Archive for the ‘ advertising strategy ’ Category

When you change your clocks, test your smoke alarm

Our newest installment of the Fire Kills campaign.

Please pass it on and help reduce the number of people who die tragically in house fires every year.

People who could have survived if they’d just had a working smoke alarm.


Insight Failure

I cannot stand these awful anti-drugs campaigns. Not because I disagree with what they’re trying to do, but because they are so poorly thought out. They’re attempting to solve complex social problems without any understanding of how people actually work. I don’t know what the UK stats on drug use amount to, but I know from the youth insight project I used to run in Ireland, that the vast majority of under 30s had used at least one illegal drug, at least once in their life. Their experience of drugs is not black and white, but many shades of grey (I’m not talking about the book!). They know people who have been completely destroyed by drugs. They know people who used to be a bit messy but have calmed down. They know people who dabble moderately within a pretty normal lifestyle. And they know people who experimented a few times but decided it wasn’t really for them.

Campaigns like the Facebook timeline one are not credible because they directly contradict people’s real life experiences of what happens when you use drugs. Similarly the “natural high” campaign is setting itself up for failure, just like those abstinence campaigns, because they assume that you are either good or bad. You’re either aligned with those who do, or those who don’t. Asking people to choose a side is both unappealing and unrealistic given how varied an individual’s behaviour and opinions can be in any given situation. And particularly on these social issues, if you force the choice you can expect to continually fight a losing battle.

The reality is, that the non-drug-users/abstainers group will always disproportionately have more of the straightlaced, play by the rules, cautious people, and the drug users/non-abstainers group will always have more of the riskier, dangerous, don’t give a fuck people. The celebrity ambassadors in the “natural high” campaign only enforce this point. Cool will always be against you – don’t ask teenagers to choose sides. And if you really want to really tackle the problem don’t frame it as a black and white issue at all. Give people realistic and practical alternatives in between, and then they are likely to follow a path which isn’t perfect but good enough.

Ultimately the failure of these campaigns comes down to insight. All of these campaigns clearly come from the perspective of non users and show zero insight into the people they are trying to talk to. They don’t feel like they are coming from insiders. They feel like a top down message from moralising outsiders. So they will only appeal to people who already think the same way. And I think this illustrates something really important about insight.

Insight isn’t about a single truth that you can write down on a piece of paper and give to people and think “now they have insight too”. Insight is about understanding the people you’re talking to, to such an extent that you develop an instinct about tone of voice, about nuance, about the little details that will resonate.  There’s a reason we planners sit in on all those focus groups, explore  online forums or sometimes if we’re very lucky immerse ourselves in their real lives.  It’s not to find “insights”, it’s to develop “insight” which can then be applied to help shape the work.

That’s also why the single page brief or worse still, the single line proposition, is often so limited. It doesn’t capture the small seemingly insignificant stuff which can mark the difference between authentic and contrived. This type of insight is only ever understood and passed on to others through face to face conversation, probably multiple conversations. So the briefing session is a good start but not nearly enough. What planners really need in order to apply their insight is much closer collaboration with creative teams, throughout the strategic and creative process, right through to the end.

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.

Good things come in small packages

The most recent fruits of our labour on Danone – a new strategy and a new creative idea, brought to life by the legend that is Ronnie Corbett.

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.

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