Archive for the ‘ advertising effectiveness ’ Category

Future of Planning

I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for the Admap Future of Planning Prize, the winners of which were announced last week. The calibre of the three winning entries was exceptional – some incredibly original and thought-provoking thinking is on offer here and free to download for the next week.

Nick Hirst wrote about “Experience Architecture” which I found particularly fascinating as someone who started their career in a media agency and was always interested in cognitive psychology – context is key to how we understand or experience a message. My takeout from his article is the need for creative planning that is much more involved in the when, where and how ie. staying involved in the practical application of the idea –  and media planning which is as qualitative as it is quantitative. So many times I’ve encountered media choices that look great on paper (large reach against the right audience at the best price) and yet it’s the wrong moment, the wrong mood and mindset, so it’s unlikely ever to convert people. Whether those two planning roles should be united or separate remains to be seen…

Tom Woodnutt wrote about a concept called “Mutuality”, also highly relevant in modern planning given that like it or not, the influence of the general public on actively shaping your brand is reaching new heights, so you might aswell invite them in. And a philosophy that puts give and take at the heart of brands is definitely something I would support. And Philippa Dunjay wrote about microcutures, which I think is a really fruitful and creatively rich place to look for both target consumer potential, and ideas on how brands can add value.

There were also many excellent pieces by the other shortlisted authors, all on WARC if you have a subscription. In particular I’d check out Brian Millar’s piece which offers a compelling invitation for undervalued planning talent to think beyond advertising agencies and make a mark on the wider world, John Shaw’s voice of experience that elegantly looks at the things that will never change in planning, and Sarah Booth’s piece which is a refreshingly written take on cutting through the trends in plannery thinking and going back to basics.

And when you’ve read all those and for some unfathomable reason still want to read more, I’ve linked to my article below.

Taking a step back, I think I was writing slightly off the topic as my essay probably focuses more on the future of business and brands, than an analysis of the discipline of planning within an agency. But it was an interesting process to work through the essay title and to really think about the work we do as planners. I also found myself tying together some of the recurring strands of thinking which have been bouncing around this blog over the last few years.

Would love to hear your thoughts…  Do you see any truth in the wisdom argument, or have I lost the wood for the trees?

Wise Planning by Neasa Cunniffe


Why Planning is Subjective

I’ve just finished reading “The Seven Basic Plots” by Christopher Booker, and it is a truly stunning book. Anyone who is remotely interested in storytelling – or in understanding humanity at large, should read it. (Allow about six months though as it’s a mammoth tome…)

The seven basic plots are: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth. Booker then reveals that all of these stories are actually just different strands of the same overall narrative, with each story type giving us a different perspective. His central theory is that stories and archetypes, have a profound role in human development. They’re designed to teach us how to become mature and whole individuals, embodying our collective wisdom on the subject so we can pass it down culturally.

Many plots however, especially in modern literature, subvert the archetypes in various ways. Booker suggests by way of explanation that this is where the role of the writer and the purpose of the story have become mixed up together.  The shortcoming of a story in fulfilling an archetype, reflects the immaturity or skewed perspective of the author themselves.This is a slightly ironic claim given that when you get to the second half of the book, it’s very obvious when Booker’s own right wing ideology starts seeping out between the lines. (But don’t let your liberal leanings get in the way of appreciating his intensely valuable ideas).

My personal opinion is that far from being a flaw, good writing, whether or not it is fulfilling the archetypal pattern, should always reveal something about the author. In fact writing rarely has the power to strive a nerve with the reader, unless it is drawing from something raw and real and revealing.

And I would suggest that this is absolutely true for any creative product, including advertising. BBH legend John Hegarty alludes to this in his book:

“It’s essential for a creative  company to have a point of view and  a philosophical foundation for their work”

His opinion is that agencies need to have a strong point of view, an ideology even, which permeates all of the work they do.  You get a definite sense of what BBH stood for in Hegarty’s time – irreverence, provocation, humour – being the black sheep which stands out. Anti-conformist and anti-authoritarian, and doubtless reflective of the personalities involved in founding the company.

We use narrative all the time in advertising, and planning specifically, to make sense of a brand’s problem, to uncover the human truth, to present the strategic way forward. It’s inevitable as we interpret and shape a brand’s story, that our own viewpoints and ideologies will influence the solution we think is right.

But aswell as being inevitable, it’s desirable. When the creative solution has been artificially contrived and the people behind it don’t really believe in it, when it’s not a telling reflection of them- the output will be lacking something. It will feel hollow to the people who are on the receiving end. It’s only when we put something of ourselves into the creative output, that we’ll hit on an insight or an idea which will connect with people. Which is why planning is, and should be, subjective.

How Hard Do You Fight?

On paper, everyone wants the same thing – the most effective advertising possible. In reality, agencies and clients often have staggeringly different perspectives on what effective advertising means. We tear our hair out because we know, intuitively and empirically, that creative advertising sells better. Yet clients often prefer to stick within category conventions – they’ll choose wallpaper over “wacky”. We know that telling people exactly what we want them to think can have the exact opposite effect in terms of persuasion. Our clients worry too much subtlety is a luxury they can’t afford. We know that strategy means sacrifice and the more messages you cram into an Ad, the less messages will land. The client has five messages they want to convey, and don’t understand why they can’t convey them all.

So we find mutual frustration.

And it’s all very well the agency making their expert arguments, but clients aren’t living in a theoretical world. They’re juggling more than advertising effectiveness. They’re dealing with internal pressures, multiple stakeholders and financial accountability. When you realise the complexities driving client decisions, even those that you disagree with, you usually empathise and wonder whether you would behave any differently in their situation.

Except we’re not in their situation. We have a very specific job – if you’re a planner, your only important job is to make their advertising more effective. So the real question becomes: should we give clients what they need, rather than what they want? And how hard are we prepared to fight for the best possible work?

Because fighting gets exhausting. But as soon as we stop, we’ve given up. We’ve let our client down, even if they’re pleased we’ve stopped pushing. We’ll give them what they want, and it will be crap, and it will not sell anything for them. Then we’ll have even less credibility the next time around, when we try to convince them that advertising works.

In the end, we keep fighting the good fight.  We push hard, and we coax softly, and we convince slowly. We hope the effort is worth it and delivers results. And hopefully they’ll even thank us for it one day.

ANNA Winner – Fire Kills & Clock Change

Our new campaign for fire safety just won the topicality prize at the ANNAs!

Why emotional advertising doesn’t have to mean “consumer benefit”

Method's ideological perspective

I’m a big believer in the power of emotional advertising to sell. Mainly because I’m a big believer in advertising techniques which are supported by tangible evidence, rather than the pseudoscience we find pervasive today. And from what I’ve seen from the IPA, Heath & Feldwick, Binet and Field – their analyses on the role of emotion in advertising effectiveness make for a compelling case.

However – there is an important distinction between advertising which we respond emotionally to, and advertising which tries to own an emotional territory.

These are different things.

You can get a highly emotional response from messaging which isn’t rooted in a consumer or lifestyle benefit. For example a product focused message can be just as effective at eliciting a strong emotional reaction as a consumer insight based message.

What matters is how the message is delivered. The story around it, the music, the imagery, the words. These elicit our emotional response. I’m thinking of Honda’s “Hate Something Change Something” and “Cog” Ads – both of which are focused on the product yet connect with us emotionally.

Some advertisers seem to think that the route to emotional advertising is featuring people having that emotional response. Or showcasing a lifestyle they think is associated with that emotional response. Mirroring the emotion isn’t the same as eliciting the emotion.

Above all this, there are just too many advertisers trapped in the dogma that you have to focus on the emotional end benefit of what the product delivers. This results in bland generic advertising which doesn’t spark any feelings at all. It’s boring to look at.

A recently published WARC paper on Cultural Innovation illustrates this as a case in point. As we reached product parity in many categories, in order to move beyond functional benefits, we started to ladder up to higher order emotional benefits.  Which sees brands all scrambling to own particular territories which could belong to any brand in any category. Coca-Cola became the champion of ‘happiness’, Fanta became the champion of ‘play’, Snapple became the champion of ‘fun’.

By chasing an ownable emotional benefit, brands can end up with slightly nonsensical  positioning territories, invented by marketers getting lost in their own jargon. Competitors become separated only by slight nuances of difference, and the positionings are so abstract that they mean very little to people in the real world.

What this article proposes instead, is owning an ideological territory – an idea I’ve always found really appealing. Brands like Ben & Jerrys, The Body Shop, Dove, Apple, Method, Facebook, Whole Foods and Red Bull, all do this. They focus on having a cultural point of view, rather than promising a consumer benefit. Yet they elicit strong emotional responses from people.

From the perspective of the wider business, this is a much more useful approach. Forging an ideological territory, based on values, gives the entire company a sense of purpose and direction. It means that every company touchpoint can be part of the marketing effort and public image of the brand. And it makes much more sense in a world which is calling for greater transparency and longer term thinking from businesses.

How do you make Magic?

I used to think that the agencies with the best people, would make the best work. It was simple. Hire talent, and only talent, and excellence will follow.

I know now that I was wrong. Because I left out a really important part of the equation – the connections between those people.  Every agency has a creds presentation which claims they are dedicated to “collaborative working”. The reality is that most agencies still work in a highly linear fashion. These agencies are crammed full of very clever and very creative people, each of whom is really working on their own (or in pairs). They overlap for brief periods in meetings and reviews, but broadly they work in parallel to all the other disciplines in their team.

There is a very good reason for this. It’s more efficient.

Why waste time in conversations outside of your specific role? None of us has any extra time to spare in work. Better that everyone gets on with their particular part and hands over the baton when they’re finished.

Ironically it’s only in pitch scenarios, when we’re up against the clock to deliver, that we take the time to really delve into and discuss the task in a wider collaborative group. We don’t have a minute to waste, so we waste lots of time sharing, talking and going round in circles. It’s no coincidence that agencies often produce their best thinking and ideas during the pitch process.

The reason is, that this process creates a setting where inspiration is more likely strike.

The concept of inspiration and how to command it, has been a subject of fascination for a long time. Most of the research seems to reinforce the importance of two factors. The first factor is hard work / perspiration / preparedness. This is something that agencies aren’t short of. This is where hiring talented, motivated people will deliver.

The second factor is openness. This is messier. It’s about letting the mind wander. It’s about meandering away from the task at hand, exploring seemingly irrelevant stimulus.  And it’s about connection, the merging of minds, receptiveness to other people’s views and alternative perspectives. This second factor is just as essential for inspiration as the first. And in a climate of time sheets and efficiency, it’s increasingly in short supply.

Open and collaborative working is less time efficient but it leads to an agency culture where inspiration thrives. When we’re focused on the day to day, this way of working feels like a luxury we can’t afford. When we look longterm, it’s a necessity. Creative advertising is more effective at selling product.

Which is why all agencies could benefit from a little less efficiency and a little more emphasis on messy collaboration. That’s how you make magic.

Clients and Creative Judgement

I re-watched this video recently having just experienced pretty much the exact same scenario in a real life creative review. For anyone who works in a creative agency, the client interference parodied here is frustratingly common. But obviously this view is a little one sided.

Our clients pay for, and therefore are justified in assessing, our work. But it’s one thing to look at creative ideas and form opinions on whether you like them. It’s quite another to mandate where the advertisements should be set, who should be featured in them and what the copy should say. Typically it’s the clients whose creative judgment you rate the least, that are the most prescriptive about what they’d like to see in their Ad.

To be fair, they’re not interfering just for kicks. Our clients are intelligent people and their feedback is always based on what they genuinely think will make their advertising more effective. The problem is, they’re not experts in advertising effectiveness.

Clients know their business. They know their product. And (usually) they know their brand. However they know significantly less about content, communication and people.

Many clients find it difficult to look at a written script and visualise what the end product could look like. The more original the creative idea, the more difficult they find it. Many clients don’t understand the psychology of persuasion and decision making, where the more explicitly you tell the customer what to think or do, the less effective your message becomes.

Many clients (not without some cause) believe their agency are resisting their plea for more product shots because the creative team don’t want to ruin a potentially award-winning piece of advertising art. Many agencies believe that the marketing team are trying to cover their ass by making the message as direct as possible and the brand as focal as possible. That way if the advertising doesn’t shift product, the marketing department can’t be blamed. This is an understandable motive but one which undermines the the very goal they are trying to achieve.

So this mismatch in opinion between clients and agencies keeps arising, with each side claiming that the other side “just doesn’t get it”. The main issue behind all of this however, is trust.

Paradoxically, the more an agency appeases their client on strategic and creative differences in order to maintain a good relationship, the less trustworthy their advice becomes in the future. The client will unsurprisingly start to see their role as reigning back unruly creative suggestions and putting the advertising back on track.

And this situation is our own fault.

If we don’t show conviction in our recommendations, is it any wonder our clients don’t see any difference between agency expertise and their own opinion? There’s always room for discussion and debate, as many client suggestions have plenty of merit. But in order to develop a truly trusted client relationship and more importantly to deliver truly effective work, agencies need to stand firmer.

Then maybe we can reclaim our position as the experts in advertising effectiveness and creative judgment.

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