Throwing money at a problem

Everyone has a story they tell when they dine out or meet new people. Mine is about the time I found myself in the lift with all of the members of U2 and was greeted by Elton John.

But that’s for another time.

My brother-in-law Dermot has a story that he used to tell a lot, but these days he will only bring out if you insist. So I tell it here instead, with his kind permission, mainly because it illustrates a reasonable point about creativity but it’s also a pretty good tale in itself.

It happened back when Mullets ruled the hairdressers and band names sounded like the ramblings of an eight month old baby (Kajagoogoo? no? oh please yourselves) and the internet was just a twinkle in Tim Berners-lee’s eye.

Our story starts on a fine spring day in a ski resort somewhere in the Alps when Dermot and two friends, Henric and Mike went off for an afternoon’s skiing. Such a fine day in fact that he decided, as people often do, that a jacket was surplus to requirements.

It was one of those afternoons where the sun reflects off the slopes and turns the whole mountain in to a giant reflector, the sky was a pastel blue and the snow was powdery and perfect. Bliss.

The other two cursed him as they sweated in their jackets and the three friends, all pretty good skiers, decided to take a detour and go ‘off piste’.

It must have been an hour or so later when they realised they had taken a wrong turn, missed a marker or sign and now were completely lost.

It was getting darker, but they carried on down the mountain anyway, thinking they were sure to find a route somewhere.

They chopped through the trees, weaving their way down when they abruptly came to a cliff and all three narrowly avoided going over the edge. That was close, they thought, but things were about to get a lot worse.

By now it was now almost totally dark and now it was getting freezing. They were properly in the shit.

And Dermot only had a sweater on.

They couldn’t risk walking in the dark and going over another ledge, so they reasoned they would have to make a camp there and spend the night on the mountain.

This was before mobile phones, and they hadn’t thought to tell anyone of their plans. Nobody would miss three guys in their twenties who didn’t come home all night.

They tried to make a fire. They had a cigarette lighter, no cigarettes of course, but nothing would burn.

They destroyed their skiis trying to use them as axes on the pine tree branches but no luck.

They would have to survive with no fire and no food.

If only they had some paper!

They dug a hole out of the snow with what was left of their skiis and cuddled up.

Stupidly they tried to sleep, which you shouldn’t do if you are in sub zero temperatures as you can quickly sink in to a coma.

Nevertheless Henric and Mike sandwiched Dermot between them to share body heat.

Dermot usually says at this point ‘I told them that if one of them needed to pee to just do it on me’ because the cold was so intense.

It was a long night, during which they all genuinely thought that they were done for.

As the first light appeared around 4am they were relieved to discover that they were still alive, if a little urine sodden. Slowly they made their way back up the mountain, (in 1980’s ski boots) trying to find a route down.

By 3pm that afternoon they eventually made it back to some kind of civilisation. A town that wasn’t where they were staying but had a taxi that would take them back to their village.

Exhausted, hungry and grateful for their lives they arrived back at their hotel.

Now, you may be wondering what all this has to do with finding a simple obvious answer.

The story would have ended there, a lucky escape and cautionary tale about the perils of mountain conditions. But as they entered the chalet, Henric, nonchalantly produced some money to pay the cab.

He has been sitting on a thick wedge of cash.

Paper.

Paper that they could have burned to start a fire.

But it never crossed his mind. Money wasn’t paper to him. It was money.

Sometimes the best ideas aren’t that hard to find, you just need to know where to look. You just need to think a bit differently about the familiar. What good creatives are able to do, rather like good comedians, is take the ordinary and twist it in to new shapes and present it back to you in new ways.

So it’s not always about new media, or new techniques.

Sometimes it’s just about looking afresh at something you’ve seen a million times before.

And setting light to it.

 

 

 

 

 

The old egg and lightbulb rule.

In research it’s always nice to hear that respondents ‘liked’ your idea.

But so what?

The problem is people like a lot of things, pictures of puppies, pretty colours, the way the model looks strong, the happy setting of a family on holiday because it reminds them of that time in Corfu.

It doesn’t really mean they’ll remember it though, at least not just for that reason alone.

I always love that question when you hear it in a research one to one. “Which one of these concepts would you remember most?”

As if they know!

Not to say it isn’t a valid expectation, fixing a permanent spot in the HCP’s mind is kind of what we should be aiming for, obviously.

Derren Brown, the famous er…magician doesn’t really cut it…illusionist possibly? Anyway, ‘Wizard’ is probably closest, knows a thing or two about how the mind works.

If you have ever had the pleasure of seeing one of his shows it is literally a marvel.

If you didn’t know better and if he didn’t admit he isn’t one, you’d swear he was a genuine psychic.

It appears he can read minds and predict the future.

And his ability to memorise things is incredible.

But it’s based on simple techniques that he writes about in his book A trick of the mind.

One of them is this:

If you want to remember a list of random items, it helps if you visualise them meshed together to create a strong visual image in your head.

To demonstrate the difference try these two techniques. First, give yourself one minute to learn this list of ten things in this exact order:

A kettle

A red shoe

A giraffe

A cloud

A banana

A clam

A urinal

A guitar

A country lane

A grey carpet

Got it?

Okay, go away and try writing them down in that order and see how far you get.

Now try the same list but this time link the two images together in a visual picture.

A kettle

A kettle shaped like a red shoe

A pair of red shoes on a giraffe

A giraffe shaped cloud

A cloud emanating from a banana

A banana inside a clam

A clam peeing in a urinal

A urinal shaped guitar

A guitar in the middle of a country lane

A country lane made of grey carpet

Now try the same exercise and write them down again. A bit easier to remember isn’t it?

That’s because memory is linked closely to the visual side of the brain. If we can visualise it, we remember it better.

That’s why so many of the great ad campaigns have strong visual elements.

It’s also why concepts with people on the beach or at the park and a line about their data are likeable but forgettable.

It’s why you forget most of the advertising messages you are bombarded with every day.

It’s why even strong headlines are often visual too and paint a picture.

So what can we learn from this little trick of the mind?

Well it might help agencies and clients take a different view of that part of the research debrief that says the respondents ‘like’ an idea.

As I said, people like a lot of things.

But the things they remember are the ones that are a square peg in a round hole. The ideas that subvert, twist, shock or surprise.

It’s why a picture of a lightbulb or an egg may be likeable but isn’t memorable, but a lightbulb, cracked like an egg somehow is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mr Hammer, your problem isn’t a nail.

Aren’t all branding ideas sort of advertising ideas and vice versa?

Well, sometimes, I guess, but not always.

In Pharmaland we can lean towards treating every problem as if it needs a good whack on the head. Give it a brand image that people will remember, plaster it all over the congress stand and the iPad and stand back.

Not you obviously, but you know…other agencies.

The most recent Mr Muscle campaign highlights the often subtle differences between what (I regard as an..) advertising idea and a brand idea. Both have found their way in to an adspace mind you.

Now, I am not saying that this is the greatest campaign of all time, but it provides a useful, albeit mediocre, example.

The old campaign featured, for years, a feeble nerd who took on super strength because of the product. Mr Muscle loves the jobs you hate.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-17-29-24 screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-17-29-46

Yes, irony folks. But it worked because people could see the role of the brand in their life.

Then after a 30 year successful run some sort of global adboard switches it around and makes the product a superhero (yawn), complete with muscles and a square chin. Not sure why he’s animated but never mind.

One shows the user having a clear benefit.

The other says the brand is great.

journal-mr-muscle

I can imagine the team somewhere deciding that the weedy guy was too negative, he didn’t embody the brand in a positive way.

“I think people might think the product is weedy too…I just feel it’s too negative”.

“Good point Gustav, what we need is a more positive image.”

“Yes, and we need a woman in there so housewives can relate to the user – because men don’t really do cleaning”

“Thanks Maria, good point.”

That Maria is a bit sexist if you ask me.

To my mind they fundamentally lost what makes a good advertising idea work.

The hero is all about the brand, the weedy guy is all about the benefit to you, the bathroom attendant and therefore the brand.

Truth is, clients can often miss the point and go straight to what the pictures in front of them appear to be saying purely on a visual level.

It’s the semiotic argument.

But to paraphrase Eric Morecombe, do all the right notes in the wrong order still add up to a concerto?

At one point in the third act of the film ‘Notting Hill’, you’ll remember that Hugh Grant and the gang all pile in to a small car with a lion in its logo. The cookie sister shouts to Rhys Evans as he squeezes in to the boot ‘You’re my hero’ and they whizz off to stop Julia Roberts from leaving town, to the tune of ‘Gimme some Lovin’.

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I only found out about this a couple of years ago that this was a secret sponsorship, product-placement kind of a deal, brokered by the the account director on the car account I used to work on.

Unsurprisingly, it bypassed our creative department entirely.

It showed the family car could take a lot of people (obviously) and the ‘hero’ line was spot on the branding strategy about heroes that that particular car brand was employing at the time.

The client loved it. They couldn’t sign up quick enough.

That little deal cost them about £150k and it went straight in to the pocket of Working Title films and became an iconic moment in a much loved movie.

But wait a bloody minute.

I’ve seen that film a dozen times and all I saw was a group of friends jumping in a car and driving though london.

And I worked on the brand!

All the right notes, not necessarily in the right order.

Maybe it had some semiotic effect that I don’t know about, but even with all those branding elements that the client held dear and spent millions on, it still didn’t add up to an actual message.

Pharmaland is full of images that capture the ‘brand essence’ or even the MOA without making a connection with the doctor or end user in any meaningful way. We mistake branding ideas for ideas that connect with our audience, the orange bridge, the blue apple, or I dunno….the red sodding banana all probably encapsulate their respective brands perfectly, without ever actually meaning a bloody thing.

What we need in Pharmaland, heck even adland in general, is less hammers looking for nails and more advertising ideas.

Or at the very least, to be able to know the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How a brand can punch above its weight.

Back in the 90s I was fortunate to do a fair amount of international jet setting due to being the jammiest git alive and working on a car account.

The ads were popular somewhat but never that great –  which was always unsatisfactory, but the trips were the consolation prize.

We used to go to LA quite a bit and stay at the Sunset Marquee hotel. The names I could drop, if I had a mind to.

Which I do.

The infamous ‘Whisky bar’ within the hotel, was where every night Slash would set up his table and be surrounded by hangers on. Jeff Beck, would usually be hanging around in his cap sleeve T-shirt, we were there on the night the Sex Pistols played LA on their reunion tour and were politely drinking in the foyet. We’d come from a schmancy restaurant in Beverly Hills where we sat next to Densel Washington while Elle McPherson was talking with Joe Pesci at the bar.

I once noticed an old man dining alone at the Sunset’s small restaurant but resisted the urge to ask if he wanted a chat. It was Paul Newman.

Super models roamed the corridors and I remember one afternoon we shared some late sun with Billy Ray Cyrus, Mylie’s old man.

All of these encounters and sightings should have prepared me for what happened one evening in the Whisky bar.

I tell this story as no more or no less than a story about branding and how a brand speaks and behaves and how important it can be.

The name dropping is purely gratuitous.

But we’ll get to that.

Now: Whisky.

(In this ‘dry month’ of January it seems appropriate to talk about the hazards of the demon drink.)

So anyway, whisky has an effect on me like no other drink.

While I have never been an aggressive person, it does slightly give me a false sense of my own macho-ness, let’s say.

Wine, makes me fall asleep at the table and Tequila can lead to all sorts of mischief. I’m sure your experiences are similar.

But the night in question, it was whisky at the Whisky bar.

We had returned to the hotel after casting or shooting or location hunting or some such production based pastime.

A very good friend and colleague of mine at the time was an assistant producer named Liza, she has since grown up and had babies but at the time she was an attractive young woman in her twenties ( and obviously still is!) and as an agency team we felt protective of our assistant producer, she was like a kid sister.

As we sat outside on the small patio she wafted through the doors in to the evening LA fug, if not exactly like a goddess, certainly like an attractive assistant producer.

Oh alright, a goddess sounds better.

I then heard a cockney voice shout out something like ‘Oi. you…over ‘ere!’

It was the mating call of the lesser spotted London geezer and Liza had caught his eye.

Although quite innocuos in retrospect I took affront to this indelicate language addressed at our assistant producer….as if she was some parlour maid.

I stood up and approached this braggard.

Yes, braggard.

I should say that at this point I was more than a little sozzled and words like braggard and parlour maid were frothing to the top of my internal vocabulary, turning me in to some sort of psychotic Lord Melchett.

I approached this bounder who was sat delicately perched on the low brick wall. One push would have done it.

He looked me up and down, unimpressed.

What followed was a strange sort of conversation, there was a lot of ‘don’t speak to women like that’ and a lot of ‘who the fuck are you, her dad?’ type replies.

Then a few “yeahs??? and a few “whatchagonnadoaboutits”.

You know how stupid people (ok men) can get when this sort of thing happens.

But for the first time in my life, and thankfully the last, I felt like I was the guy in charge here.

I didn’t waver, for all intents and purposes I was a hard nut.

Not because I looked hard, or spoke hard. But because I believed it. Yes, it was mostly Glen and his merry band of fiddichs, Morangies and Livets backing me up, but there I was – being macho.

There was a sort of stand off. To be fair this guy wasn’t backing down either.

But neither did he make a ‘move’.

There was an awkward sort of ‘yeah..well mind your language’ kind of unsatisfactory ending to the ‘face-off’ but I at least walked away with my dignity.

And it was over. I couldn’t believe that was even me.

We made our exit to the bar where Mark my boss and Nick the account director were standing laughing their heads off.

I assumed at my idiotic behaviour.

And they were of course, but I had had no idea quite how idiotic I had been.

And frankly you may be thinking that there’s nothing special about this sort of loutish behaviour, men square up to each other the world over every night of the week. It’s embarrassing and nothing to be proud of.

Well, here is where we get to the advertising insight part.

How a brand behaves and acts IS THE BRAND. You don’t need to work your way up to be a brand leader in terms of how you conduct your brand personality, you can just start behaving like a brand leader and so long as you stay faithful to that tone, you can fool pretty much anyone. Even yourself.

Product is what it does, Brand is how it behaves.

“Do you know who that was?” My chums said as I returned to the warm safety of the agency huddle, expecting at least a small degree of newly discovered respect.

“No, who?”

“Have you ever heard of Gary Stretch?”

Hmm..the name rang a bell.

“What the WBC International Light Middleweight title holding Gary Stretch?”

“The now living in LA as an actor Gary Stretch”

“You just nearly got the shit kicked out of you”.

To be frank, it wouldn’t take an ex-professional boxer to kick the shit out of me, but yes – they had a point.

The one time I decide to be a macho idiot and I pick the best pound for pound fighter of his generation.

And lived to tell the tale.

Tone of voice really is everything.

 

 

 

 

 

Being funny without telling a joke.

I once did a freelance stint in a German office of JWT and the CEO there was quite the cliche ‘American’ ad-man, not a German.
An ex-creative director himself, he had a good sense of the process and was no fool.

But we differed on some points, one of which was that he thought the whole ‘don’t tell me you’re funny make me laugh’ thing was in his words ‘horseshit’.

Just tell me you are funny and do it several times, loudly.

It’s an approach that can work if you have enough budget and the audacity.

Remind you of anyone?

If you look at the orange-groper-elect himself, he has had a platform where he can tell everyone he is brilliant, day in day out without any real evidence to support him.

People believed him and his ‘winner’ positioning, even when, despite his obvious personal wealth, the evidence of his many failures is everywhere. Atlantic City Casinos, Trump University. Trump Mortgages et al.

His repeated claim to be awesome and the answer to America’s prayers is largely based on his claim to be the awesome and the answer to America’s prayers.

Maybe we have all been wrong about the whole funny comedian thing.

It can be done, if nobody stops you from claiming it. And that’s the one thing nobody realises about political advertising, you can say whatever bollocks you like and there is no organisation who can stop you or pull you up on it.

But in Pharmaland (or indeed consumer advertising if its something like alcohol) we can’t make claims to be funny or amazing if we ain’t.

All we can do is be funny or amazing.

How many times have you had a client ask you to ‘imply’ superiority?

So how does a brand claim something without claiming it?

The best way to find out is to study how some brands have managed it.

One of my favourite campaigns of all time was the UK campaign for Stella Artois which ran from 1982 t0 2007 created by CDP and imported to the then Lowe Howard Spink by Frank Lowe when he left to set up his own agency.

‘Reassuringly expensive’ reinforced what we all secretly think. That the more expensive something is, the better the quality.

But did it actually say it was superior quality?

Not so much.

I use this example knowing full well that this type of advertising is now almost extinct.

But what we have in it’s place are the type of ideas that use the same device, saying things without saying them. A personal favourite is The gun shop by Grey New York for States United to prevent gun violence that puports to be selling perfectly innocent second hand guns until you realise all the guns on sale have been used to kill someone either in a mass killing or in a tragic accident, like the five year old that shot his nine month baby sister.

Needless to say people left the shop without buying a gun.

Because the concept lets you draw your own conclusions.

And that is the secret to a really powerful connection with your consumer.

That’s what changes behaviour.

I’ve always believed that anyone can tell you they’re funny but the ones we remember are the people who actually make us laugh.

It’s still the best policy if you’re not allowed to make claims you can’t support.

Unless of course you’re running for President, obviously.

 

 

 

 

 

1.Your concepts stinks 2.they loved it.3 Now what?

One of the curious things about Pharmaland is, given the greatest drug ever, say the cure for all Cancer, the cure for Alzheimer’s or Diabetes, you could literally run a picture of a pig in a pair of knickers and as long as the headline still said “IT CURES ALL CANCER” nobody would care, the campaign would research really well and the agency and marketing people could all slap their colleagues backs in a hearty fashion in the certain knowledge their ‘pig in knickers’ campaign was a wowzer.

Why? well, and this may shock you because all the figures aren’t quite in yet and some of the biometric tests were unclear but….

BECAUSE IT CURES ALL CANCER!!!

Okay, so nice problem to have. I think if there was such a drug you might not have to piss around with big red arrows in the sand or couples on the beach or in fact any creative at all.

So everything between that and say….lemon sherbert is a case of selling versus telling on a sliding creative scale.

How do you actually get a clean read from respondants when researching concepts on a drug that changes the market significantly or a treatment that finally gives some hope for people where there was none.

How do we expect a doctor to concentrate (or indeed give a shit) on whether he likes the concept of the guy hanging upside down from a tree dressed as a lemon or the one with the dolphin that can sing?

You mean this shit cures Diabetes? I love every concept!

So the reverse is also true. The worse the efficacy or differentiation of the drug, the more creative we have to be.

In consumer they rarely get the life changing briefs. It’s all incremental, it’s attitude, it’s about having a fucking conversation with a brand.

In Pharmaland, we actually have something to say.

Whoop.

Of course usually we can’t actually say it. Can’t claim it will do anything that it doesn’t actually have an indication for.

“It may cure that big boil on the end of your knob but there’s no data to indicate this will improve your sex life or increase comfort while trampolining.”

“But surely….”

“Nope”

So on the plus side we have a head start in research for doctors to get excited about the message, providing doctors have an interest in curing knob-boils.

But folks, I am sorry to say that equally, we must draw the conclusion that just because your campaign researched well, it may – creatively speaking – have the aromatic qualities of a love child between Ricky the Racoon and Anne the Anchovy.

Sadly, research success is no guarantee of creativity.

And without creativity, what’s the point of an agency?

 

 

Your Conference stand isn’t an Advert.

It’s easy to see the conference stand as an extension of your Ad campaign.

In terms of marketing and image it might seem indivisible because you have to get them on the stand so you need loud messages to get their attention.

That’s how an ad works right?

Well, if you say so, but your stand isn’t an ad.

It’s a shop.

Think of all your favourite retail brands, those stylish department stores, or the fashion boutiques that entice you in with elegant window designs or places like the Apple store that just exude cool. Do you enter them because of the big messages in the window?

No, the retail seduction is a much more subtle dance.

People are are attracted to simplicity, cleanliness, boldness and yes – even creativity.

This is a place I could hang out for a while you think.

On a stand the dynamic is the same. Delegates step in to the client’s world for a few moments, attracted by the sparkly things and interesting gizmos.

And yet when it comes to a conference we are often asked by clients to put as much messaging and logos as we can to fit the space.

Hang the aesthetics, give me branding.

And that’s okay if you want to be as visible as one of those discount sportwear warehouses.

But do you?

When Steve Jobs decided to launch the apple shops everyone told him he was mad.

applestore

No device manufacturer had ever sold directly to the public, devices were sold via tech shops like Dixons or dept stores like John Lewis.

But Jobs knew that the shops would perform more than one function. Yes, a way to sell more phones and laptops without that third party bias towards their own products, but a shop was also to create a huge presence on the high street, a loud statement of brand and a way to interact with people on a human level via the genius bar.

The response should be: wow I want to go in there, not: look there’s that phone shop.

Remind you of anything in Pharmaland?

And Jobs was meticulous over every detail, sourcing the glass windows from all corners of the earth, making sure the steps flowed in just the right way through the store, making the whole shop an experience.

The shopping experience as a concept, not just a retail outlet.

I sometimes wonder, when the world’s most successful company does something globally successful why everyone else doesn’t just watch, learn and well – copy.

And yet still we stick with what we know, thinking more is more.

Perhaps it’s time for us all to think different.