it had visited impossible expectations on young girls through her unnatural body shape and super small waist. Communication alone won’t change this: you need to do something different and newsworthy. What Adam Morgan calls “a symbol of re-evaluation.” So Barbie launched three new shapes- tall, Curvy and Petite- to sit alongside the original shape.

Insight tip : ask- what are the barriers that stand in the way of this brand? What is limiting its potential or prejudicing potential buyers ? What do you have to do to challenge this and make it go away?

Surprise or new audience. In the case of Barbie, dads, and the truth that they have a big impact on their daughters confidence. Dads who play with Barbies featured real life stories of dads who take time out to play with their daughters.The great thing about a new audience is that it is provokes a brand to develop a new message in different media and be seen in a fresh light. (Think of Boddingtons, way back, and Nintendo Brain Training more recently)

Insight tip: Ask is there an underserved or ignored  or newly emerging audience that is in truth important. Remember that “demographic change alters the culture of a society” (JM Keynes) and that’s an opportunity to break fresh ground

 

 

Was how Charles Handy defined “wisdom” at a recent event- it has stayed with me

It is particularly needed at the moment – as many in marketing are transfixed by new technologies and have persuaded themselves of two things a) change is pervasive and b) change getting quicker.

This second statement has been taken axiomatic for at least 15 years now and has been used as the hook to sell out any number of conferences – and  it can’t be true. If it was our eyes would be popping out with the sheer velocity of tech fuelled change.

Also it makes planning very difficult – if change is so fast surely what we plan to do will be rendered obsolete in short order. What to do?

Two further bits of wisdom to navigate by

Jeff Bezos: ” Think about what’s not going to change over the next 10 years and put your resources into that”

Bill Bernbach: “Human nature hasn’t changed in a million years. It won’t change in the next million years. Only the superficial things have changed. It is fashionable to talk about the changing man. A communicator must be concerned with the unchanging man -what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action,even though his language too often camouflages what really motivates him” ( my ital)

When you look at the best innovations in tech over the past few years they are essentially new ways to answer old and innate human needs. For example- “Find useful information as quickly as possible” ( Google) “Show off” (Twitter)”Be nosey about what your friends are up to” (Facebook) “Flirt and get off with members of the opposite sex “( Tinder). “Buy stuff cheaply and with the least hassle” (Amazon)

Which leads me to what I think marketers should do about tech fuelled change

1) Uncover what their customers really really want.

2) Brief your tech experts to find better ways to deliver it.

3) If it is new as well, that’s great. But don’t commission anything just because it’s new.

In the next post i will try to answer Jeff’s question – “what’s not going to change in the next 10 years”