Monday, August 18, 2014

Is It Better For Advertising To Be Relatable, Or Aspirational?

Like a planet caught between two suns, advertising is constantly being pulled in two different directions.

On the one hand, we're asked to make our work relatable.

And on the other, aspirational.

Relatable means 'I look at the person in the ad, and I see myself.' 

When this is done well, it triggers that notorious smile of recognition. You feel the brand understands you, and is on your side.

Here's an example where it's been done well. Every one of us can surely relate to one or more of these bank customers.

Aspirational is different. In aspirational advertising, it's not you in the ad, but someone better-looking than you. Perhaps someone famous. Someone you wish you were.

When this works well, it creates a shiny halo of desirability around the product. You make it seem more exciting, more valuable. By association.

Here's a Foot Locker spot in that vein.

So what's better - relatable advertising, or aspirational advertising?

Aha. Trick question. Plainly, either can work well.

In fact, my theory is that each needs a dash of the other, to succeed.

When aspirational advertising fails, it's normally because it doesn't have a shred of relatability.

In these cases, the results can be excruciating. Ferrero Rocher's Ambassador's Party ad, for example, delivered nothing but cheese.

Whereas in the Foot Locker ad above, the script is delivered by legends of basketball, and yet it's also relatable - we've all been given bad advice by some guy at a party.

Similarly, relatable advertising falls flat when it tries for nothing else, when it does nothing more than hold a mirror up to the target. ("As a busy Mum, I...")

With nothing aspirational - no glamour, twist or entertainment to focus on - the consumer has nothing left to do but pick holes in the self-portrait being presented to them. That's not me. And now I feel patronised! 

Feels like I'm coming down on the fence, but hey, that's what I think. That both aspiration and relatability can blow up in your face, if you don't season each with a pinch of the other.

What about you. Ever had a Client who was obsessed with making an ad aspirational, or relatable? What happened? 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Are You A Perfectionist?

One of the most enduring stereotypes about the creative person is that we're perfectionists.

Screenwriters do endless drafts, poets agonise over finding exactly the right word, and Art Directors re-touch the shit out of their ads until they're perfect.

Nearly every creative guru advises us to be obsessive; all the greats are described as perfectionists - David Abbott, John Hegarty, Paul Arden, everyone.

Paul Arden's obituary in The Independent recounts that he "was such a perfectionist that he was often maddeningly over budget, insisting that the smallest details be perfect, such as searching for a certain pair of wildly expensive spectacles to achieve just the right look on a face that would be seen only in passing in a TV spot."

But on the other hand, a completely opposite notion is becoming commonplace nowadays - "fail faster." It's come largely from the world of tech and digital, and the thinking is that it's better to put something out there that's imperfect, and then learn from it.

Instead of spending days crafting the perfect headline for a digital display piece, you can run the same ad with five different headlines, learn which one is most effective, and then go with that one.

There's also an awareness that perfectionism may not be efficient. Getting a piece of work from 95% perfect to 100% perfect probably takes as much time as getting it from 50% to 95% does. By that argument, perfectionism doesn't make you good, it just makes you slow.

And rather than a desire for high standards, perfectionism may simply be a symptom of neuroticism. (The top answer when I typed 'perfectionism' into Google was for a psychotherapy resource called The Centre for Clinical Interventions, a place where you can "learn to pursue healthy high standards rather than unrelenting high standards that negatively impact your life.")

I've always been the person that spends hours making sure I dot every i and cross every t. But perhaps with today's super-tight deadlines it's more important to be fast than perfect. What do you think?

Monday, August 04, 2014

What Sherlock Holmes Can Teach Us About Advertising

The BBC series Sherlock Holmes is mega-popular.

No surprise. We like stories about people who are weird and smart.

And although Holmes is mostly a deductive, logical thinker...he could also make stunningly lateral leaps.

So what lessons does he have, for us creative types?

That's the subject (at least partly) of a book called "How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes: Lessons in Mindfulness and Creativity from the Great Detective", by American science writer Maria Konnikova.

Great idea, although judging by the Amazon reviews, the book itself isn't that hot.

So without recommending you buy it, I've taken the trouble of gutting it for you.

Here's three tips.

1. Look carefully at the facts

It's very tempting when you get a case brief to dive straight in, and attempt to come up with solutions.

This is a mistake. I'm amazed at how many creatives, when they get a brief, don't even look at the company's website.

You should.

“To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces,” says Holmes, in The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot.
So get all the facts first.

But remember that "Observation with a capital O" (as Holmes calls it) is "not just about the passive process of letting objects enter into your visual field. It is about knowing what and how to observe and directing your attention accordingly: what details do you focus on? What details do you omit?"

Deciding which aspects of the brief to focus on, and which to ignore, is crucial.

Look for relationships between the facts (this is very like police work).

Indeed James Webb Young in his famous A Technique For Producing Ideas praises "the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts.” 

2.  Focus and Distance

As a Creative, your success depends on coming up with original creative ideas. And as you well know, these type of ideas only come when you are in a particular state of mind.

That state of mind varies for different people. But I doubt anyone achieves it in an open-plan office.

(You won't find any books on creativity that advise you to enter a noisy space, with constant distractions).

So when you're working, get out of the office. Or find a room where you can shut the door.

Holmes and Watson discussed cases in their sitting room. Constantly. Quietly. Together. Are you and your partner doing that?

Another secret of working on briefs is to keep going into it and away from it.

Great quote from the Konnikova book:
"The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will."

So follow tangents, but keep coming back.

Finally, when you've worked on a problem for a while, don't forget to step away, and let your unconscious go to work on it.

Holmes played the violin in his study, for hours on end.

And in The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, Watson observes: "One of the most remarkable characteristics of Sherlock Holmes was his power of throwing his brain out of action and switching all his thoughts on to lighter things whenever he had convinced himself that he could no longer work to advantage. I remember that during the whole of that memorable day he lost himself in a monograph which he had undertaken upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus."

"Observation and deduction are two separate, distinct steps — in fact, they don’t even come one right after the other" (this is from Konnikova).

To truly crack a brief, you have to "transcend the immediate moment in your mind."

3.  Know Your Field

Sherlock Holmes, as well as being a talented detective, was a highly dedicated one. He had a passion for his field, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of it.

Upon visiting one murder scene, with an Inspector Gregson, Holmes remarks:

“It reminds me of the circumstances attendant on the death of Van Jansen, in Utrecht, in the year ’34. Do you remember the case, Gregson?”
Gregson confesses that he does not.

“Read it up - you really should,” offers Holmes. “There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.”

I feel that not many people in our industry nowadays are aware of what has been done before. But you really should be. So do take the time to look at old stuff, via the annuals, or websites. Not to copy them, exactly, but to know the kind of thing that works.

If you don't, you're starting each case completely from scratch. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Emotions, Weird Shit, And Babies.

Effective because it makes us feel fear.

As we all know, emotional advertising is far more effective than rational advertising.

Many clients have read about this, and are now specifically requesting emotional advertising.


Except, there's a problem.

Of the six basic human emotions... five are negative. Namely anger, fear, disgust, contempt, and sadness. (The only positive one is 'joy').

That's right. It's a pretty dark place, down there in your unconscious.

(Side note. Why are nearly all the basic human emotions so negative? There's an article on FastCompany here that explains it a bit. "It’s not that nature inclines us to hate. We’re profoundly social creatures designed to protect: our kin, our tribe, and ourselves." In other words, negatives resonate because we're wired to watch out for threats).

Hat tip to the writer, Douglas Van Praet, who is also the author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing. 

So what are we to do with this information? Make all our ads as bleak as that scene in Terminator where the mechanised forces of Skynet crush human skulls beneath their wheels?

Um, yeah. Basically yes. I've written before about the power of the negative. At least start negative, before you end on a positive. Or in marketing terms, create a tension, and resolve it. That's how you generate some charge.

But we should also be aware that it's not just emotions, that our unconscious mind pays attention to.

According to Van Praet, our threat-obsession has also imbued us with a powerful (and pre-rational) 'startle response'. That's why surprising advertising works. Hence the power of 'prankvertising.'

And finally, we're obviously attuned to anything related to our survival and reproduction. Hence our love of food porn, and any ads with babies in.

In short, our unconscious minds are not turned on by facts and figures, but by primal stuff - emotions, things that are new and different (and therefore worthy of our attention), and anything to do with passing on our genes. 

In really short, if you want to do good work, fill your ads with emotions, weird shit, and babies.

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.