Memos from the Department of Common Sense

I thought I’d kick the week off with a short refresher course in the bleeding obvious. 

Drawn squarely from the well of personal opinion, none of what I’m about to impart will come as a surprise to anyone with an ounce of gumption.

For others, principally those in the thrall of our industry’s latest fads, gimmicks, and bright shiny objects, I live in the hope that these simple maxims might serve as a gentle corrective. 

Yeah, I know, fat chance.

So, anyway, here we go.


 

Memos from the Department of Common Sense

If your Creative Brief won’t fit on one page, it isn’t brief enough.

How long does it take for a creative to come up with a great idea? 5 seconds? 5 minutes? 5 hours? 5 days? Exactly. No one knows. So please stop obsessing over timesheets.

Clear direction and a little space to think is still the best way to get great work out of a creative team.

You will never hear of Blockchain again. 

There is not a single ad person over 50 who doesn’t “get” social.

A banner ad is just an outdoor board at the top of a web page. 

Let’s use radio more, damn it!

One day we’ll look back on the Influencer Marketing fad and have a good chuckle to ourselves.

Dig deep. It increases your chances of creating work that no one’s seen before by 100%.

Experiential is like VAR in football: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

If you don’t have the talent to put something back together again, please refrain from tearing it down.

The quality of an ad is inversely proportionate to the number of people needed to approve it.

“Cheap, good and fast – pick two” isn’t dead. It’s not even unwell.

Instead of letting legal find reasons why something can’t be said or done, how about we ask them to find reasons why it can?

No one ever saved themselves to success.

Brand Purpose will be dead in the water as soon as the adults get back from lunch.

If the client rejects the work 3 times, the problem’s not the work. It’s the brief.

The appeal of Gary Vaynerchuk is one of the great mysteries of modern marketing. 

There is strong evidence to suggest that there just as many good creatives on outside looking in as there are on the inside looking out. 

Agile training teaches managers how to run a project from start to finish. Shouldn’t they know this already?

No good ever came of focus groups. 

Data may be able to deliver an ad in the right place at the right time, but without a good idea, it’s worth diddly squat.

An inclusive company culture goes wide and deep. Sadly, most are narrow and shallow.

In any downsizing or layoff, the people who really need to be canned are seldom the ones that are.

Car ads will start getting better any day now.

 


 

That’s it. 

Stay tuned for another exciting installment soon.

Experience Advertising vs. The Real Thing

Get a load of this.

“Consumers expect a lot more from brands than ever before. They don’t simply want delivery of products or services. They want brands to engage with them in meaningful ways. They want experiences that deliver meaning and community. They expect their brands to bring them joy.”    

It’s from a recent Adweek article on Momentum Worldwide’s “We Know Experience 2.0” research  https://bit.ly/2JkPamz

I read it. 

I reread it. 

I registered the extensive nature of the study and the clout of the agency behind it.

And I still don’t buy it.

I don’t buy that people expect more from brands.

Or want to engage with them.

Or expect them to bring them joy.

Not really.

It seems to me that if you ask people a dumbass question like “Do you expect brands to bring you joy?” they’re almost certainly going to tell you, “Sure, why not”

Who wouldn’t?

Similarly, if you ask them, “Would you like brands to deliver meaningful experiences for your community?” is anyone surprised if the response is, “Yeah, that would be great, too.”

How about if they engaged you in “meaningful ways”?

“Abso-frickin’-lutely”

Ask a leading question, get a misleading answer.

Here are some more choice insights from the same article:

83 percent of consumers believe it’s important for brands to take away stress or anxiety.

86 percent of consumers believe it is important for brands to make them feel better.

Does anyone actually believe that?

There are no prizes for guessing what the study’s conclusion is.

“Experiences matter and experiential needs to move to the center of all brand marketing plans. The future is about doing, not saying. Experiential makes brands authentic and real.”   

This is the kind of lazy thinking that nowadays passes for real thinking.

Real thinking isn’t easy.

It’s hard work.

It requires you to dig into a product or service and discover something compelling about it. 

How is it better, stronger, smarter, faster, greener, easier, or otherwise more useful, different, valuable, or beneficial than its competitors?

This takes time, effort, and patience.

Done well, it will result in work of substance, significance, and longevity. 

The proponents of lazy thinking can’t be bothered with any of this.

They’d much rather just make the answer an “experience” and be done with it.

It’s okay to have a set of values and a purpose that go above and beyond what it is you make and sell.

But sometimes people just want a hamburger.

Or a razor blade that gives them a close shave.

Or a car they know to be preferable to another.

And while it’s undoubtedly more satisfying to create an experience than it is to roll up your sleeves and deliver work that actually sells, the best does both.

As luck would have it, Coca Cola has a great new campaign that does exactly that.

0-1

0-3

0-2

A simple truth.

Powerfully told.

Based on an experience.

It’s the real thing.

Ageism in advertising and what we can do about it

There are lots of reasons to loathe the pernicious nature of ageism in advertising.

The dubious legality of it all.

The brain-dead notion that advertising must perforce be a young person’s game.

The inane short-sightedness of dumping years of expertise and experience out on the street the minute it hits 40 or, dread thought, 50.

It all adds up to an industry that hasn’t a clue where its best interests lie. 

Arse, may I introduce you to your elbow?

But there’s a more pertinent reason why the wilful jettisoning of vast swathes of senior talent makes not one iota of sense:

Advertising’s largest, most lucrative audience is getting older.  

Statistically speaking, the 50+ demographic today represents:

44% of the adult population.

50% of all consumer spending.

60% of households earning $200,000 or more.

And it’s getting bigger, richer and more influential.

Hands up all those who think it might be a good idea to have a few of their peers creating the ads they see?

You know, the people best able to understand how they think and act, and have a good grasp of what motivates them and what doesn’t.

Sadly, logic and facts don’t resonate in an industry fixated on youth. 

In adland today, the over 50s represent just 6% of the workforce.  

When challenged, the industry gurus and poobahs will roll out bogus maxims like “Lifetime Value” – a handy piece of gobble-de-gook that pretty much guarantees the work will skew way too young.

To take but one example: car advertising. 

Loaded with fads and souped-up on bells and whistles, they’re routinely targeted at 20 to 30 year-olds. 

I’ve got news for you: people in their 20s aren’t buying new cars.

But people 50 and over are. 

60% of all new car purchases are made by someone over 50.

And get this: People over 75  buy 6 times as many new cars as people aged 18-24. 

That’s because, unlike twenty-somethings, they have the spending power – and they’re not afraid to use it.

So, the next time you see a TV spot for a car, take a good long look at the driver and ask yourself, in what universe could that person afford that vehicle.

Which brings me to the crux of this particular blog.

While it’s refreshing to see ageism in advertising debated, bemoaned, vilified and talked about, we’re still a long, long way from seeing any real or meaningful action.

And let’s face it, the catalyst for change is never going to be the agencies themselves. 

No, our best opportunity lies with clients.

If actor Regina King can stand on the stage at the Golden Globes and use her newfound influence to declare that, in future, 50% of the crew on any of her projects will be women, then why can’t an equally influential client demand that 40% of people working directly on his or her account be over 40?

I have to believe that if Mark Pritchard at P&G declared age appropriate representation a moral and business imperative tomorrow that things would change in a heartbeat.

The same goes for Phil Schiller at Apple, Linda Boff at GE, Michelle Peluso at IBM, and any number of other powerful CMOs with the clout to lead by example and say “enough.”

Fanciful? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely.

The day agency demographics mirror those of the average consumer will be the day that advertising finally grows up.

It can’t happen soon enough.

Ageism in advertising is getting old.

50 Thoughts on Copywriting

If you write ads for a living, chances are you have an opinion or two on how best to create them. These are mine. 50 notes, notions, truths and truisms gleaned from over 25 years as a fully paid-up member of the wordsmith community. Whether you’re a fresh-faced young gun, a rising star or a grizzled old vet like me, I’m confident there’s something here for everyone.  Adopt or discard, agree or disagree, as you see fit.

Your job is to… marry an essential brand truth to a universal human want, need or desire, and do so in a way that’s clear, persuasive and impactful. Every. Single. Time. No biggie.

Free Beer If you’ve got something great to say, go ahead and say it. If you mess about trying to be cute, you’ll end up burying the lead. Free beer is free frickin’ beer.

People will read a long copy ad If every single word contained therein commands their interest. Conversely, 15 words of turgid dross will have them charging the exits.

Don’t get fancy Never use a flowery word when a plain one will do. This thought was first coined by George Orwell. I’ll leave it at that.

Oxford Comma? Yes.

My friend, the reader The best copy reads like a reasoned argument between friends. Getting the reader to consider you as such is the first step in convincing them to take what you’re saying seriously.

Your briefs are showing Beware of copy that too closely replicates the support points on the brief. One of the skills of a copywriter is to be a master of disguise.

People don’t hate ads, they just hate crap ads No one likes a dull, long-winded, predictable bore. Your job is to be the opposite.

Know your history Advertising does a lamentable job of honoring its past masters. If you aspire to be a copywriter of any note, acquaint yourself with the greats who have come before you: David Abbott, Julian Koenig, Paula Green, Dave Trott, Mary Wells, Carl Ally, Tom McElligott, Bob Levinson, and a host more.

A single-minded proposition should never contain the word “and.” The first sign of a wooly brief is a wordy proposition. Demand clarity before you put pen to paper or digit to keyboard.

Bells and Whistles are no substitute for Ideas and Impact You’re not in the entertainment business, you’re in the business of selling products, brands, and services that benefit from being entertaining. There’s a difference.

Department of Redundancy Department Scan your copy for unnecessary repetition.

Pun and Done Lots of headlines involve some sort of play on words. But the outright pun is a creature unto itself. If you opt-in, go all in. Like Gray Jolliffe’s ‘Out of the flying plane into the foyer’ for Swissair. So bad, it’s brilliant.

Note to Self A great headline or turn of phrase WILL come to you just as you’re drifting off to sleep and, no, you WILL NOT remember it in the morning. Keep a notebook by your bedside table.

Advertising is nothing but an opinion We work in a very subjective, flawed industry that’s susceptible to the whims of caprice, bias, and ego. It was ever thus. 

Campaigns that don’t get noticed aren’t campaigns They’re a waste of money.

Rewrite until it’s right Draft, scrap, do-over, re-word, re-write, finesse, fiddle, futz, trim, edit, and hone. Wordsmith that sucker until you’re only left with what’s absolutely necessary. 

Write the opening and closing line first Okay, so this is a personal preference, but to my mind, if you know where you’re starting from and where you’d like to end up, the journey in-between becomes a lot more manageable.

Here’s to the new ad, same as the old ad Web, games, interactive, social – the writer’s lot has changed a hell of a lot over the last 20 years, but it still boils down to the same thing: well-made arguments, concisely written and persuasively told.

Be skeptical Beware of anything that is supposedly about to “change everything.” It’s almost certainly not.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda It doesn’t matter how badass the concept is – if it hasn’t run, it isn’t an ad.

An ad is only as good as the client who buys it It’s a crap-shoot, really. We live for the client who “gets it” and appreciate those smart enough to be sold. But occasionally you’re handed a complete half-wit. In which case, you’re screwed. 

Hunt for Truffles To unearth a great idea, you first have to determine an area worth exploring. Once you find a patch you believe will bear fruit, start to dig. Don’t just scratch away at the topsoil, really excavate the possibilities. Burrow down deep enough, and you may hit gold.

Run to the sound of gunfire If people need help, raise a hand, jump in and don’t wait to be asked. You’ll find the favor returned when you need it.

Never grow up Maintain an infantile streak and childish sense of humor at all times. Disregard those who tell you otherwise.

Ad nauseum Let poorly written ads be a constant reminder of what happens when you phone it in.

Harper Lee was right There’s no better way to understand a person or audience than to spend a little time walking around in their shoes. When you know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of your prose, you can tailor your language and tone accordingly.

Put yourself in the suit’s shoes While on the same subject, spare a thought for the poor soul who patrols the no-man’s land between client and creative department. They get flak from the former, friendly fire from the latter and all-out shelling from both sides.

Tell people what they need to know Not what they want to hear.

Ads … can invariably be broken down into two distinct types, the ones that Make The Every Day Extraordinary and those that Make The Extraordinary Every Day. Try it, you’ll see.

There are no bad clients. A client’s reputation may go before them but if you treat every job as an opportunity and deliver something great – Kapow! – suddenly it’s the business everyone wants to work on.

Proof, proof, and proof again Your proofreader is your best friend. They circle your typos, tweak your grammar, and ensure your syntax is sound. Keep ‘em close and get them something nice for Christmas.

Only 4% of ads are ever remembered favorably Make sure yours is one of them. 

Learn to sell A good ad is always hard to sell but no one should be able to sell it better than you. Watch how the best suits operate, then learn, steal and modify as needed.

The Copy Book The one book every writer needs to read from cover to cover. A wisdom laden tome for wanna-be writers, rising stars and senior pros who are having a bad day.

Expect the Unexpected You’re chosen one of the most volatile businesses to forge a career in. Always have a folio site that’s ready to share at a moments notice. 

Raise the dead Don’t be afraid to re-pitch a killer idea to a different client. Having said that, if it remains unsold after three attempts it may not be as great as you think it is. 

You’re only as good as our last ad Enjoy the occasions when you clean up at the Award Show. Come Monday, it’ll be back to an empty screen and a blinking cursor.

Ode to a Jingle The humble jingle is a little passé these days. Sure, they can be cheesy but when they work they stick like glue for years, decades even. “A million housewives every day open a can of beans and say ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz.’ See.

Congratulations, you’re a Behavioral Scientist Okay, so maybe not a scientist but you’re definitely in the business of changing behavior. To that end, a small mental investment in the field of social psychology is no bad idea.

The Mighty Mnemonic A mnemonic is an aid to memory, a visual trick or verbal device that helps the customer remember that this ad is for your brand and not that of a competitor. Another old-school trick that is needed now more than ever.

Go above and beyond Don’t stop at the brief, aim beyond it. Give everyone – the CD, Account Director and client – something extra to think about, an additional thought, a new media opportunity, or a one-off execution that no one’s considered. Never do “just enough.” 

Written a great headline? Good. Keep going. It’s the first step to penning one that’s truly exceptional.

Tune into radio When you’re starting out, radio is often the first opportunity to land on your desk. Grab it. It’s a 60-second playground of the mind, an excellent medium for framing an argument, and one seriously overlooked discipline. 

It’s grammar init? Observing the rules of grammar is to be commended, but then so is the ability to write in the vernacular of the reader. When the two square off against each other, back the latter.

The “Fuck Me” Factor There’s nothing better than an idea that’s so outrageously out-there and scarily unorthodox that it has even the most collected of account people peeing their pants just a little. Just make sure it’s tethered to a solid brand truth.

Ruffle feathers Don’t be afraid to be a maverick. Write from the heart and stand up for your work. Just don’t be an ass. It’s a fine line.

Mentor others Remember all those lovely people who helped you when you were first getting started? Exactly. Now it’s your turn to pass on the favor to the next generation.

It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on At its best, being a writer is the most rewarding profession there is, a dizzying hybrid of salesman, storyteller, psychologist, and poet. Better yet, unlike Art DIrectors, you don’t have to spend hours futzing around in photoshop or endlessly agonizing over fonts and colors and whatnot. You are, of course, free to stand behind them and offer up suggestions. They love that.

Write “50 things” Now it’s your turn.

56 Years Young

Well, wouldn’t you just know it.

I return from the Holidays to find we’re finally having a debate about ageism in advertising. And a damn serious one, too, by the looks of it.

It’s about bloody time. 

Naturally, in the two-cent saloon of public opinion I’ve got a dollar fifty to spend, so here’s my take on the various whys, whats, and wherefores. 

The concerted eradication of the lesser-spotted senior creative has been going unchallenged for more than a decade now. Aside from the glib cliché that “Advertising is a young person’s game,” the boilerplate excuse for this sorry state of affairs has been the digital revolution and the pernicious notion that anyone over 40 or, God forbid, 50, must be flummoxed by it all. The whole shebang is just too much for our ageing analog minds to grasp.

A handy piece of nonsense that I hope to bury over the next few paragraphs.

To be clear:

There is not a single thing about digital, social, mobile, or content that scares me, worries me, frightens me or otherwise gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I have a clear understanding of how it works and, unlike most of its acolytes, know with absolute certainty why it doesn’t most of the time.

And I’m pretty sure a vast slew of ad people of a certain vintage would agree with me.

The only thing that bewilders me about the digital circus is the wholesale acceptance of its supposed magical properties and the outright refusal to countenance anything that might gainsay it. That being said, here’s what’s really driving our ongoing preference for young over old.

First, there’s the optics. A creative department filled with young guns supporting beards, tats, and Bluetooth headsets, looks a whole lot more on-it and of-the-moment than one stacked to the rafters with receding hairlines, expanding girths and mandatory reading glasses. For those of us getting up in years, this is undoubtedly the cruelest consequence of the passage of time. 

Then there’s the money. Younger means cheaper. Why pay top dollar oldie prices when you can hire raw talent with bags of potential for half and get away with it? If the client doesn’t notice, who cares?

This double whammy has resulted in the gutting of an entire stratum of our business – the senior pro with 25+ years of experience under his or her belt.

There are so many reasons why this is a terrible idea.

Let’s start with the nature of the advertising audience: It’s getting older, more affluent and more influential. The oldies have disposable income out the wazoo. Might it not be a good idea to have some of their peers creating the ads for them?

Then there’s the obvious hypocrisy of creating diversity and inclusion campaigns for our clients while simultaneously turning a blind eye to ageist practices in our own back yard. An excellent opportunity to lead by example that’s, naturally, been missed.   

The third is the effect an absence of senior people has on the quality of the work we ultimately create. I’m sorry, folks, but it’s increasingly taking a nose-dive into the dirt.

Today’s twenty-somethings are sorely missing what I had when I was their age – namely, the presence of a couple of old farts who had seen most everything before and weren’t afraid to share a few secrets. Occasionally, this would manifest itself as an open piece of advice (“Yeah, I wouldn’t do that if I were you”); more often though it was learning through proximity: You can learn a lot from merely observing someone who knows what they’re doing,

No one doubts that times change and that the younger generation must inevitably replace the one that came before it. 

But experience never gets old, and we jettison those steeped in the ways of the business too readily at our peril.

Do so if you must, but don’t say it’s because the old guard is out of its depth, or doesn’t grasp the latest leaps forward.

We know all too well how the game works.

And better than you might think.

Nevertheless, I’m glad we’re at last having a meaningful conversation.

Long may it rage.

Let the change in attitudes begin.

Crap Ad Syndrome: 10 Tell-Tale Signs

Your new campaign/ad/video is ready. 

Dollars have been spent, media has been placed, and expectations are high. 

But will it work? 

Ah, the multi-million dollar question.

Who knows? Advertising is an unquantifiable beast at the best of times and a wholly subjective one to boot,

What I can tell you is that if your heroic effort has succumbed to any of the ten suck points listed below, it hasn’t got a hope in hell.

Ok, get your pencils out and let’s see how you fair.

There was never any buy-in on the brief This is a biggie from the get-go. The brief is the tablet of stone by which all is judged. It should set the direction of the communication, guide the creative process and be the touchstone for whether the work is strategically sound, creatively impactful and ready to go to market. It needs to be kept to a single page, and both agency and client need to be on it.

The client has given the agency “direction” Yeah, I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Client direction is, after all, code for “do my idea” and that rarely works. All you’re doing is putting the brakes on minds trained to take base elements and turn them in gold. Best let the agency do what agencies do best: come up with great ideas. 

The work has gone through more than 3 rounds of revisions Anything more than 3 and there’s a substantive flaw in the brief. (See #1) It usually means there was never a consensus on what needs to be accomplished, and the vagueness and woolliness of the original brief are starting to show through in the ideas. No good can come from pushing on regardless and hoping for the best – best step back, re-focus, re-write the brief and start over.

More than 3 people are approving it One point to contact with ultimate say-so on either side of the client-agency relationship. That’s all you need. Anything more leads to mixed, diluted messaging that tries to accommodate too many opinions and points of view. An ad or initiative that seeks to say too many things fails to say anything at all.

The Creative Director doesn’t have the final say There’s a reason he or she is called the Creative Director – they’re the person best able to direct the creative and assume the role of guide and touchstone. In the best relationships, the client has absolute faith in their agency CD’s judgment. In its absence, client seniority usually takes precedence – again resulting in a mixed bag of potential outcomes. Take away: If you don’t believe in your Creative Director, replace them with someone you do. Failing that, let them do what they’ve been hired to do.

It’s been focus-grouped Never a good sign. A crutch for the marketing director who’s unsure of themselves, focus groups essentially cede the position of Creative Director to the loudest, most persuasive voice in the room. They usually hog the M&Ms, too. Not good. If you look for nuances rather than definitive analysis, then they maybe hold a modicum of value. But I’m not convinced. Bad idea.

 It lacks impact So much for the politics of the ad, now let’s get to the nitty-gritty of what it looks like. Impact is the first rule of advertising regardless of media. TV, social, print,  radio, if it lacks impact, it means that one thing: No one’s going to see it. And if no one sees it, everything else is a complete waste of time.

It doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable Impactful work signals its presence by generating a feeling of uncertainty in the pit of your stomach. This is because the work is fresh and unfamiliar and, as a consequence, you have no compass with which to pre-judge it. Conversely, a feeling of quiet satisfaction means your ad is a homogenous glob of same-old, sameness and you’re in big trouble.

It’s trying to say to many things at once Is your ad predicted on a single-minded thought provocatively executed? Or is a bloated amalgam of mixed messages, each desperately trying to shout over each other? If it’s the latter, save your money, your ad’s dead on arrival.

It looks like everything else in its category Uh-oh, sounds like you may have created a piece of safe advertising – an ad that desperately wants to look, feel and act like all its competitors when, in truth, what it needs to do is the exact opposite. Safe advertising is predicated on fear. And fear is a guarantee of failure.

So how did we get on?

If it’s any consolation, most ads exhibit some, if not all, of these tenets.

It’s why only 4% of ads are ever remembered favorably.

On a positive note, think of the ads that are memorable, command attention, talk persuasively and stay in the memory?

How many of those fall foul of the no-nos cited above?

Exactly.

It’s junk mail, Jim, but not as we know it

Kirk.jpg

It’s always been a topic of some debate as to which of the traditional advertising media today’s data-driven content most resembles.

Most opt for outdoor.

For one thing, it’s immediate. Static or moving, simplicity is mandatory. Headers can’t be more than 7 words long. Less, if possible. 

That’s because, like outdoor, time is short. You’ve only got a couple of seconds to grab your audience – about the time it takes to pass an outdoor board in a car.

I’m not buying it.

I think social is essentially direct response advertising.

Take the creative.

It’s almost always built around a call to action and its sole and only purpose is to generate a click-through. 

Much like a tear-off coupon, reply card or 1-800 number.

Its primary directive also informs its tone and manner, which is almost always of a shrill, hectoring, “act now” nature – another sure sign that the tropes of direct response gurgle around in its DNA.

It’s also riddled with rules – prescriptive dos and don’t, imperatives on how to frame a message, generate a response (that word again), what language to use, etc.

A social campaign will “drop,” too.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, you’re talking to one individual at a time. An individual, moreover, who is, thanks to data, highly targeted, from the who and the why, to the what, when and where.

You’re not broadcasting to everyone.

You’re narrowcasting to a very specific demographic.

There are no shared perceptions, peer agreement or opting in.

Whenever the desired action, it’s an action taken in isolation.

One-on-one.

Just you and the snake oil salesman. 

Like junk mail.

And like junk mail, it’s all incredibly dull.

But that’s a post for another day.