Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Great creative never starts with a blank page

Most people probably think that as ad creatives, we start with a blank page.

I would argue that in advertising that is rarely the case. And usually when it is, it means something is dreadfully wrong.

Starting point

Strategy is already shaping the page before we even touch it. And, that's as it should be. The all too crucial brief starts to put the structure together that defines a starting point, and the end point.

What is the problem we're solving? What obstacles might we face? What key insight(s) do we have about the problem or people we are trying to reach? What message are we trying to communicate? What is the reason to believe the message? How will we measure success/What is the end goal? What is the opportunity?

And the best will also include the audiences' fears, dreams, etc with pyschographics, as well as data on the competition for even more context.

This strategic foundation is the basis of great creative work, most importantly the key insight(s) which is the meaty goodness creatives love to sink their teeth into as they brainstorm.

Get inside the box

The all too overused phrase "think outside the box" when applied to advertising or marketing should really be "think inside the box". If there are budget constrains, specific requirements, or other elements that will ultimately constrain the "blue sky thinking" that most often happens in brainstorm sessions, it doesn't matter how great the idea is if the client can't pay for it. Sure, I've had plenty of projects where I've been able to sell in more expensive ideas--but it's not the norm. The solutions you can create that don't cost millions have to work harder and be smarter. Sure you can throw dollars at something and that alone might be enough. But, it's thinking within the parameters and constraints that is the challenge of developing great ideas that break through. It's also how we bring value to what we create; what makes our job skilled and not something just anyone can do.

Bring on the ideas

Great ideas play off archetypes that resonate with people. That help them see how a product or service solves a problem or helps achieve a goal. These ideas sometimes bring unrelated thoughts together in new ways that capture attention and drive engagement. Other times the ideas bring together new technologies and evolving social behavior in new ways.

Ideation or concepting might begin with doodles, random notes, and even research. Brainstorming brings some of these ideas together in ways not thought of before because different thinkers are combining their thought processes. It's one reason why team work is often better than the work of a single creative. Working in a vacuum, there is no outside voice to bounce things off or to build upon the idea with a different perspective. These additional idea builds can come from anywhere and from anyone.

The tricky part is to know what are good builds and what are bad builds--to keep the original idea from becoming too muddied--to keep it on strategy. All too often you see an ad where you wonder how it came to be. There's a gleam of something amazing there, but it's been stripped down or covered up with other things that it's a shadow of what it once was. Often that means it's a victim of "design by committee" or "too many chefs in the kitchen" issues.

Ideas that win

Put yourself in the audience's shoes. Sure, you might not be the target, but what are the kinds of things that resonate with you? What do you like to see? What ads have you loved? We are all human--we all have similar desires and fears. We want people to like us. We are afraid of being alone. We want to have it all. We want to be happy. There are many ways to skin these basic human emotions. The best ideas play into these in ways that are relevant to the audience you're trying to reach. It's why good creatives are curious. They want to understand what makes the people they are talking to tick. Because that's key to making ideas that win.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Content is a four letter word

The renowned Dave Trott wrote a piece for CampaignLive that hits on the emptiness of the word "content".
The content is now just something to fill up the space; the delivery systems are what’s important, not the content.
And that’s the massive shift that has happened in our business.
"Content" may only be a word, but it signifies a total shift in emphasis.
Previously, the most important thing was to solve a business problem.
Then to work out what contribution marketing could make to that.
Then have advertising deliver that solution in the most impactful way.
That was the big idea that would change behaviour.
The delivery system facilitated getting the idea in front of the right people.
But the important thing was the idea.
To put it simply: it was idea first, delivery system second.
But by relegating the idea to content, it becomes far less important.
The delivery system must now come before the idea, before the "content".
So changing the word signifies the complete change in the business.
In case I was wrong, I looked up "content" in the dictionary.
"Content (noun): everything that is inside a container; the contents of a box."
So there it is: we’re in the shipping business.

This article from Harvard Business Review calls content "crap".

We never call anything that’s good “content.” Nobody walks out of a movie they loved and says, “Wow! What great content!” Nobody listens to “content” on their way to work in the morning. Do you think anybody ever called Ernest Hemingway a “content creator”? If they did, I bet he would punch ‘em in the nose.

Yet while content — a commodity to be acquired, distributed, and leveraged — remains a fiction in the minds of business planners, digital technology has given marketers enormous opportunities to publish and produce. To take advantage of those opportunities, marketers need to shift their mental models and think more like publishers.

I had interviewed for a Content Strategy position in the last year and it started with the question asking how I defined content. I would say that content is EVERYTHING you put out there as a brand. EVERYTHING. That means paid AND unpaid (or paid, earned, and owned if you'd rather). You can turn things your customers are sharing online into content too.

We are sloppy with our language describing marketing and advertising terms. We are verbose when its not needed to make things obfuscated. And so we end up with words that have little meaning and devalue the things we create. Shame on us.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Why Some Branded Mobile Apps Limit Engagement

This afternoon as I was making my way through my inbox, I came across a story in Media Post's Out to Launch email that struck me as something worth thinking about.

Here's a screenshot from the email:

For a long time I have worked on campaigns where "doing something mobile" is requested. Why does "doing something mobile" equate to creating a branded mobile app that has to be downloaded from an app store? Yes, app usage has soared. But if you look at the data, it's very specific app use. Comscore's US Mobile App Report from 2014 showed that total mobile app usage has surged 52 percent since 2013. Other interesting stats from the report include the facts that "the total number of app downloads is highly concentrated within a small segment of the smartphone population. The top 7 percent of owners account for nearly half of all app download activity in a given month. A staggering 42 percent of all app time spent on smartphones occurs on the individual’s single most used app. Nearly three out of every four minutes of app usage occurs on one of the individual’s top four apps." And as this Forrester article "Your Customers Will Not Download Your App states, "Most apps simply aren't compelling or convenient enough to outweigh the inhibitors of discovering, downloading, installing, and customizing them."

The idea of the campaign is fun. But making it an app to be downloaded from an app store automatically limits the number of people who will engage with it. Would the people who created it or signed off on it download it if they were the target. Doubtful. So why should Oscar Mayer's customers do it?

Unless your mobile app provides utility tied to your brand (like if you're a bank and you have a mobile banking app or your app is tied to payment and loyalty, like Starbucks), you won't see swarms of customers rushing to download your app. Just because mobile activity is up, doesn't mean that it requires an app to connect with the customer.

Mobile experiences can happen via web pages which will increase your viewability (and shareability) and if you build the experience to be responsive, well then you've just increased it even further. Building apps in silos like this is one of the many ways money is wasted on an idea that could have lived in a more dynamic environment that lead to greater sharing (or viral) potential. It's unfortunate.

Friday, July 31, 2015

8 ways I keep up with ad news

Some times people wonder where I get my links and news from. And for a long time, I liked to keep it under wraps, but today I decided to share some of my sources with you.

1) Flipboard:
I follow a lot of different magazines here and aggregate my favorite or noteworthy stores into my own. Currently I have 5, which seems to work well enough. That might change in time.
See my profile here to follow any of my magazines.

2) OpenStrategy:
A great resource about strategy and thinking which also sends emails (Yup I get these too). You can sign up here for the emails.

3) Adland.tv:
Largest Super Bowl archive and the latest ad news from around the world in one place.

4) Feedly
With the death of Google Reader, I moved to Feedly. I keep track of many sites there, although there is overlap with this and flipboard, which I just find more user friendly.

5) Sidebar.io
Daily emails feature 5 curated links from a list that get voted up or down on their site (see here). Some great articles and featured work. Mostly focused on digital design & UX, although sometimes there are bigger branding themes as well.
Sign up here.

6) Fraggl
Fraggl is a "daily email of the 10 must read links on selected topics, brought to you by a surprising combination of smart computers and interesting people". Currently advertising, design, and health are available.
Sign up here.

7) Strands of Genius
Strands of Genius is a weekly newsletter curated by Rosie & Faris Yakob. Each week they "find the awesomeness on the internet so that you don’t have to."
Sign up here.

8) Mediapost emails
There are loads of topics you can sign up to receive alerts or aggregated emails. Around the Net in Brand Marketing, Research Brief, SocialMediaMktg Daily, and Accounts on the Move are just a couple I receive. More here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Who drives your brand personality matters.

Can brands ever really separate their personality from those at the driver's seat?

Virgin (and all it's brand splinters) all fall to a personality that embodies its founder. Richard Branson has a joie de vivre and that carries through the brands. The goal is to attract like customers and reach out to those people who do as well. It's all integrated. But, it also works for the brand and what it stands for.

Other brands, like Coca-Cola, have a personality that has been developed over time and I'm sure somewhat existed prior to the current CEO and other stakeholders. They understand that the brand isn't them, it is its own thing.

When working on branding projects, it's often hard for stakeholders, or the ultimate stakeholder, to not put their own spin on how they feel the brand should be positioned, for right or wrong. You see it when people are reviewing creative work all the time when they don't like something because personally they don't like it, not because it's not right for the brand or piece of communication.

Great brand leadership in a company is able to separate themselves from the work and will understand that the brand needs to connect with the target audience. It's not about what they want, it's about what works best for the brand and who they are trying to reach.

Until more executives and board members understand this, we will continue to see a proliferation of brands that struggle to identify who they are, how to connect with their customers and in the end, be successful. It's those who stay true to their inception and are brands developed with a purpose and belief that will be able to win out.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Keep it simple (and interesting) stupid

About two weeks ago, Dave Trott was giving a talk to some media folks about creativity.

An article, "Simple may be out of fashion but its the way forward", shared some of his points that he blogs and writes about.

His point of the talk was that the message remains more important than the medium.

Creatives, he said, weren’t producing the goods as they should, partly because they were completely confused about what they were supposed to be doing: content, ideation, transcreation, narrowcasting and all the rest of it. All these were driven by technology and the belief, mistaken in Trott’s eyes, that new means of distribution – media – require a different kind of message.

Trott is right on the money. The problem is that many folks are making money by obfuscating the process and inclusion of new technologies. Yes, new tech can be a part of the process and end result, but it is not the idea. It's not the connection. It's not the story (unless your brand's story is about tech). Human truths have not changed. We still all want to belong, to be unique, to be loved, to be successful, to have our dreams come true. Technology hasn't changed our wants and dreams as much as it's changed how we can achieve these things (or complain about them).

On the same theme of ‘simple is best’ Trott also pointed to survey information that purported to show that four per cent of UK ads were ‘remembered positively,’ seven per cent recalled less than positively and 89 per cent completely ignored. In an £18.3bn ad market this was a lot of waste, he opined, before moving to a classic Trott exposition on how to get noticed – be different, essentially.
This really gets me. Billions are poured into advertising that isn't effective mostly because it's so samey and dull it is forgotten or ignored. Brands that aren't afraid to have a personality, stand for something, and/or know who they are will succeed.

Both of these are basics. We're hurting ourselves as an industry by getting away from them and obscuring them with lingo and fluff.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Brands are about the WHY not the what

Are you what you do or are you what you believe?

This is a basic question when it comes to branding and it confuses many companies.

In most cases, brand stories aren't about what you do, they're about what you believe and the WHY behind what you do.

Less successful brands often get caught up talking to themselves and are so ingrained in their day-to-day that they cannot see the forest for the trees. They focus on the details of products or services they are delivering instead of standing back and looking at how they are impacting the lives of their customers.

Brands that are beloved and successful get this. They were either born with a clear mission or belief behind them, or understood what it would take to genuinely change their business to embrace one. Few companies can do the latter. It's much easier to start with the former.

And yet, so many companies struggle because they want to beat the competition that is LIVING their beliefs from its products to how it treats employees and all the way through to customer service. The best brands infuse their beliefs completely through their business in such a seamless way that it appears effortless.

But like a good concept, it starts at the core with a strong premise, and building off of it. Scale doesn't happen without challenges, and along the way, tough choices (financial, philosophical, etc.) need to be made to maintain that WHY.

Often "the brand" gets lost when a company goes public or the founder(s) leave. That vision and WHY disappear and often mean a drop in sales or struggle for maintaining the passionate customer base. When ONLY the bottom line is worshiped, brands will have problems with being successful.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Don't be boring

A while back I started a blog post about clients burning their money. It's on a different computer but I've been thinking about it today and really wonder why brand think that they are doing something to be remembered with some of the "content" that's out there.

If we only remember a small percentage of the ads we encounter on a daily basis, what is it that makes us remember those select ones?

  • Interest - am I looking for something in that category.
  • Entertainment - did I find it entertaining.
  • Value - did it educate me in some way

If your ads aren't doing any of these things, you're burning your money. Plain and simple.

Safe doesn't make you remembered. And that doesn't mean you have to be outrageous either. But being boring is the worst thing you can do.

I can't count how many times I've heard someone tell me about a great ad they saw or heard but couldn't for the life of them remember who it was for. This is also a fail.

Great advertising doesn't just try to entertain you without connecting to a message it's trying to get across (we're cheaper, we're smarter, we're who you want to be).

These are not new precepts in the digital age but ones often forgotten from the Mad Men era. As much as things change, certain pieces remain the same. There is a constant in our evolving world.

As Howard Gossage said, "People read what interests them. Sometimes it's an ad."

Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Bowl Ad Predictions for 2016

Now that the Super Bowl is past us and we have 364 more days (give or take) until the next one, I thought I'd share some predictions for next year's ads:

  • A brand will create a 20-year throwback ad featuring Steve Winwood & Higher Love:
  • Politically charged ads about red and blue states
  • Advertisers will flip on dadvertising and try to focus on momvertising, because MOM!
  • More pharma brands will advertise with their illustrated grossness
  • Ads will feature less children dying
  • An internet star will show some skin
  • There will be slapstick humor - someone will fall down/get punched/get hurt
  • Lettuce growers decide to do a :90 ad
  • Ads will try to find the funny again and leave the heartstrings alone (except maybe Budweiser, if they bring that un-aging puppy back again)
  • The Olsen twins will show up in a car ad
  • Technology will show us how disabled people can achieve anything

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Winners, Losers of Super Bowl Ads 2015

My review of winners, losers and runner's up.

Budweiser Lost Dog
Snickers The Brady Bunch
Loctite Glue

Absentee dads from Nissanand dads that are there from Toyota.

Dead children from Nationwide.

Disabled achievers from Microsoft and Toyota with Purdy.

Screaming goats from Discover Card and Sprint.

Nothing topped the Nationwide dead kid ad though..

T-Mobile - Sarah Silverman & Chelsea Handler

Supercell/Clash of Clans with Leslie Neeson and a Taken spoof.

Always #likeagirl

Kia Sorento with Pierce Brosnan.

See all the Super Bowl ads from 2015 here: http://adland.tv/superbowlads/2015-super-bowl-xlix-commercials
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