Wednesday 27 November 2019

Off-the-peg strategies

Five years ago (gosh, how time flies when you're enjoying yourself) I wrote a couple of posts about crowd-sourcing: not crowd-sourcing the general public for ideas for a new flavour of crisps, or naming a boat, but going into a creative pool (I hesitate to say community) for design and creative ideas.

My conclusion at the time was that I was sceptical, especially when it came to what the creatives got out of it - and that the logical next step, which I rather hoped wouldn't happen, was a similar set-up for strategy.

Since then, I have joined one freelance pool for writers, and I must say upfront that I don't have a problem with the idea of freelance pools in general, and matching up freelancers to clients.

But it's the competitive element that I find destructive.

In theory, accessing good thinkers ("an exclusive, worldwide community of the finest Creative Directors and Planning Directors") to solve tough strategic problems sounds fine. But if this organisation (and others like them) are throwing the client brief out to a number of "the world's best thinkers" then picking the best of what comes back (in their view) for the client, then that is worrying.

It devalues the work of any one particular planner and turns strategic thinking into a commodity that can be bought in bulk.

As a freelancer, I take pride in becoming an independent plug-in for my clients for as long as I'm working with them. I take time and care to listen and learn about their organisation - how things work today, and where their hopes and vision are leading them tomorrow. I ask lots of questions. I'm a part of the organisation for the duration, but an outward-facing one.

I see that as my responsibility, and it goes far beyond the weeks or months that I am working with the brand.

I've tracked down the 1994 all-staff memo from David Abbott that talks about the dangers of "a giant ad factory where quantity is more important than quality". It's just as relevant for strategy as it is for creative: "great work comes with ownership, understanding and time."

I may be old-school, but I firmly believe that strategy is not something where you can fail fast, test and learn and all that design-thinking tra-la-la.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Manhattan or Mainhattan? My favourite campaign of 2019

2019 is far from over and can still throw us a few surprises, but I'm going to stick my neck out and say that this is my favourite campaign of 2019.

Normally, expressions such as "programmatic advertising", "data-driven creativity" and "personalised ads at scale" leave me cold (and feeling old, to boot.)

But the campaign from Deutsche Bahn to encourage summer holidays in Germany is all of those, and a masterclass of how it should be done. You see, behind it all is an idea. It's a clever idea that would make a fine poster campaign. Indeed, it may have stuck at being a poster idea had the client had a higher budget.

The genius of the campaign is how Ogilvy Germany personalised the campaign, using destinations that people were searching for online, and matching them with their German Doppelgängers, faster than you can say ... Doppelgängers.

It's a triumph of collaboration - at times over adversity. As well as the budget, which forced the thinking down the "digital only" route, there were challenges sourcing images ("how many do you want"?), with GDPR (using people's Facebook data). And that's before you start on the different mindsets of advertising creatives (the BIG Idea) and the digital performance people (trained to test and learn).

But Ogilvy, Getty Images, Spirable and Facebook all got it together for the client, resulting in the 2 million special price train tickets being sold out in two thirds the normal time.

Who needs exotic locations to do a wunderbar ad campaign?

Monday 18 November 2019

Real Life Rebels

I've read a number of articles recently about how young people are shopping less than older generations online and more in real bricks and mortar shops. OK, most of these articles focus around the US, and malls, and Black Friday.

But I wonder - in the same way that Facebook now resembles the Darby & Joan club, and grocery online shopping and delivery services are mainly used by the well-heeled and grey-haired - whether younger generations will start to rebel in more and more areas by using the real life option.

Maybe rebel isn't the right word. It's more a sense of doing something different than what you grew up with, or to what your parents did. Discovering, experiencing, trying stuff out - and on.

The wild world of the Internot is ripe for discovery.

Friday 8 November 2019

In Flanders fields ...

When most people think about campaigns, they are usually short-term. Branded advertising campaigns, election campaigns, even military campaigns - they are all relatively short-lived compared to the granddaddy of all charity campaigns - the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal.

The Poppy Appeal had its roots not in the UK, but in France, and the author of the 1915 poem who inspired it all was a Canadian Medical Officer, Lieutenant John McCrae.

After the war, a French woman involved in fund-raising, Anna Guerin, had the idea of selling poppies made by widows and orphans of the conflict in remembrance of the fallen. The idea was adopted by the British Legion and the first "Poppy Day" held on November 11th in the UK.

The poppies have changed over the years a little in form, and the material from which they are made, and the meaning has shifted from the 1st WW to encompass military personnel in subsequent conflicts too. But the overall idea - and the symbol - has remained constant - unique, meaningful and relevant - for nearly 100 years.

There are questions, of course. Recently, many feel that the profusion of poppies at this time of year is over-the-top (sorry) - undignified, garish. The ceramic poppies at The Tower of London were spectacular, but maybe that should have be kept as a one-off, without later attempts for increasingly dramatic shows and installations. And it has all become politically charged. How predictable. Surely many of the brave men and women who died in conflict would turn in their graves if they could see some of the petty social media spats on the subject.

But all of that aside, kudos must be given for one of the longest-running campaigns ever.

Back in Germany, a different kind of campaign starts on November 11th: the beginning of Fasching or Karneval.

I am sure the Daily Mail could write a suitably barbed article on the subject.