Built Ford Dull

Ford Mantra

This came across my desk today.

It’s some sort of manifesto, rallying cry or mantra from Ford.

The new Ford, I’m guessing. 

The one that’s trying to throw off the shackles of a troubled past, the legacy of years of woeful management and a product line that simply has never run as well or lasted as long as its Japanese competitors.

Don’t get me wrong. The TV spots with Bryan Cranston are exceptional. Reved up on blue-collar grit and brimful of no-nonsense, zero bullshit attitude, they do a fantastic job of resetting expectations. An excellent first step in what promises to be a long process of brand invigoration.

But this… this is just sloppy.

How best to put it?

Muddled?

Flabby?

A random mish-mash of meandering paragraphs bereft of any semblance of flow or story?

I’ll stop there and offer the benefit of the doubt.

Almost certainly there was something better in the beginning. 

I’d go further and say that a respectable missive went into the Ford Corporate Prose Mangler ZX211® and after a series of mindless executive tweaks, suggestions, mandatories, revisions, and changes, we ended up here.

I’ll give you that. But, folks, now its time to send for the cavalry.

This sucker needs a re-write. 

A big gun to bring a little clarity to proceedings, add an injection of poetry, vim, energy and, pardon me for this one, drive.

As luck would have it, our industry has recently laid off a huge swathe of very senior ad writers, experienced pros one and all, many with gongs and Gold Award thingamajigs. Anyone of them would kill this brief.

Alternatively, get the team that worked on the TV to have a crack at it.

Give ‘em a week. I guarantee it’ll be night and day.

I applaud the intent and desire to galvanize everyone connected with the brand: The consumers, the dealers, employees, engineers, the men and women on the line, etc.

Reiterating your purpose after a turbulent couple of decades makes perfect sense.

All the more reason then for this thing to sing not sag.

Ford, buddy, you deserve better. 

Throw this out and start again.

Give me a call if you need some help.

No one cares about your ad

Sorry to break it to you but they really don’t.

Today’s consumers don’t care how long it took to prepare the brief.

Or the rounds and rounds of revisions the creative work went through.

They don’t care about buys, flights, analytics, reach or the fact that you managed to incorporate five product benefits into the whole shebang instead of the original one.

Oh, and that last-minute change of image? 

Yeah, they don’t care about that either.

They don’t care because they’ve got much more pressing things to worry about. 

Mundane everyday stuff like buying groceries, dropping the kids off at school, making rent, paying down debt, getting a raise, getting fired, getting laid, getting coffee, etc. 

You know, life. 

It’s this indifference that accounts for the fact that only 4% of advertising is ever remembered favorably. 

And the secret to being one of the lucky 4%?

Be noticed.

Stand for something and, by doing so, stand out.

It’s not going to be easy.

You’re going need to be creative.

Not lip-service creative. 

Provocative creative.

Never-been-done-before creative.

The kind of creative that’ll need to be championed, supported and stood by.

Exactly the kind of creative, in fact, that gets killed or dumbed down by the machinery of the modern approval process.

Risk-averse superiors, overzealous legal departments, all conspire to rain on the parade.

They win the battle but lose the war.

The war for the customers’ attention.

If your new ad campaign doesn’t compel, intrigue, shock, move, surprise or otherwise engage the recipient, chances are no one is going to read it, watch it or engage with it.

They’re certainly not going to act on it.

And isn’t that the whole point of advertising in the first place?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

George Tannenbaum, author of the blog Ad Aged, wrote a great piece on Content Marketing recently.

Do yourself a favor and give it a read: https://bit.ly/2q3eWRs

It covers a lot of bases but what I particularly liked was his assertion that in our rush to take advantage of every social opportunity, we’re losing the capacity to properly marshall the work and exercise brand oversight.

This shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise. As we devolve the powers of content creation to more and more people, it is perhaps inevitable that the quality of the work wavers.

Here are a couple of factors.

The cost of entry for potential content makers has never been lower. A couple thousand bucks will get you a professional standard camera, a mic kit, and a passable lighting package. Editing, sound, and FX can be executed from a laptop. 

The result is that soup-to-nuts production options are everywhere. The vast majority are good, many flat-out great, but let’s not pretend the bad and the downright ugly aren’t out there, too.

The other contributing factor is the experience levels of those entrusted with the stewardship of the brand.

There is an enormous gulf in nuance and understanding between the Head of Marketing with 5-10 years’ tenure on a brand and a new account coordinator who, out of necessity, is immediately charged with overseeing the brand’s smaller, less attractive projects.

This is not to apportion blame, only to point out a simple truth. 

The result is that the average Joe and Josephine Schmo are receiving mixed messages.

To take automotive as an example. One moment they’re being presented with a luxury TV spot that looks like a million dollars and probably cost as much. It boasts high production values, is voiced by a movie star, and utilizes the very latest FX to support its claims of styling, performance, and advanced engineering.

Later the same day, they are subjected to a poorly made piece of content in their social feed. 

Same brand; two totally different brand perceptions. 

The recipient may not be able to articulate what’s wrong with all this but they will feel it. The feeling is one of confusion and an overwhelming sense of being short-changed.

The real question is what can we do about it?

I have a couple of suggestion, take them as you will. 

I would start by embracing the idea of “Less is More.”

Rein things in so that fewer people have the authority to act on the brand’s behalf.

Ensure that those that do are senior, knowledgeable and proven.

Next, try and instigate a policy of 360 quality. Allocate a reasonable budget and swear off the falsehood that the need to turn things around quickly makes cheap and shoddy work okay.

It doesn’t.

Either make a pitch for larger resources (easy to say, I know) or cut back on the number of executions in order to maintain consistency. 

If we all hold to the belief that everything is branding at some level or another, then the poorest execution will lower and stain a brand far more egregiously than a slick production will lift it up.

It’s a tough nettle to grasp but grasped it must.

The brand that lives in the heart and minds of its audience must be the best possible iteration of itself. It can’t waver or be subject to whim, circumstance or parsimony.

Our industries brightest and best already know this. It’s why they earn the big bucks.

They might need to earn a few of them right now.

The real cost of cutting costs

Real Cost

Reduced budgets. Belt tightening. Downsizing.

Seems like everyone is looking to reduce costs.

All the time.

“We need to do it for less” is the mantra of our times.

“Why?” “Well, … because.”

If I’m honest it’s not clear to me why anyone would actually believe this to be a good idea.

To be sure, the world is not short of big brands with the wherewithal to apply a boatload of downward pressure on their agency or design group.

Don’t want to submit to the new budget parameters? No worries, there are plenty of other potential partners out there that will. 

But is it really a sound strategy?

Is the knee-jerk of cutting agency fees (and expecting more out of them) or halving last year’s production budget really such a no-brainer?

The agencies that agree to the reduction will only pass on the pain to their vendors. Or they’ll try and keep it all in-house

To compensate for lost revenue they’ll fire the more expensive senior members on their staff and replace them with cheaper, younger ones – bright, eager and inexperienced.

They’ll also opt for people who can be utilized in a number of different ways – Jacks and Jills of all trades who’ll sadly be masters of none. Perhaps a junior exec who can take good meeting notes, knock out a brief and do a little social. Or a tyro Art Director who can also point a camera, edit a little, and dabble in after-effects.

The work gets done. 

But none of it is great. In fact, it’s deathly average.

And if the work is inferior, you can bet the results will be, too.

Ineffective work. Indifferent performance. Damaged brands. Not good.

That’s why it’s crunch time for those who know that this is a fool’s errand.

Who’ll be the first on either side agency/client divide to say “Enough”? Who’ll be the first say to their immediate superior “If were going to do this right, I’m going to need more resources.”

Never going to happen I hear you say.

Perhaps.

But I’ve yet to see a brand save its way to success.

Or cut its way ahead of the competition.

On the other hand, I’ve seen hundreds of great ideas – fully invested in and realized to their full potential – transform a brand’s fortunes forever.

Because a great idea is worth its weight in gold.

What’s more important?

What can be saved?

Or what might be lost?

“You’re a writer!”

You're a writer!

The British don’t go in for the whole High School Reunion thing.

Sure, there may be the occasional get together here and there, but ritualized gatherings at five, ten, fifteen and twenty-year intervals? Not going to happen.

I was mulling over this fact recently and got to thinking: What would my former schoolmates say if they found out I made a living as a Creative Director and more to the point, as a writer and wordsmith?

Answer: They would say, “Ian David? A Writer? Are you freaking sh*$ng me!”

To be fair, I think the 16-year old me would have agreed.

Truth be told, I was a bit of a dunce back then. I lolled and gagged, drifted aimlessly between classes, and showed little or no interest in learning about anything. I was particularly useless and inattentive in the two subjects that with hindsight I really wished I’d pull my finger out in: English and French.

My only saving grace was that I was good at Art. Not great at Art. Just better than most of my peers – a top 3 sketcher and doodler in any given class from the age of 6.

Looking back it was a lifeline to something different, an opportunity to stagger towards some kind of vocation, and to my credit, I took it. Not actively or with full consciousness but with all the vagueness that you’d expect of a 16-year-old preoccupied with football, Deep Purple and this strange new phenomenon called girls.

At the time, I only knew what I didn’t want to do – I didn’t want to work in a factory, bank, or shop or anything frankly that reeked of sweat, dirt, and physical labor.

And when the results of my exams came in I knew another thing: I had to improve my grades. 

College required 5 Ordinary Level Grades and 1 Advanced Level Grade. I had one O Level. And that was it. I had two years to get an A-Level in Art and find 4 more O Levels from somewhere.

So it was that I took an elective English class filled to the brim with reformed dullards like me.  Benefiting from the fact that everyone in the class was there for a reason and actually wanted to learn, the kindly teacher introduced myself and the class to “To Kill A Mockingbird”

It was a watershed moment. Light bulbs went on, clouds parted, vistas appeared. Suddenly I got this whole reading thing. Really got it. The second book she plonked in front of us was “Catcher In The Rye.” I was off.

This would be the conversation I would have if my school ever had a reunion.

It never will, of course.

But on the slim chance that any of my old classmates from Greenford High School follow my blog and are reading this, my name is Ian David and I’m a Creative Director, Writer, and Blogger. 

I love what I do and people seem to think I’m okay at it.

I know it sounds crazy but it’s true.

The Office

O'Henry's 2

This is my office.

Well, it’s one of them.

I have several stashed all over the country.

New York, Chicago, Austin, Denver, San Francisco, wherever I lay my creative hat I’ve got a coffee house to call home.

Because that’s the great thing about being a creative partner in a virtual agency: you can work anywhere and the coffee is WAAAAY better.

No more agency Keurig pods of dubious pedigree.

Just a double shot cappuccino, fresh roasted from Columbia’s finest in a spot where the vibe is always good and the ambiance invariably conducive to creativity.

These are attributes of a typical morning at the office.

They also constitute the only overhead to running a 40+ network of professional advertising talent.

From the bean infused environs chronicled above, I can write, create, oversee, strategize, pull together the teams, review work, produce, direct and generally run the whole shebang from a single soft backed chair.

It works and it works well.

Moreover, it seems to me that this decentralized creative set up thingy is increasingly becoming the model-de-jour.

The ongoing quest for better and smarter work, more provocative strategic thinking, and greater freedom to pick and choose partners is leading brands to increasingly ditch the traditional agency in favor of a more diverse and flexible pool of creative talent.

Ford recently announced it was ending its 75-year-old, $4bn relationship with WPP,  the latest major client to feel the need to walk away from the horizontal, monolithic “team” agency approach. https://bit.ly/2OjBxYz

Bad news for dinosaurs, good news for nimble networks like mine and many others. 

As the CD of a fluid entity founded on the principles of straight-talking strategy and no-holds-barred creative this should afford us opportunities.

In agency days of yore, I’d beat a path to the bean house when I absolutely, totally and emphatically needed “20 minutes to get some shit done!”

Now I get 8 hours to do it

With a break for coffee, of course.

Safe = Invisible

shutterstock_421055395

Safe advertising is advertising that looks like everyone else.

Acts like everyone else.

Thinks like everyone else.

Safe advertising doesn’t rock any boats.

It doesn’t stick its head in dangerous places or venture into unchartered territory.

Safe advertising is what happens when people are afraid to take chances.

What if my immediate superior doesn’t like it?

What if everyone hates it?

The more unique and intrusive a piece of advertising, the more likely it is to generate opinion and the possibility of adverse reactions.

So fear sets in.

It’s why most car ads all look the same.

Who’s going to be the client that doesn’t show their marque vehicle – the one that’s been in development for 5-years – driving down Pacific Coast Highway 1?

Fear.

It’s same with banks, financial institutions, drug companies and airlines: the more money involved, the more expensive the product, the safer the advertising.

But surely the point of investing all this time, effort and expense is to get noticed?

To outsmart your competitors.

To surprise your audience.

That’s the way to move a needle, change a mind or make a difference.

And you can’t do that if no one sees your ad.

As Bill Bernbach said:

“If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.”