Sunday, October 27, 2013

I Am Actually Warming To Millward Brown

Like many creatives, I have always considered Millward Brown to be the anti-christ.

Everything I had heard from them seemed to be a guide to how to make ads worse. Often much worse.

And since nearly every ad on TV has 'passed' Millward Brown, but nearly every ad on TV is shit, I just assumed they were charlatans or fools.

But recently, I was sent a copy of one of MB's 'Knowledge Point' reports... and it's f***ing great.

Full of useful advice. And actual science to back up its claims. I tell you, the thing has rocked my world a little bit.

This particular report was about branding, and offers a beautifully balanced point of view.

They annihilate agencies who would make an 'art film' or 'random comedy sketch with the brand tacked on at the end', insisting that "The brand [should be] integral to the idea, story or structure," a thought which they also express as "Can I describe the story of this ad without mentioning the brand?"

But they also undermine the commonly-held view that an ad should have repeated packshots or branding, by demonstrating (with data) that "Strong branding is not achieved by showing the brand early or often." And "Brand linkage is not related to the time at which the brand appears in the ad" and "There is little relationship between the number of brand appearances and the branding score."
Best of all (for us creatives) - the Number 1 most important quality an ad needs, to score as well-branded, according to this new report from Millward Brown? "Creative stopping-power." (Which MB defines as 'involvement' and 'enjoyment')

Guys and girls, I reckon Millward Brown is our new best friend.

I'm now going to read the rest of the reports on their site. Maybe you should too.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Let's Play 'Fantasy Agency'!

Everyone keeps remarking that the current agency model is broken. But, they never propose a new one.

So here goes.

First let's look at the current model. It goes something like this:

(Click to embiggen)

For simplicity, I've left many people out, including Production, Reception, Security, I.T., U.X., Executive Assistance, Catering, and Technologists. Doesn't mean they're not important. They are. They're just not departments I have a new structure for.

And I'm not meaning to call out any particular type of agency here. I'm meaning to refer to 'traditional' agencies, digital agencies, integrated agencies, above-the-line, below-the-line, through-the-line, never-heard-of-the-line... everybody.

Also, though I've put Traffic at the bottom, I don't mean to say they're the least important. I would love to show them permeating the whole system - like the oil in an engine - but I just don't know how to draw that.

Now, here are three alternative models: 

Alt. Model 1: 'The BBH'

This is the model that was put into place at BBH in London, about three years ago.

The thinking behind it was that clients come to agencies for great creative, and great strategy. They don't come for 'great account handling'. (N.B. their words not mine). Therefore Account Handling becomes more of a support function, with the role of Traffic subsumed within it, which saves a little money.

The crucial 'Team Director' role needs an extremely talented, super-organised person, but they could potentially come from a Traffic background, and may not need to be as well-paid as the top Suits previously were.

However, this is not a cheaper model overall, since as you can see, the savings are ploughed into hiring extra Planners. The goal of this model isn't to cut costs, but to increase quality (clients are theoretically receiving more of the expertise they actually want from an agency) and to increase efficiency (there are fewer moving parts).

I hope it's not a trade secret. If it is, apologies.

Alt. Model 2: 'The Hybrid'

Account Handlers and Planners both make an extremely valuable contribution to the advertising process, no doubt about it.

But with margins crumbling across the industry, perhaps it's time to look at merging the two departments.

In many cases, this won't be a problem at all. There are many 'strategic Suits' out there, and tons of Planners who have first-class account handling skills.

Of course, it's too much to expect that every Account Handler will be as adept at planning as a Planner is, and every Planner as adept at suiting as a Suit. So, some decrease in the agency's quality and efficicency is inevitable. 

Oh, and in case anyone thinks I'm being biased towards Creatives - by merging Planning and Account Handling while leaving Creative untouched - I'm not. Take another look. I've eliminated the separate Art Director and Copywriter roles, thus making Creatives hybrids too. 

Yeah I know, it sucks. But this is a considerably lower-cost model. When times are tough, you can't eat foie gras and go to the theatre every week.

Alt. Model 3: 'The Ad Guy'

This is a radically lower-cost model.

It does away entirely with the three traditionally separate roles of Planner, Creative, and Account Handler, and instead merges them all into one - the 'Ad Guy'.

Obviously, very few individuals are capable of performing all three roles to the same standard that today's specialists can. So some drop-off in quality may be expected. Though arguably this may be offset by an increase in efficiency, since there are many fewer moving parts to this model.

I'm envisaging that each Ad Guy would have a young apprentice, who is gradually trained up to become an Ad Guy (or Ad Girl) themselves.

Now, before you write off this scheme as complete lunacy, consider this: it is in fact the model in most common use by other providers of professional services today, such as Management Consultants, Lawyers, Bankers, Architects, Accountants, and (perhaps most pertinently to us), PR professionals.

Also it's so low-cost, we could all go back to driving Porsches again. 


Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Hollywoodisation Of Advertising

Hollywood now generally makes either big-budget spectaculars, or much cheaper indie fare, with very little in the middle.

And I reckon advertising is going the same way.

The business model of Hollywood was transformed by the introduction of the first 'blockbusters' in the late 1970s - Jaws and Star Wars.

The strategy - a response to increasing competition from home entertainment (first cable, then VHS, then DVD, then gaming) - is now to create 'event' movies that people feel they have to see at the cinema.

These event movies, such as Iron Man, Superman, and Batman, cost about $100 million to make, and the successful ones make good money. 

At the other end of the scale there are indie or arthouse movies, such as Lost In Translation, Little Miss Sunshine, and Moonrise Kingdom. These generally cost under $10 million to make, and the successful ones in this category make good money too.

But in the middle - the $10 million to $100 million bracket - there is almost nothing.

This hasn't happened because film-makers no longer want to make medium-sized films, such as Serpico, The Thing, or Dead Ringers, but because the economics of the industry have changed, due to the advent of competition.

And I believe that we are seeing a similar pattern emerge in advertising, as a consequence of the competition that TV now faces from online.

In short, it still makes sense to make a big-budget TV ad for a car, a beer, or a telco. And it increasingly makes sense to produce inexpensive video content for the web. But the space in the middle - the medium-sized TV commercial - is getting squeezed out.

Chats I have with directors nowadays return constantly to the same theme - that budgets (except for the 'blockbuster ads') have collapsed. And production companies that specialise in 'content' - i.e. less expensive video - are popping up all over the place, both in the production company field, and also within agencies.

It's a slightly painful transition for some, and the economics and process for 'content' are something that we're all still figuring out, but like it or not, the change is here.

As creatives, we should embrace it. Because the 'Hollywoodisation' of advertising, while a big change in economics, doesn't necessarily impede creativity. Look at it this way: Hollywood produces some moronic and derivative blockbusters for sure, but also some fantastic ones, while the arthouse world is equally capable of spawning both genius and drivel. In the same way, we get some fantastic big-budget TV ads and some dumb ones; some highly innovative and creative content pieces, and some cheaply-produced shit.

It feels very different making a big TV ad than it does making a content piece. But the opportunity to do something good is there with either, since just as with movies, the quality of an ad is something independent of its budget. It always has been.

P.S. I saw Gravity the other day, and I can't understand why everyone's raving about it. It's basically a $100 million special effects extravaganza with a somewhat cheesy storyline - essentially a similar product to Avatar or Battleship - isn't it?

Sunday, October 06, 2013

We All Think We're Driving The Bus

We all talk constantly about how advertising is a team effort, and it is. But I reckon everyone secretly thinks their own job is the most important.

Us creatives are perhaps the most openly arrogant in this regard. Bob Hoffman sums up our attitude on his blog The Ad Contrarian: "Creative people make the ads. Everyone else makes the arrangements."

You have to dig a bit harder to find the evidence that everyone else thinks they're driving the bus too. But it's there. 

Exhibit A. This quote from a Planner involved in the Old Spice campaign: "Our strategy  led to the inception of “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”, a crusader against 'lady-scented body wash.'" (from Cannes effectiveness submission).

So the Planners thought it was down to them. Yes, maybe script-writing (and surely casting) played a part, but it was all driven by the strategy.

But wait. The media planner on the campaign says: "Our communications strategy played a huge role in enabling the success of “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like."(from Effies submission). So it was down to the comms planning.

While a client voice on marketing blog The Essential Orange reckons that "A well executed marketing strategy was key to the brand’s success." Yup. You could argue the clients are driving the bus, and we're just singing the songs as it drives along.

Then this. I read a quote from a project manager the other day: "Talented people make great advertising" - he hypermodestly excludes himself from the ranks of the talented - but then adds that "a good process helps those talented people make advertising profitably." In other words, if it wasn't for him the agency would go bust within weeks.

And I ran into a senior suit, who works for a fast-growing agency that has recently taken over a business-challenged competitor. First of all he sang the praises of the creatives at the company they'd taken over. But then he averred that the management had been poor, and there wasn't much point having creative talent if no one wanted to work with you. In other words, he was driving the bus. Without him stopping the bus at places where clients were waiting to board, and opening the doors for them, the creatives would be unemployed passengers.

Anyway, I'm not too sure what to do with this information. Obviously I still think it is we creatives who are driving the bus... which means that everyone else must be deluded. But I suppose I have to recognise the possibility that we creatives are deluded too.

So who in your opinion is driving the bus? Maybe it varies by agency, and by account.

Or maybe no one person is actually driving, but there's just a forest of hands pulling the wheel in different directions. Which is why the bus ends up taking a consensus route. Or sometimes, crashing.