Friday 25 November 2011

Entertaining, Interesting and Useful

In these days of so-called "distraction culture", we are constantly reminded that for branded content to work, it must fulfill at least one - and preferably more - of the three following criteria:
- entertaining
- interesting or informative
- useful

Even in the days when we didn't have so many distractions demanding our time and our attention spans were slightly above that of the average butterfly, I think the same thing was true.

I can still recall many TV commercials from my childhood that were genuinely entertaining, probably more than I can from the last twenty years, although that's possibly a sign of age. Interesting or informative is a little more difficult, although I think many of the classic long-copy print ads fall into that category - there were some great ones on the London Underground platforms.

The useful category had me stumped until I started thinking beyond what was called "advertising" at that time. And then they came, tumbling back into my memory - those often subtly branded items that became part of of everyday life - and, dare I say it, improved it in some little way.

The Be-Ro cookbook, with its recipes for Fairy Cakes and Victoria Sponge. The National Benzole set of "touring maps" of Great Britain - a must for those caravan holidays in Wales or Scotland. And the Lloyds Bank "Black Horse" money box for young savers which apparently evoked many a Godfather joke amongst the bank staff at the time. But - I still hold an account with that bank to this day!

These days, of course, many of the "useful" ideas will be apps rather than something solid and tangible. But if brands can develop digital gizmos that are half as useful as the examples above, it's one way to keep people involved for more than the distraction culture's seven minutes.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Fuzzy Objectives

I'm sure I am guilty of it as the next person. I'm talking about fuzzy objectives when it comes to developing a brand communications strategy. It's often all too easy to resort to the vague, the wooly, to that that sounds impressive and "high brand" but is, on closer inspection, unspecific and probably not measurable.

Objectives like:
- to strengthen the brand image of being good quality and trusted
- to communicate the brand positioning of uniquely understanding the consumer's needs
- to consolidate perceptions of the value advantage over our competitors.

OK, I don't think I've ever been quite so fuzzy, but you get the idea. So it was very refreshing to read Charlie Snow's commentary on the recent IPA Advertising Effectiveness Awards and see that, even on a relatively small budget, if you think differently, ask the right questions and, most importantly, think specifically instead of in generalities, you can make a difference.

There's the campaign to demobilise Columbian guerrillas in which the right question was "can we change the medium?" and the answer was to bring Christmas to the jungle. And then, a simple idea - can we change the usage occasion? - which worked to get people drinking a traditional bedtime drink, Ovaltine, for a daytime break. Or - can we change the role for advertising? - the Marie Curie Daffodil Appeal did just that by advertising for collectors instead of for donations.

And another commonality between all these ideas is that it's not just about getting people to think differently, or even feel differently, but about behaviour. And as behavioural change is often the trigger to perceptual change, rather than the other way around, it's no wonder that these ideas create effects that are observable.

So let's consign the wool and the Fuzzy Felt to the needlework basket and think about the active, the specific, the behavioural - and not just when the budget is limited.

Monday 14 November 2011

The Box of Delights

Shopping these days has, for me, evolved into a somewhat functional, even utilitarian process. The DHL van turns up sometime in the early afternoon, bearing its cargo of brown packages from dot coms and dot de's with names entirely written in lower case.

Sometimes the packages are for me, but usually they are for neighbours. But they all look alike, distinguished only by the inscription on the address label. There's nothing unexpected, nothing inspired, just a sense of mild annoyance when you've been out and will have to make the trek to the Post Office with its strange idea of opening hours, which you can never remember.

Now contrast that with dusk on a late afternoon in mid-November and a stroll along Piccadilly and up Regent Street. The Christmas lights are still freshly turned on and there are long-legged elves outside Fortnum and Mason, causing a hold-up to the pedestrian traffic. From the childhood memories of Hamleys to the 21st century hi-tech of Uniglo it's a world of glitter and magic, enchantment and surprise.

In the same way that rumours of the death of TV have been exaggerated, so too has the need for wonder, for sensory participation been played down in the progress of retailing. In the end, media are not replaced - we simply add more layers of experience. It's not either:or. We still watch TV, albeit with a laptop to add extra texture and layers of meaning.

And as Christmas approaches, we still need the allure of Santa's grotto and the sensory carnival of Aladdin's cave.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Doin' it for myself

Advertising agencies are notoriously bad at doing their own marketing. With one or two notable exceptions, who grab a unique bit of something and stick with it, most of the positionings and marketing efforts adopted are pretty much interchangeable. It's rather like those doctors who are useless at diagnosing their own ailments.

Now I am in the position where I must roll up my sleeves and market something that I have produced. Without getting into a virtual game of charades, it's a book.

And what I've discovered - or maybe knew all along - is that having the ideas, putting together the theory, the grand plan is the easy bit. Where I know I am going to lose sleep is over the nitty-gritty. How much does that cost, exactly? Should I get that set up before I - or? Which bits need to be linked to what, and in what order?

Maybe all Planners should spend more time doing rather than thinking.

Thursday 3 November 2011

What's the big idea, then?

The Big, Media-Neutral Idea.

How often do clients ask agencies for it?

And how often are they then disappointed when the agency fails to deliver?

Robert Senior of Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon Group makes a very good point or two in Campaign, to quote: "There are very few big ideas - and the really big ones had no sense of their destiny at birth." It's quite true - huge oak trees don't just appear overnight. His advice to clients when assessing work is, therefore: "Ask not 'Is this a big idea?' but 'Could it become big?'"

On the media-neutral question, my son asked me recently which came out first, the Star Wars films or the Star Wars books? Star Wars started life, as far as I know, as a film (or at least a screenplay), but it didn't have to. It's a media-neutral idea, along with Pirates of the Caribbean, which started life as a ride. Either of these could have started life as a game.

Just because an idea comes attached to a particular medium when you first see it does not detract from its media-neutrality.

Looking forward to an acorn or two in the next agency meeting!