Monday, July 06, 2015

Why What Won, Won



Juries no doubt think they are objectively choosing the best work they see.

But the fact that every year certain styles of work are more heavily awarded than others has to mean that juries aren't just choosing the smartest, most emotive, or most insightful ideas... but also what is somehow on-trend.

Hate the word 'trends'. It implies a flash-in-the-pan - buzzwords like 'big data' and 'storytelling' which flare up one year and disappear the next.

But in terms of trends that have been around for a while and look set to be with us for a while longer, you'd have to pick out two - cause-related marketing, and technology ideas.

Cause-related marketing used to be something that was done separately, by a company's 'CSR' department. Now it's at the heart of many brands' communications.

Dove was one of the first, and they're still doing it - this is a brand that sells itself not on its moisturising qualities, but on its concern for female self-empowerment. P&G's Always doesn't talk about 'no leaks', it encourages respect for women by asking us what it means to do something #LikeAGirl. And Honey Maid is sticking up for tolerance and diversity in society, with its re-definition of what is wholesome.

Trend 2. New technologies have revolutionised our entire world, and that includes advertising. From the dawn of subservient chicken, to today, when a Cannes Grand Prix is awarded to Crispin Porter for a piece of utility that enables consumers to order Domino's by tweeting a pizza emoji.

If 'cause-related marketing' and 'technology' are the two mega-trends, then it stands to reason that work which sits at the intersection of the two, will be the most on-trend.

And so it proved.

The biggest winner of the year was probably Volvo Life Paint, by Grey London, which took out two Grand Prix - in Design, and also in Promo & Activation.

This is a brand addressing a social problem, using the technological innovation of invisible reflective paint. Cause, and tech, in one. 


Across all the categories, the Golds, Silvers and Bronzes, you will see multiple examples of juries' love for the place where ‘cause’ intersects with ‘tech’. 

A stationery store in the UK tries to reduce the environmental consequences of discarded ink cartridges - Ryman ‘The Eco Alphabet Project’. 

Samsung. They sell phones. They sell TV’s. What can Samsung have to do with road safety? Samsung Road Safety Truck by Leo Burnett Buenos Aires. 

Now, it’s highly possible that some of these projects were made more for awards juries than the public.

This has certainly been the accusation in a lot of commentary during and after Cannes.

But set against that, you’d have to acknowledge that Volvo’s Life Paint idea got great PR for Volvo all over the world.

These ideas are spreading, and spreading organically via social media. They’re associating the brands involved with good causes – in a way that’s relevant, and likely to make them more preferable to consumers. 

They work.

But it's because they’re on-trend - and not necessarily because they're the cleverest or most insightful ideas - that they're winning the biggest awards.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Hidden Gems Of Cannes 2015


While the Grand Prix and Golds get most of the attention, I like to pick through the Silver and Bronze pile, to find the hidden gems.

These are the ads that won't change the world, and didn't get huge coverage (if any) in the trade press, but are nevertheless excellent. In my opinion, obvs.

In amongst the usual big-budget promotions for batteries and Sharpies, there was actually some rather nice print work.


Sweet. Simple. Silver in Outdoor and Press.
Simple and funny. All you want in a beer ad. Bronze in Outdoor. (Click to embiggen).
 


Why don't more people make ads using the company's logo? The result is inevitably both strong and well-branded... Bronze in Outdoor. (In case you can't read the line, it says "Bi-Xenon Headlamps").




Maybe I'm biased, as this work is from our sister agency A&E DDB London. Or maybe I'm biased because I'm a cat fan. (If you're one too, you'll want to check out the awesome making-of video). But I absolutely love this campaign for Mars Temptations, which won Silver in Outdoor and Press.



S7 Airlines must be from Russia, although they hired W+K to make their ad. Wise choice, because it's brilliant. Starts out like a cliché, then twists hard, so stick with it.



Melanoma Likes Me. Wow, just wow. Best use of Instagram so far? Almost certainly. So simple, and yet so sinister, really. Silver in Promo & Activations, Bronze in Creative Data. (Is that a category now? I guess it is).



Taco Bell Blackout. Ballsy, counterintuitive thinking... that sounds like it really paid off. Bronze in Cyber. 


Honourable mentions to the Dead Island trailer (Bronze in Film), Saving Aslan (also Bronze in Film) and Nazis Against Nazis (Bronze in Cyber).

Something caught your eye in the silver and bronze pile? Share it in the comments. Or just general opinions about this year's work. Why not.

Monday, June 22, 2015

'Twas The Night Before Cannes



I reckon this year's Cannes will showcase the best work our industry has ever produced.

Buoys that detect sharks, children's books that are also eye tests, radio stations for dogs... the sheer creativity is staggering.

But so is the irrelevance.

This article by Havas strategy dude Tom Goodwin, published in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago, gained wide attention. Its title: 'What if Cannes Lions celebrates the worst, not the best of advertising?'

Goodwin's argument is that much of the work at Cannes isn't solving real business problems, and isn't being seen.

It's a tough, tough bind. Last week I was searching for an old commercial, and found it as part of an ad break that someone had recorded from about 1997. The production values were miles ahead of what we have today. And while the work was arguably nothing more than a succession of high-quality pub gags, it was entertaining stuff.

But the point is that this work was being widely seen. (TV audiences were huge). And it was solving real business problems. (Admittedly, business was a lot simpler then. A category disruption meant someone adding alcohol to lemonade, not developing an app that eliminated an entire industry).

I'm not too worried about Cannes. The festival is well organised, it's a lot of fun, and is doing a great job of its core mission - to celebrate and inspire creativity. (Although it's not a good sign that people are taking the piss out of it - witness this Grand Prix Generator thing).

But I am worried about our industry.

We need to ensure our creativity is as relevant and as widely-seen as our clients need it to be, or I fear we may one day look back on Cannes as little more than a highly public suicide note.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

This Is My All-Time Favourite Asterisk


There has never, in the history of the world, been a competition that had no terms and conditions.

I don't even know if such a competition could exist.

Okay, let's try to imagine it. A competition without terms would have no entry mechanic. It would have no cut-off date. And it would have no means of deciding a winner. So it would basically be a competition open to anyone in the world, forever, that they could enter any way they wanted, and there would be no way of knowing who won.

That is the grim future that a heroic lawyer at the Mazda corporation is protecting us from, in the ad above.

Unfortunately, this lawyer remains anonymous. We will never know his or her name. Their achievement will go unrecognised, unrewarded.

And I, for one, don't think that's fair.

I have therefore taken the liberty of composing a short poem in honour of this fine lawyer.

As you will shortly realise, I am not experienced - or indeed skilled - in the art of writing poetry.

But I hope that my sincerity and genuine appreciation for this unsung hero (or heroine), will nevertheless shine through.


Ode To A Lawyer

Lawyer, lawyer, burning bright
In your office, late at night
Knees are weak, arms are heavy,
Just finished the last of mum's spaghetti,
Such a long day, your brain feels floppy
But before you go home,
Got to check this Mazda ad copy

It's a one-word headline
Should be simple enough
No dubious claims
Or marketing fluff

But o horror of horrors -
Most unfortunate day
You can't pass this ad
Not like that
Oh no way.

People might think that everyone can win
And that is no state for society to be in

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
Ignore the agency when they continually moan
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are totes losing their shit
Then you're doing your job well
So you don't falter, not one bit

You won't be deflected, you won't be deterred
You act out of love, you're protecting the herd
With shift 8 on your keyboard - the asterisk key
You keep the world safe, you keep our world free*



*'Free' in this context refers to free as in 'freedom', not free as in 'no cost'. Charges for living in our world may apply. E.g. for food and whatnot.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Soon, You May Not Be Working In An Ad Agency




I had dinner with a friend the other night, who happens to be a headhunter. Her general comment on our industry was this very straightforward bombshell: "It's shrinking."

Of course there's still the same amount of stuff being made. It's just that less of it is being made by ad agencies.

It's starting to be made by clients in-house (e.g. Apple), by media agencies, by media owners (including the 'new media' owners like Google and Facebook), and by a barbarian horde of all-around content providers, such as Vice, Maker Studios, etc.

Have you seen 'Dear Kitten'? (above). If not, watch it immediately.

This was made by BuzzFeed.

Not an ad agency.

BuzzFeed.

(Incidentally, I love the way there's a header at the beginning which announces 'BuzzFeed Presents'. Wouldn't it be cool if we could open our ads with 'DDB Presents...')

An article in last week's Wall Street Journal picked up on this trend.

Titled 'Tech Firms Pull Talent Away From Ad Agencies', it cites someone called Amy Hoover, the president of recruiters Talent Zoo, saying that "almost 50% of creative jobs available today — including copywriters, designers, creative directors and content creators — aren’t at agencies, compared with 30% in 2010." 

And more than 50% of Facebook’s North American in-house creative unit, Creative Shop, come from an agency background.

Despite perceptions that the pay is higher at tech firms, money isn’t necessarily the draw at these new creative destinations. There is “pop-culture cachet that some of these new players can offer, which is attractive to people in their 20s and 30s,” according to Bob Jeffrey, non-executive chairman of J. Walter Thompson.

It’s a challenge for agencies, but if you're a creative person it’s surely good news, as it means you have more options.

So in summary, I'm actually feeling a little less doom-and-gloom than usual.

Because despite the seismic changes that are tearing through our industry like an electric carving knife through a pair of testicles... we will all still have jobs, people!

They just might not be in an ad agency.
 

Monday, June 01, 2015

Everyone Is Saying 'We Need To Know The Client's Business Problem'. Do We?

When all you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like... it's pretty easy, really.


This post is basically the same as last week's - I just thought of a new way to write the argument.

So if you've read last week's, you can skip this.


One day, Jonathan Topp-Guy - managing director of AdWow, one of the biggest advertising agencies in BigTown - had a eureka moment. Why were AdWow restricting themselves to solving crappy old marketing problems? It was just so damn limiting. Didn't they have the brainpower, the skills and the creativity to tackle real business problems?

So the next day, he made an appointment to see the CEO of FineBread.
"I'd like to know - what's your business problem?" he asked.
"Oh, I'll tell you," said the CEO. "The supermarkets are selling bread for $1, as a loss leader. They're killing us. We reckon it could be classed as anti-competitive practice, so I've hired an expensive firm of lobbyists to try to get the politicians to sort it for us. Can you help with that?"
"Um, no."
"All right, well can I tell you about our marketing problem?"
"Sure."
"We're struggling against our main competitor, TasteBread. Consumers seem to prefer their products over ours. It's pure image, really, since the breads are virtually identical. But it's a problem that's far from trivial - each point of market share we win from TasteBread is worth $7.5 million. Can you help with that?"
"Yes."

The next day, Jonathan Topp-Guy went to see the CEO of the well-known airline, SkyAir.
"What's your business problem?" he asked.
"Oh, I'll tell you. The price of jet fuel has shot up. It used to be 23% of our operating expenses, now it's 28%. That's a whopping 5% reduction in our margin. I've had several investment banks come in to talk to me and the CFO about buying fuel derivatives, but I'm not sure which is the right deal. Can you help with that?"
"Um, no."
"All right, well can I tell you about our marketing problem?"
"Sure."
"We could sure use some help advertising our new flat bed - it's better than any competitive offering, and a genuinely better experience for our customers - and we've run ads about it, but somehow the message hasn't gotten through. Can you help with that?"
"Yes."

The next day, he went to see the CEO of travel agency HolidayShop.
"What's your business problem?" he asked.
"Oh, I'll tell you. People are becoming more and more comfortable booking holidays online. It's only the older crowd who feel the need to come into bricks-and-mortar stores like ours. Currently we have 700 stores but we believe that in ten years there will be none. It's basically a dead category - a technological innovation has rendered our business model obsolete. Can you help with that?"
"Um, no."
"All right, well can I tell you about our marketing problem?"
"Sure."
"While we manage the decline, we're still spending millions of dollars a year on TV ads, but they're rather formulaic. I believe that if we had better ads, we wouldn't need to spend as much on media. Can you help with that?"
"Yes."

Look, I'm being extreme here, to make a point. Of course it's helpful to know the client's business problem, and maybe sometimes we can use our creativity to solve it. And hey, we'll at least then have more context around their marketing problem. But let's not be so self-effacing as to decide that our marketing communications expertise is not significant and valuable. It is. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Is It Smart For Us To Go Upstream?

 
I've suggested before that instead of constantly cutting costs, we should consider how to make more money.

However, there's a right way to do that and a wrong way.

The wrong way, IMHO, is proposed in an article in AdWeek this week by Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, chief strategy officer at FCB Garfinkel New York.

Kofi starts by summing up what he sees as the problem, by using a quote from a Diageo marketer that has gained quite a bit of attention recently: "Agencies unable to prove they are driving value for clients risk becoming little more than dust."

It's an attention-grabbing quote, but even a quick analysis shows it to be somewhat meaningless. Surely any business, in any field, anywhere in the world, faces oblivion if it is unable to prove it creates value?

But I guess it's his solution that I really disagree with. Kofi writes: "The client-agency relationship needs to start way upstream of the communications brief. Clients need to invite agencies into the depths of their business, to share all of their data...we need to become true general contractors."

Presumably, becoming 'general contractors... upstream' means going into areas beyond marketing. Sounds exciting. But here's my question. What are we actually going to do, when we start getting involved with areas beyond marketing? Are we really going to get involved with finance? HR? Distribution? Manufacturing?

We just don't have the skills.

Are we really proposing to send a Comms Planner to a finance meeting, to sit alongside the Client's Finance Director, and a couple of guys from Goldman Sachs?

Are we really proposing to send a Copywriter to a meeting about building a new factory, alongside the Client's Head of Manufacturing, and a couple of guys from Balfour Beatty?

It's a joke.

And worse than that, it depreciates what we actually can do.

In an age of commoditisation, marketing (and hence marketing communications) are more important than ever.

Land Rover was once a unique product. Now everyone makes an SUV. Gordon's once had a near-monopoly on gin. Now there are 50 gins. 

In fact I'd turn the Diageo marketer's question back onto the client companies themselves: how is the average maker of a vodka, beer, training shoe, mid-size sedan, vitamin, juice, or coffee... or provider of insurance, mortgages, or personal loans... doing anything to drive value for their corporations?

Their products are almost completely undifferentiated. The corporate structures (of large corporations) are almost all identical. Their financing and management techniques do not significantly differ.

It's primarily marketing that can make the difference.

And yet 80% of CEOs do not trust their marketers, and 70% of CEOs believe marketers are disconnected from business results. (Source). 
 
The truth is that it's not we who need to go upstream, it's our Clients.

The Marketer is able to create far more value for the corporation than the Manufacturing Guy (since most companies are making me-too products), or the HR person, the legal counsel, etc.

Given the importance of marketing, every Marketing Director should sit on their company's board. Hell, every CMO should be sitting right next to the CEO.

And we should make it our mission to help them get there.

Because if they rise - which they deserve to - we rise.