advertising

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

 

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.

 

Unknownis the title of a new book by Paul Feldwick about the history of thinking about how to create effective advertising. It is short, clearly written (as you would expect of PF) and full of fascinating stories.
Any one in the biz should read it.
Some of the things found interesting
Many people in the biz do not know this history.

Often this results in practices not being critically examined. “Creative briefs” (which most agencies use) contain phrases like “Target Audience”,”What is the single thing we what to say ?” and “what are the reasons to believe ?” that come from an era when people (Like Rosser Reeves) thought that we actively processed information and should be targeted individually  Two things.  1) We now know -thanks to Kahneman,Robert Heath and others- that a great deal of comprehension is rapid, instinctive, subconscious and depends heavily on context. “The Creative Brief’ may be mechanism we use to have a rational discourse about advertising so that we can design it, but in practice that is not how it will work when people see it. As important as ” the proposition” are creating associations that attach themselves to a brand through imagery, music,stories and characters.   A lot of people know this. But we engage in a “benign conspiracy” to let the creative people have their way. The ads may work but often not in the way we pretend they work when we are in meetings.

In recent years a lot of work has been done to prove that emotion and fame in advertising work better than rational persuasion (See Binet and Field excellent reviews of the IPA effectiveness awards). This has surely helped Adam and Eve sell their recent work to John Lewis. Rational folk (most clients who have to report to boards, also rational) now have an evidence based case for backing emotion and storytelling over rational propositions ( or at least ensuring that the propositional works is separate but integrated.). But in spite of this many persist with the old rationally based tools for developing the ads. In my experience of teaching this is because many time pressed agency executives have either not the time or the inclination to get acquainted with this large body of work from the IPA

The story I found most interesting is how the idea of advertising as rational and consciously processed came to be promoted by the likes of Rooser Reeves and acronyms like AIDA. It was a reaction against the toxic argument that admen were engaged in subconscious manipulation put about by a muck racking journalist called Vance Packard in his book The Hidden Persuaders. 

The 50s and 60s was a time of paranoia in American life and the last thing the admen wanted was to be associated with skulduggery- or a power that could be put to evil purposes. “Motivational Research” was hot in the 1950s. It purported to uncover our subconscious drives but it became a dirty word. The admen closed ranks and colluded in the idea that everything was above board and if any manipulation was going on it was just a form of creative charm magicked up by the creative teams.

Understanding that communication works in lots of different ways and that no one theory is complete is Paul Feldwick’s theme.

It is a good warning against endism as well. The arrival of a new technology or new medium ( such as the internet, or mobile or the Internet of things) always causes some pundits to announce the death of the old way of doing things and a new beginning with new rules.  Paul anatomised this mentality as The Year Zero Narrative and i have heard it a lot among digital folk over the past 10 years. It takes the form not of argument but assertion that ad agency people “just don’t get it”, that “people have fundamentally changed” and are “empowered” and so communication works differently. Now, I think that it is true that there has been radical democratisation of power that has changed the culture and context in which brands operate. Brands do need to offer value to “the empowered” more than before – mobile apps, good service, click and collect delivery etc etc. So there is a big change in behaviour and use of devices and services.

But this is not the same as saying that there has been a fundamental change in human nature and how we process information.

TV advertising is in rude health. Yet it is worth recalling that digital evangelists (about 10 years ago)  predicted the death of “Interruption” at the hand of empowered people using the web and the likes of Sky+ to avoid ads. So perhaps we still like well told stories with wit, characters and music and are prepared to entertain well designed commercial messages.

Calling this “interruption” was a way of dismissing it by giving it an unattractive label. It is an assertion.  But it is not an evidenced based argument.

If you believed the pundits 10 years ago  we should all now be suffering from a form of collective attention deficit disorder – yet we now like multi episode boxed sets. I have just spent several days worth of my life in immersed the world of Breaking Bad. Perhaps it is a reaction. All hyped trends have counter trends.

The Year Zero narrative also is practiced by people who have an interest in the dismissal of the established way. So the next time we read that everything has changed in the communications world at the hands of (say) mobile brandishing millennials or the internet of things we should pause and remember

1) The eternal latin/Italian question “cui bono?”

2) Nobody successful sold out a conference by saying not much has changed

 

I was just going through old VHSs and doing a clear out when i came across this- me on the tele with Gabby Roslin on The Big Breakfast (Chris Evans had just left the show) talking about what women want.Gabby reduced it all to one word – sex.

My attempts to suggest otherwise were fruitless

How did come about ? Well i was doing a study about advertising and women at Ogilvy with Sarah Newman, Beth Barry and Sarah Palmer (of Big Green Door)- I learnt a lot from them. Beth placed a story about it in The FT and the researchers at The Big Breakfast picked it up. Would Beth go on and talk about it, they asked ? Beth didn’t fancy it nor did Sarah so i was deputised.

I was given just 30 seconds to summerize a big and detailed study…

Happy days-and happy memories of working with some very talented people