Monday, July 21, 2014

Is It Okay If An Ad Means Different Things To Different People?

We studied a poem once in English class at school.

Can't recall which one it was now. Anyway, we all had to write down what we thought it meant, and it turned out that different kids saw the meaning very differently. I remember asking the teacher what the 'right answer' was, and him saying there was "no right or wrong," and it was an achievement that the poet had created something that was "open to multiple interpretations."

I was pretty sure at the time this was bollocks... but now I'm not so certain. 

Take last week's new IKEA ad, from the UK. One of the Creatives behind it, quoted in Creative Review, explains that it depicts "all the beds you sleep in at different times in your life."

Meanwhile, the website of the Agency - Mother - states that it's something to do with holidays: "The TV spot is based on the truth that there’s no bed like home; we spend all year thinking about a summer holiday but actually we’ll probably have no better sleep than in our beds at home — it’s the bed in which we spend the other 51 weeks of the year that really matters."

And personally, I thought it was about dreams. (Have also discussed this with Dan & Kev from work, they thought 'dreams' too).

We have it comprehensively beaten into us that an ad has to be clear, on-brief, and express a single-minded proposition.

But does it? I think the IKEA ad is pretty cool. Even though I didn't fully understand it, and even its creators can't agree on what it means.

Just goes to show how poetic the spot is, I guess.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Beware Of Nice People

DDB has a philosophy of hiring people who are "talented and nice."

And I agree with it.

I've worked at agencies in the past where some people weren't nice, and it's a ball-ache.

The theory at these places goes something like: "All we care about is the work, and if a few people have to swim through mud and broken glass to make the work good, then that's cool."

It's not cool.

In fact, creating a stressful work environment may one day be a criminal offence, just as mining companies today face lawsuits if their staff get poisoned or blown up.

And actually, striving for great work at the expense of niceness often makes the work worse, since it makes people angry/bitter/afraid, and good work rarely co-exists with those emotions.

On the other hand, excessive niceness is a major problem.

Nice people who fail to kill ideas because they don't want to hurt the Creatives' feelings are a semi-regular hazard in our industry.

If you are someone who has the power to kill an idea - a list that includes (but is not limited to) CD's, Planning Directors, Agency CEO's, and Clients - please be aware that the No.1 thing Creatives most want to know after presenting work is, quite simply, whether their idea is alive or if it's dead.

And if it is dead, we would rather know straight away, since this gives us time to come up with another one. There's nothing worse than someone trying to be nice, telling you that they'll like it if you make 'just a few tweaks', when in reality they'll never like it, and you waste a week making meaningless changes.

So if I believe that niceness carries a risk of not being able to deliver a clear 'no', how come I still believe in "talented and nice?"

Simple. The really talented people do know how to say no - and they know how to do it in a nice way.

And the exceptionally talented ones, in an inspirational way.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Dear Google: Thanks For The Ad, I Was Gonna Buy It Anyway

When you get the results of your Google search, do you click on the sponsored link (the top one) or the regular link (just below it)?

I asked this at a lunch the other day, and some people said they deliberately click the non-sponsored link.

Personally, I always click the sponsored link, because I like Google, and I'm happy for them to get the money.

But the question remains - do they deserve that money?

Let's say I owned an online cat store called TopCats. I buy search advertising for my store, on Google. The next day, someone searches for TopCats, sees the sponsored link, clicks on it, then buys a cat from my store. Google can then tell me "See, search advertising works brilliantly!"

But here's the thing - that person was going to buy a cat from me anyway.

Yes, I understand if someone searches for "buy high-quality cats online" it would be worth me showing them an ad for TopCats. But when someone searches for my store by name... aren't Google simply doing the equivalent of slapping an ad on my front door? Sure, people see it, and then afterwards buy, so it might look effective. But the only people who see the ad are the ones who were going in anyway.

This phenomenon is apparently a real thing, called 'endogeneity'. If you want to read more about it, there's more in an article by The Atlantic here.

Just to be clear, I like Google a lot. I use their product multiple times a day, and I think it's awesome. It's fairly certain I couldn't live without it. Since I'm a sucker for gadgets, I'll probably even give Google Glass a go. And since I'm shit at driving, I'm really looking forward to driverless cars.

So I'm not wanting to criticise Google, in any way. They should get lots of money for what they do. Lots.

But $60 billion* a year - is that fair?

*Google's revenue was $15.4 billion in the most recently-announced quarter. More than 90% of this revenue comes from advertising. The company doesn't break out search from display and other forms of advertising, but it's safe to say that search is big.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Instead Of Cutting Costs, How About We Try To Make More Money?

This is what making money looks like

My Dad is a talented guy.

He speaks several languages, is great at sports, and had a successful career in media sales.

But like many a curmudgeonly older Jewish gentleman, he is rather obsessed with the topic of how to save money. I like to tell him that if he put half as much thought into how to make money as he does into how to save it, he'd net-net be much better off.

But I now realise I've fallen into exactly the same trap myself.

In previous posts about how our industry can survive in the face of intense competition and margin pressures, I've suggested losing Creative Directors, or fusing Art Directors & Copywriters, or Suits & Planners. Basically, all ways to save money.

I've failed to consider how we might instead make more money.

This article, called 'The Demise And Rise Of Our Industry', does just that.

It's written by a guy called John Zeigler, who is the CEO of DDB Asia Pac. Yes, I know he's my boss's boss's boss so you might think I'm sucking up. Well, I can't control what you think. Just read the article. It's excellent.

But if you haven't got time to read it, the essence is this:

Clients are asking us to cut our fees by about 10% a year. We consider ourselves lucky if we settle at -8%. To stay profitable, we have to keep cutting staff. If the same trend carries on, we'll be dead within about five years.

The role of marketing has been degraded. Where once Marketers controlled the four P's, they now control only one P - Promotion. (One of the P's is Product. In a marketing-led company, the Marketers tell the company what products to make. In not many companies do Marketers have that power, nowadays).

Therefore the position of Marketers has been degraded. A study by Adobe, for example, found that 80% of CEOs do not trust marketers, 70% of CEOs believe marketers are disconnected from business results, and 69% of CEOs believe marketers like to stay too much in ‘their creative and social-media bubbles’.

John's conclusion? We need to change our role, dramatically. We need to go much further upstream, and help our clients develop new products and services, and influence how they engage with their staff, and how they take their products to market.

In short, we need to help Marketers show CEO's that we can use our creativity to solve their business problems - not just to create ads.

If we can do that, we'll be adding extra services - useful services that we can charge more money for - and we just might survive.

Good stuff from Mr Z. 

Dad - take note.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Happens In Cannes, No Longer Stays In Cannes

Cannes used to be shrouded in mystique. But today, you can read dozens of blogs every day, about everything that goes on.

It used to be that you could only see all this incredible work from all around the world, if you actually went there. Now, you can see it on the website.

It used to be that you'd have to 'imagine' what these boat parties and villa parties looked like, unless you actually went. Now you see them all over Facebook and Instagram.

It used to be that you could only hear the speakers if you went. Now, they're all online too.

And it used to be that you couldn't even go to Cannes unless you were a Creative, or a production company person, whereas it's now full of Suits, Clients... even Kanye West gets to go. 

So today's Cannes is actually a lot more democratic and public than it used to be.

The inspirational elements - the great work, the thought-leadership talks - are more widely shared than ever before.

And so is the fun.
The effect of this more public Cannes? To create more irritation and jealousy, for sure. But also, I reckon, to make us more highly motivated - more determined to have either the great work, or the influence, that will get us there next year. And that, mes amis, is surely a good thing.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Do We Actually Need Creative Directors?

Volvo's epic split film is hotly tipped to win a Grand Prix or two at Cannes this year.

Interestingly, it was made without the involvement of a Creative Director.

The agency behind it, Sweden's Forsman & Bodenfors, doesn't have them.

I've written previously about how - in a world of crumbling margins - agencies need to become leaner. By far our biggest cost is staff, so my suggestions included fusing Art Directors & Copywriters, or Suits & Planners.

Perhaps self-interestedly, I didn't think about abolishing Creative Directors.

But could we? They're a huge cost, after all.

At first sight, it seems like we'd be losing a hell of a lot. After all, someone has to make the decision about what work to present. And in the absence of a CD, I guess it would be the senior Suit & Planner on an account who would decide. Most of the time this would probably work okay. But I've known plenty of CD's who had an almost supernatural ability to spot potential in an idea when no one else did.

Also, the senior Suit & Planner would probably be the people shaping the work. Again, most of the time this would probably be fine. But as before, I've known plenty of CD's who have the ability to push work to a level beyond what anyone else thought was possible.

So how do F&B manage without CD's, given my predictions of the effect that removing CD's would have on a typical agency process? Answer: they don't have a typical agency process. At all.

There's an interesting article about how they work here. If you don't have time to read the whole thing, here's the key bit: 

"The process by which people view and critique work is called 'the floor' — a holdover from the days when Forsman & Bodenfors was mainly making print ads, which could easily be spread out on the floor for people to see. You bring in at least five employees not attached to the project to go over the work and ask questions. It is the duty of these people to have an opinion of the work and openly express it, without holding anything back. They must ask questions about the work, questions they could envision the client or the general public asking about the direction. On the other side, the creators of the work must be open-minded, and although the ultimate decision of what to present to the client falls on their shoulders, they generally accept the critiques of their peers and go back to improve the work before presenting it to the clients."

So what do you think? CD's out?

Monday, June 09, 2014

Those Ads You Have A Strong Opinion About... Have You Actually Seen Them?

It's very common for people to pretend to have read books, when in fact they haven't.

Apparently this is particularly true of the classics, such as Moby-Dick, Catch-22, and 1984.

Part of this is shame - people just don't want to admit they haven't read them. But I reckon part of it is that they just don't feel they need to. Even people who haven't read Moby-Dick know that it's about Captain Ahab's obsession with catching a white whale -  a story of compulsion on the high seas. People probably feel they've 'got the idea' so they don't need to invest the time in actually reading it.

And looking at the Leo Burnett Cannes predictions, which came out this week, made me wonder... are a lot of us doing the same with ads now?

You see, I found myself having quite strong opinions about which ideas deserved to win... even ones I suddenly realised that I hadn't actually watched.

The ad industry is well-served with trade magazines and websites. So what happens nowadays is that we read about a new TV ad, or activation, or social media idea, in a neat package: headline, a few lines of description about the project, and an accompanying screenshot. My question is - once you've digested these, do you then actually click through and watch the film? Or do you feel you don't need to, because you've 'got the idea'?

Take this quick test.

Here are five examples of an ad, activation, or social media idea - all of them (in my opinion) great ideas, and all hotly tipped to win at Cannes. I guarantee that you 'know the idea' for all of them. And probably have strong opinions about them.

But please tell me - just for research - how many of the 5 have you actually watched?

And if you haven't, does it matter?

1 Cancer Council Australia "I Touch Myself - Breast Cancer Anthem" From JWT / Sydney 


2 Virgin Mobile "Game of Phones" From Havas Worldwide & One Green Bean

3  Australia Post "Video Stamp" From Clemenger BBDO

4  7-Eleven - Slurpee "The Xpandinator" From Leo Burnett / Melbourne

5  RAC Insurance "Attention Powered Car" From JWT / Sydney