Be Known For Something...

Have you ever looked at the celebrity pages of a newspaper and thought, Why on earth is that person famous? What have they done?

The pointless celebrity is modern phenomenon. Today you can be famous just for being famous.

But the problem for vacuous celebs is that their popularity can wane just as quickly as it rose.

Real fame comes from being known for something.

People like Prince, Bowie, Hendrix, Jay-Z, Adele, Picasso, Damien Hirst, Banksy, Ayrton Senna, Lewis Hamilton, Winston Churchill, Barack Obama, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Orson Welles, Audrey Hepburn - these people were and are famous for a reason.

They are famous for their abilities as musicians, artists, sportsmen, statesmen, scientists and actors.

Their fame isn't fickle, because it's based on what they bring to the world.

It seems to me that, increasingly, marketers and advertising people are happy for their brand to shine briefly into our consciousness like the pointless celeb.

Let's do a funny video, people love that shit - a cute animal or dancing baby, famous puppet or cartoon, or (dare I say it?) a drumming gorilla.

But how about something with a bit of substance that might last longer than tomorrow's freesheet newspaper?

I think people in advertising need to wake up from their lazy views and received wisdom about so-called product parity.

There's a pervading, fashionable notion among advertising people that we are at a point of universal product parity in all categories, where there is no discernible or relevant difference between competing products.

This is often used to make the subsequent argument that there’s no useful role for the product in advertising because the only difference is at a brand level.

But the notion of widespread, complete product parity is an exaggeration popularised by people who would rather not be making advertising about products anyway.

They'd rather make make the dancing baby ad anyway.

But if you mention product benefits or qualities out loud in advertising, people will immediately fire back Hey dude, the USP is dead, you just don't get it, do you?

We need to end this constant confusion of USPs, product differences and relevant qualities.

While we are at a stage where the vast majority of products in most categories can be said to ‘work’, the extent to which they work – and the quality of how they are made and perform – is still often different at some level. 

The fact is, products do have qualities or benefits that are important to the customer.

They are the very reason the customer buys the product in the first place – to perform a task or fill a need.

They don’t need to be unique (as in the USP), they just have to be relevant to the customer.

And if they are relevant to the customer, then they are very much worth talking about in advertising.

Let's remember that the customer is the most important person in advertising.

To be top of mind is extremely important, but the real value is in not just being known, but being known for those qualities that are relevant to the customer.

Be top of mind, but top of mind for a good reason.

Be known for something.

Be famous for something.

All great, successful brands and products are famous for something.

What are you famous for?

For more pithy challenging of received wisdom, our new book ‘How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better – The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution’ – is available exclusively at the Design Museum.

Don't Be A Category Clone, Be Distinctive...

Which is your brand?
Something we've observed over the years is that to have the best chance of success, brands should be highly distinctive in their category. This is borne out by Byron Sharp's findings (which you can read in his excellent book How Brands Grow), being distinctive in the category makes it easier for potential customers to notice your brand, remember you, and then recognise you and select you when they come to buy.

But a large number of brands are consistently bad at this when it comes to advertising. For example, at the moment it’s barely possible to tell the difference between the advertising of different car manufacturers, or of different spirits brands.

Advertising has become plagued by clichés, category norms, comfortable territory and accepted ways of doing things.

Unfortunately for brands who have fallen victim to this, similarity is the road to obscurity (and a huge waste of marketing budget) as they become lost in the crowd.

Finding happy mediums, familiar territory and compromise might keep people happy in meetings, but it often also strips ideas of their power.

What might seem like a safe choice in the confines of a boardroom will most likely be a waste of money when it’s out in the real world.

It's an old cliché, but true, that advertising that feels safe or familiar is actually a quite risky thing to do.

There’s no ‘safety in numbers’ when it comes to advertising. If someone else is doing something similar to what you’re doing, or looks or sounds like you, you’re both in trouble.

Generating and maintaining a distinctive presence in your category will go a long way towards helping your product be the one selected by the customer.

That means more people buying your stuff, by the way.

For more pithy challenging of received wisdom, our new book ‘How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better – The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution’ – is available exclusively at the Design Museum.

Painful Proof That Advertising People Have Lost Touch With The Public

The events of the last few days - the EU referendum in the UK and the subsequent fall-out - have been an amazing spectacle.

To be in the UK at this time is to be present and aware as history is being made, and to be a spectator and participator as all kind of human behaviour are laid bare in front of us.

I want to avoid as much as possible the central political issue (that's not really a subject for this blog) and focus on something that is – and that is the reaction of people in the advertising and marketing world to the vote to leave the EU.

The reaction of people in the advertising industry to the result was extremely telling.

There was complete shock and much outrage that the vote had gone the way it had. There was disbelief in the result - absolute surprise that so many people had voted 'out'.

And, even more interestingly, a complete disdain and contempt for those people, too.

Through media like facebook and twitter, it became clear that most advertising people were not among the 17½ million people who voted to leave the EU.

And not only that, throughout the day they became increasingly critical and insulting about those people.

They simply could not believe, and could not understand why so many people had voted 'out'. They must all be racist, or stupid, or have been hoodwinked, or fallen for the lies of the leave campaigners, was the overriding response.

This soon led to the demonising of the old, and labelling all of the out voters as some racist underbelly of the country.

It's one thing to disagree with people's views.

Another thing to violently disagree.

Another again to insult people who hold the view.

Another further to be completely taken by surprise that there might be over half of the country who, for whatever reason, hold that view.

But then it's another thing completely to not even attempt to understand why people hold that view.

And this from a group of people who are handsomely paid to supposedly understand the wo/man-in-the-street.

Let's go back a week.

In the run-up to the referendum, it was clear to us that the vote was going to be close. Although the polls were calling a narrow victory for Remain, we weren't convinced. We could see a vote where 'Leave' gets more votes than people were expecting. (Or 'OUT' as it was more often called in the real world).

We felt there was a huge groundswell of dissatisfaction out there.

That, rightly or wrongly, there was a huge amount of people who felt like their views and opinions hadn't been taken seriously, who had real concerns about the country, issues like immigration and its effects, and about the influence of the EU over the UK.

It felt to us like people were underestimating the number of these people – and underestimating their desire to vote in this referendum. And that turnout would be very high amongst those who felt like this, because of the emotion felt about these issues.

This was something that was consistently overlooked by remain campaigners, pundits and political commentators alike during the run-up to the referendum – that for a huge number of people, this was an emotional issue as well as a practical one. And that this was something that existed even before the leave campaigners harnessed it.

Of course none of this is rocket science. It just comes from looking around you at the real world, listening to what people are saying, reading what they say on Facebook, etc. Listening to friends and family on the subject.

But, the overriding reaction of most advertising people to the result seems like further evidence that they are living in their own bubble. A world of people like them, which they struggle to see past.

Worse still, they have so little awareness of the world beyond their bubble, that they are absolutely shocked and stunned when the evidence of its existence stares them in the face, their only reaction is to lash out at it.

One of the most ironic things about the whole affair is the number of planners, traditionally those in the agency tasked primarily with the official role of understanding the consumer, who were on the frontline of the disbelief and insults.

And on top of that, the utter craziness of seeing those people who have been banging on for ages about consumers making emotional decisions and not rational ones, then decrying those 17½ million Leave voters for not carefully analysing the economic ramifications of leaving the EU, and making a choice based on what they feel.

I suspect Alanis Morissette is currently penning a new version of her greatest hit even as I write this.

The problem of advertising having become too much of a polite, middle-class place with not enough diversity has been well documented, not least in our own recently published book [plug: HERE].

Not only is it primarily staffed by similar people from similar backgrounds, who think similar things, but it appears that they are becoming more and more insular, with a diminishing understanding of the real world.

How many of the adfolk of Soho and East London do a weekly big shop at a Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Lidl or Aldi?

I can't imagine it's many. And that's just a flippant example. How many really know the daily lives, worries, concerns, priorities and motivations of normal people?

They are living in their own rarified world. And this is not helping clients.

You can see examples of it all over: adfolk increasingly going on about "Consumers needing brands to have a purpose",  or "Consumers having relationships with brands".

Yes, consumers need a brand to have a purpose exactly like they care about whether someone's little Lila or Finn will be able to spend summer in the Dordogne without mummy having any admin headaches.

It is ad-world, rarified nonsense.

It seems very appropriate that, at the same time that half of advertising was sucking champagne from the corporate trough in Cannes, 72.2 percent of the UK – the second highest turnout in a national vote since 1950 – were braving the torrential rain to make their voices heard.

There's no substitute for being from and living in the real world. You can't fake it by doing a research group in a regional chain hotel every few months.

Advertising people have lost touch with the real world.

It's about time we burst their bubble.

Brave New Heights Reached On The Cannes Pinnacle of Excrement

I've been on a self-imposed semi-retirement from criticising creative awards on this this blog.

Not because I've changed my mind, but just because they seem to be getting worse and it appears nothing can stop the rot.

And to be honest, I've got better things to do.

As shit as all creative awards seem to have become, the pinnacle of excrement is the Cannes Lions festival. And still it seems there is little point in criticising even that, because I genuinely believe there is nothing on Earth that would shame the participants.

When you look at what is going on over there, from the work that gets 'awarded', to the incessant rivers of waffle and bullshit, the self-serving forums and back-slapping cronyism, it feels like if people aren't ashamed to be part of that, then nothing anyone could say would affect them in any way.

But then it sinks to such new depths that I feel compelled to briefly pop out of the aforementioned semi-retirement.

In previous years we've seen work (that shall remain nameless) that's clearly awards-glitter-scam win big gongs. But this year has beaten even that. I'm not going to put up the work here, I can't stand it, and I refuse to give it any more oxygen (I'm sure you've seen anyway. I'm sure).

But now two pieces of work, one a scam charity app, and another a piece of offensive, low-grade frat humour, have won awards over there. Just when you think it can't possibly get any worse, it proves you wrong.

I can't think of anything that more accurately represents how shit the ad industry has become than the Cannes Festival.

It is at once the worst of the industry, and its best representation.

If you're over there in any capacity, you're complicit in the utter shameless horror-show of it all.

You're part of the problem.

Sorry.

Do You Remember The Real World?

There are some folk in advertising and marketing who have developed a habit of expecting unrealistic behaviour from people in the real world.

Ask most marketing or advertising people if they themselves, outside of their professional life, have ever shared brand content, or used a brand hashtag, or got involved in making or editing or uploading their own experiences of a brand, or any of the other things that they often expect customers to do, the answer would be rarely, if at all.

Yet they regularly expect other people to do them.

Contrary to what appears to be popular belief inside agencies and marketing departments, most people do not want to ‘join the conversation’ or take part in any interactive, two-way dialogue with brands, even in relatively high-interest categories. 

We all need to remind ourselves to be normal people at work – make judgements based on what we, and other people, are really like.

Always resist the temptation to expect unrealistic behaviour from people. 

Agencies try really hard to make their offices unusual, creative, inspiring places.

But make sure your work is fit for the real world.

For more pithy challenging of received wisdom, our new book ‘How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better – The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution’ – is available exclusively at the Design Museum.

Prove Yourself Wrong

Opinion is good for creativity. Having an opinion on the subject/product/situation helps you to come up with an interesting approach, solution or new angle on something. My old advertising mentor would bellow "Get yourself an opinion" at anyone who couldn't express a point of view on whatever we were working on.

I reckon some of the malaise of current advertising is down to a lack of opinion. It seems creatives in most agencies aren't required to have opinions any more. They're just told to execute what it says on the brief. That inevitably leads to bland, mediocre, beige work.

Encouraging creatives to form opinions on the product/problem/situation they're working on, and encouraging them to use those opinions to help form creative ideas will help lead to stronger work, and work with more individuality and humanity.

But on top of this, I think we should always challenge ourselves to prove ourselves wrong. It's easy to form a view or opinion about something early in a project, and stick to it blindly, judging everything by it.

I think it's a lot more difficult and challenging, to constantly challenge our own opinions and views, to try to prove them wrong. I think that's what good clients should do, and good creative directors. Prepare to have your opinions proved wrong. Be prepared to modify or change your opinion.

In science, good scientific method is said to be working hard to prove your theories wrong. This is one of the criticisms of some recent neuroscience – that a scientist will come up with a a great-sounding theory, write their thesis, get a book deal and do the conference circuit – without every really trying to prove themselves wrong. But good science is trying very hard to prove yourself wrong, and encouraging others to do so to.

I think interesting creative ideas can come of out of this method too. You have an opinion on something? Or a view on what will work best? Why not try really hard to do the opposite and make it work? Why not challenge your own assumption and see where that leaves you?

Work hard to prove yourself wrong, and you might just come up with something that surprises you.
“In the choice between changing ones mind and proving there's no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.” John Kenneth Galbraith

We're sorry, Harry Kane

A neat piece of creative opportunism from Licor Beirao that surfaced earlier this week. Worth a look.