Sunday, November 24, 2013

The One Place Where Teamwork Doesn't Work

Last week, AMV BBDO promoted Paul Brazier to Chief Creative Officer.

"Creatives start fightback against the bean counters," screamed the headline in Campaign.

Now, obviously I'm delighted to see a creative (and by all accounts a highly talented one) taking a spot in the 'C-Suite', alongside the CEO and CFO.

But although ours is an industry built on teamwork, is it really appropriate at the top?

I'm always amazed that a start-up - typically an equal partnership between three individuals from the disciplines of creative, strategy, and account management - is able to function, when you consider the average size of these people's ego's.

I suppose what happens in reality is that the account man, the person whose actual skill is leadership, ends up running it.

Apparently Wieden & Kennedy take deliberate steps to prevent this happening. Mark Fitzloff, Global ECD of W&K, explained in a panel discussion that Dan Wieden insists every W&K office is run by two creative people and only one account person, because "If you have one creative person and one account person running a company, there will be a death-match, and the account person will kill the creative person. Because they will be better prepared for the fight... it will be in their schedule." 

It's an amusing story, but for me it still illustrates the central problem of having a team run things - there will be a fight.

And fighting is a waste of energy.

Call me old-fashioned, or a fascist, or both, but I believe in having one CEO on top.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that person has to be a suit. There are numerous examples of successful CEO's coming from a planning or even a creative background.

I don't care what discipline the leader comes from.

But in the words of Highlander, surely 'there can be only one.'

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What's The Point Of 'The Point Of Difference?'

At first sight, this infographic is so shameful it should make any self-respecting ad person want to crawl into his den with his tail between his legs.

It's a map showing how consumers perceive different financial brands. They're all spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising to explain why they're different, and why consumers should choose them over their competitors - and yet consumers just think they're all basically the same.

I got into an argument about this subject last week, over on Ad Contrarian, where I said that differentiation was hard to achieve, in today's era of product parity.

And a B2B guy called Tim Orr took me to task.

"In my opinion," he wrote, "'product parity' is mostly an excuse used by lazy ad people to justify not doing their homework. I once heard a talk by a guy who had made his living selling chemically pure sulfuric acid to industrial customers. There's no greater parity than that! And yet, somehow, he managed to differentiate his offer enough to beat his competition. Every product, every offering is different from every other. Find that difference and exploit it!" 

Unfortunately I'm not aware of the solution that Tim's acid salesman devised.

But I'm not sure I agree that laziness is the factor at play here. In my experience, ad people usually do put in the effort to find out everything about the product, and uncover differences. It's more of a deliberate decision not to use them.

Fallon probably discovered that Sony Bravia TV's have a special TLX-3000 chip in them or something, but decided it would be more effective to do a beautiful and emotive ad on a generic quality of colour TVs - great colour. Similarly, John Lewis has differentiators, but the agency has for the last few years been going with a generic 'emotion of Christmas' message, and it's leading to great work, sales are up, etc. Budweiser is brewed slightly differently (using rice) but consumers don't really care about that, and a generic fun/ socialising message ('Wassup') worked pretty well.

Maybe ad people have instinctively realised that product differences don't matter.

Martin Weigel, the Head of Planning at W&K Amsterdam and writer of the excellent Canalside View blog, has long argued that differentiation is pointless.

"Positioning theory argues that brands must develop and maintain  points of differentiation and uniqueness," he writes. "And who has not been in a strategy meeting which has centered around what our brand can ‘own’?  Yet the data repeatedly shows that if a characteristic matters in a category, it is shared by brands. Indeed, brands share characteristics more so than they exhibit marked differences."

Instead of trying to achieve differentiation, Martin argues we should just aim for salience. And hey, if one of the world's leading planners says that our objective should simply be to come up with some cool ads, then who am I to argue with him?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How Do You Storyboard A Smile?

Why is the latest John Lewis Christmas ad so good? In large part because it's so damn emotive.

And of course, that emotion comes through a lot more strongly in the finished ad than it would in the script.

The ad takes us all the way from super-sad hare... joyful hare.

Via wondrously surprised bear.

And as the animals feel, so do we.
Because our emotions are very linked to other peoples faces.

(It's irrelevant that the characters are animals in this ad, since the animators have given them basically human features).

Of course the ad is clever too, and has lovely music, but at its core it is just an incredibly successful elicitation of emotion, which then inevitably becomes associated with the brand.

It instantly reminded me of Bill Bernbach's famous "How do you storyboard a smile?" quote. With those six well-chosen words, Bernbach asserts the centrality of emotion in successful advertising, that the script is often only a fraction of the communication, and that performance and directing are so important. 

(The importance of emotion perhaps explains the recent success of all those Candid Camera-style ads, since little is more effective than seeing real people moved. Example - Dove Sketches). 

Bernbach reminds us that we should constantly be striving to put more emotion into our work, and to be courageous in explaining to people that we show our work to (whether that be creative directors, clients, or account teams) why something that seems quite basic and perhaps unimpressive on the page will actually be powerfully effective.

An old buddy of mine, David Chriswick, who is now a top strategist at DDB Chicago, tells me he has started using Paul Ekman's facial expression tool with clients when formulating a brief. 

(Paul Ekman is the psychologist who worked out that all emotions can be seen through no more than seven basic facial expressions, and this is universal from Amazonian Indians to London bankers.)

This chart helps Chizzy to have a conversation not just around messaging but "what emotion are we trying to elicit." Good on him, I say.  

Sunday, November 03, 2013

What's Your Brief Like?

I once asked a Creative who had changed agencies what the brief was like at his new place. He replied: "Same shit, different boxes."

It's certainly true that every agency is obsessed with having their own unique format of brief... but it probably has far less impact on the work than their culture and clients do.
And yet... the document does communicate something about the values of the agency behind it.

Some briefs are aggressively unconstrained (see Fallon's brief, above). Others have the complexity of a psychology examination. 

And of course, they do influence an agency's output to some extent. They must do.

We are in the process of overhauling our creative brief here at Naked right now, and it feels like an exciting time.

What form of words can we come up with, that will have an inspirational effect on everyone in the agency, and produce work that blows juries' bollocks off?

I quite like this BBDO one.

Then again, I do slightly worry - about this one and especially the Fallon one - that although they look fantastic, and feel like they offer a lot of creative freedom, they could actually trip the Creatives up; for example by not including crucial info like the desired tone of voice, or any mandatories that are realistically going to have to be addressed. Maybe these follow on a separate page, I don't know.

So what do you like to see in a briefing document? Is there a good one you've worked to in the past? 

Do you like to see stuff like the business problem or brand purpose in there? Do you get upset if there's no proposition? Or is the format of the briefing document pretty much irrelevant to you... as long as there's some clarity and insight, it could be written in comic sans on a piece of bog roll, for all you care?