Lesson: learning planning

Why is it that some experienced creatives are great planners?

They’re talented at thinking. They truly understand how communications work. Not, how an ad is made. But how an ad communicates. How choice of communications devices moves people’s minds and bodies. They understand what brand’s really do and mean in people’s lives and how to make them.

So why don’t they teach this in planning courses?

I have now worked with 2 junior planners. Helping them learn a skill I am still find myself fumbling with. My reflection is this: when young planners start out, they shouldn’t start by learning how to write a brief. Or write a strategy document. They need to learn how comms and brands work. In the real world. 

The most important part of planning at the beginning isn’t planning. It’s learning an understanding and respect for everything else in the process.

Lesson: Soften hearts

A priest who uses creative messaging to get passers-by to think again gave one of the best pieces of advice I have heard for advertising people. He encourages churches, mosques and synagogues to put up signs that are designed to soften the hearts of people”

I would encourage brands to do so too.

Read more here.

Thought: Why so perfect?

Why do companies and brands aim to be so perfect in their communications?

I’m not talking about the perfection of production output. But the portrayal of a perfect image of a brand.

A powerful rhetoric tactic is to share or show your flaws. By doing so, it makes your audience respond, relate and empathise. 

And a recent Monocle Urbanism talk I listened to spoke about the need to not be so controlled in perfectionism in urban planning. It turns out that just like people, it’s a city’s imperfections that create a rich character that its citizens and visitors fall in love with.

So why be so perfect when imperfect helps get peoples’ attention and captures their interest?

Method: 10 post-its & a sharpie

Much of everything I work on is about simplification and distillation.

Today I invented a new method, or rather am documenting a method I have been using for a while now.

10 post-its & a sharpie.

Explain the entire complex problem - thought - solution on just 10 post-its, writing with a fat sharpie.

That fat sharpie will force you be be brief. 10 post-its confines you to a maximum of 10 steps of logic progression. And the separation of elements on each post-it allows for reordering and changes to structure.

And bam. There it is.

A complex thing simplified to 10 post-its.

Thought: Vicious Cycle of Pitching

In advertising, every agency is constantly pitching for new business. It seems much more intense here in Australia than it was Sweden.

The work required to win a pitch, to out “WOW” a client, is incredible. The man hours, the energy, the need to drop everything and work on the pitch all come at quite a large expense to an agency. Sure, if they win the business, they can bake that investment into the budgets that come in. 

But if they don’t win, how are those costs covered? 4 of the 5 agencies come out losers. Apart from bruised egos, the balance sheet takes a battering. How is a pitch investment funded and then written off? Well, it is covered by all the agency’s other work. So those margins need to be able to provide enough breathing room to invest (with potentially no return) in pitches. Which means existing clients pay more for their work. Rate cards go up. 

The result of this means that advertising costs more to make and more for clients to buy. And so they constantly review their agency accounts to reduce margins and get in new partners who can “do more with less”.

And the process used to find these cheaper better agencies is an unpaid pitch. And so the beast feeds on itself, getting hungrier in the process.

Even if a client does the right thing, ultimately the practices of others will also impact the rates their agency charges them because that agency probably is pitching for other business.

This vicious cycle is what led both the Swedish Association of Advertising Agencies and the Swedish Association of Advertisers to put together new pitch guidelines that are slowly beginning to work their way into marketers’ procedures for pitch tenders. These outline renumeration for any creative work done in pitches, but most significantly, calls for more in-depth chemistry sessions and workshops as the means of choosing a partner, rather than output to a brief.

Maybe the Australian industry should look into doing the same to break out of this vicious cycle.

Advertising is like exercise. If you do it just once, you’re not going to get muscles. You need to do it regularly, over and over and in time, you’ll see the results

heard it somewhere

Thought: Where is the communications strategy?

Since I’ve been back in Australia there has been something that has really bothered me about the marketing in this country.

Everything is a one-off bang. And I am not talking about this media and that media aren’t integrated. I am more talking about the fact that most brands seem to have only one thing to say, they say it for a while, then they disappear only to reemerge with a new brand and a new message. 

Now that might not seem abnormal, but here’s the thing. I don’t recognise or remember any of the communications that I see now from when I visited a year ago. Contrast that to Sweden, where after being away for 2 years I came back and the big advertisers were still using their communications platforms. Which meant that I recognised them. Recalled them. Noticed them. Bought them. The supermarket chain ICA was still (20 years on) using their characters and store setting for their ads. Tele2 was still using Frank - the black sheep CEO. ComHem was still doing their takeoffs of internet memes. They have been building on the memories and associations that their platform provides while changing the product or tactical message for the business issue at hand.

So why isn’t this being done in Australia?

Why is Optus changing from their short lived yellow box visual treatment to a cartoon talking bubble?

Why is each Qantas ad entirely different from the last?

Why is it that each car ad from a brand is entirely different, even if its from the same class?

Why is it that most brands slap on the same tagline and call it a communications strategy?

Why can I only think of 2* brands that actually have a properly thought-out communications platform that they execute their tactical messages and product spin-offs through? 

My first thought was that it was due to the fact that agencies and CMOs don’t hang around very long. Tenure for both is on average 1.5 years. So by the time you’re in, get a new agency, start work and push it out, it’s time to replace the CMO and fire the agency.

But I think the issue is bigger than that. It’s a fundamental idea of what communications are and how they work. Specifically what is brand and what is product communication and their separation. Great work doesn’t separate the two. Never. But what seems to happen here more than in Sweden is that brand strategy (strategy is used loosely here) is separate from the campaign strategy and the thing that ties it all together - a communications strategy is missing.

So you have this big lofty brand strategy which is often, at best, just expressed by a logo, type treatment, a couple visual cues and perhaps a tagline. And then the campaign is supposed to execute this in a short burst by filling in the rest of the media with something else.

Why not when developing the brand, take the time to consider the next 12 months of comms. What do we need to say and do during this time and develop a territory with that in mind. It shows the territory can have legs. It also can show that it does the job. And most importantly it lets you explore the idea through a lot of work to show how consistency can be interesting, not boring. 

The problem today is that each campaign execution is just an execution of a campaign idea. Which is then removed from the brand idea. Which is then removed from the business idea. The reality is you really only need one strategy. Not a brand, or a campaign or a digital but a communications strategy. 

Dove is a great example. Lots of people say its a poster child of social cause blah blah. Irrespective of that is that it is a clear demonstration of where the brand and the communication strategy are one and the same. It’s about making women feel good about themselves by highlighting real beauty. That’s why they can do an ad like this and and web documentary like this and it all feels like the same brand. This communication platform is unusual as it isn’t built on any specific characters, symbols or cues, but just a really strong idea and voice. And in its category that is enough to create a distinct position in people’s minds.

So when I look back at some of the big advertisers in Australia. The ones really pumping out ads, I wonder, where are this big ideas?

Telstra’s rebrand is basically a visual guideline. What is their voice? What makes anything Telstra? No idea. Well actually, its a sweet little animation of lines that they add to the end of a film or the bottom of a poster. That’s what they’re building their brand on.

Commbank’s ‘Can’ campaign cannot be said to be a communications platform. It’s just a tagline. Anything that ends with Can seems to be their idea. Can be animated. Can be people. Can be boring. There is no voice to the brand except to say they ‘can do’ things.

Rant closing

What I want is big thinking that resonates in every execution, no matter how tactical. It’s big thinking that guides execution to be good but quick and cheap to make. It’s big thinking that creates distinct memories for those who see the work. 

If there are any clients out there who want big thinking, let’s chat.

Screw small thinking. I have had enough. Think big or go home.

* These two brands are VB and Coles.

Thought: What happened to Storytelling?

One of the buzzwords of last year was Storytelling. 

While I never really fall in love with buzzwords, and I never really was sure how many examples of storytelling written about were great, I have always loved a great story.

It’s the story that grabs our attention and becomes a gripping vice for our imagination. It’s the story that takes us on a ride through the creator’s vision. So little in branding and advertising is truly storytelling. I don’t know why it is the case. I had hoped the buzzword fuss would spur a greater focus on this kind of communication style. However I haven’t really seen very many great examples in mainstream advertising.

And then I saw this: Restless

The first 2’30” of this short film is more than a little bit special. It breaks the mould of ski movies. Its intro is nothing short of being a spectacular story set-up of cinema proportions. And it works to hook in the viewer and take them into the film. It made me wish advertising was more cinematic.

Restless from Leo Zuckerman on Vimeo

Lesson: Cheap, not done cheaply

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"Cheap" is a hard thing to claim.

Price checking puts the truthfulness of the claim to the test. But the reality is that most people don’t evaluate every brand or option. They start with what they know, then add a few, remove a few and come to a decision as to which they value most. And which they then buy. So getting on the list is pretty crucial. And to do that you need to own a position, occupy a space in people’s minds.  

Read More

Strategy is actually really simple, but hard to do.

The oxymoron of Account Planning

Analogy isn’t proof

Analogy helps explain concepts, but it’s not proof.

I have an issue with many strategy decks I see on Slideshare. It is the same issue that makes me stop reading many blog or opinion pieces midway through. It’s the use of analogy as evidence of an idea’s validity & truth.

Analogies are a powerful communication tool. They help people understand new ideas by relating them to familiar ones. I love a good analogy. And strategy can often use them to explain themselves. And that is fine.

However, the fact that an analogy can be drawn to your idea, doesn’t make it proof of the concept. And this is why I get so annoyed when marketers talk about interactivity and engagement and their argument is evidenced not by data or facts but by a quote from a few thousand years ago.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

No matter how smart Confucius was, I would not be willing to invest my marketing budget with this as the supporting argument.

Analogy is enough to explain, not sell.

Spotify Australia: no one is listening

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So I am quite shocked that on my return to Australia, no one (or very few) is using Spotify. Even a year after the service launched in Oz, its presence doesn’t really seem to be heard. Which is strange when it is a household name in homeland Sweden and even in other European markets like the UK.

So the marketer and Spotify fan in me decided to take a closer look. Here are my conclusions from an outside in view.

What’s going on?

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En bra reklamfilm framkallar tre reaktioner: Haha, Ahhh eller Aha. /
A great TVC evokes three reactions: Haha, Ahhh or Aha.

Stein Leikanger