One of the many marketing newsletters I received this week came from Marketing Sherpa. The guest-written main article was a lesson on crafting the right “subject line” for your emails that would generate the highest “open rate.” Good information. But it was the title of the article that really got my attention: “Which performs better: Creativity or Clarity?”
That got me thinking. Are there really folks out there who view the whole clarity/creativity dynamic as “either/or?” Who somehow think if something is “creative” that it can’t be “clear?”
To most of us in the business, being “clear” is actually the first consideration when being “creative.’
In its most basic form, creativity is “making the mundane interesting.” In an era where we’re overloaded with both targeted and random messages coming at us from all quarters (by some estimates as many as 5,000 ‘selling’ messages each day), making your communications interesting is a must. Unless your marketing offer is so unabashedly attention getting on its own (”Cure for cancer, just $10!”), you’re going to need some help rising above the pedestrian drivel our well-honed BS filters are good at keeping on the periphery of our consciousness.
Granted, there are practitioners who’ll go to any length to get your attention, even if the way they earn your attention has nothing to do with their actual offerings or benefits (Go Daddy, anyone?). Such practitioners are actually doing a disservice to both their clients and the public at large. As ad legend Bill Bernbach once said “It makes sense to run an ad with a man standing on his head only if you’re demonstrating pants that keep things from falling out of the pockets.”
True creativity doesn’t conflate with clarity. It builds from the Universal Truth of a product or brand, and presents it in a somewhat unexpected yet memorable way. This alchemy that creates something that is both clear and creative is most definitely the “heavy lifting” of our profession.
On some occasion, a marketer may shy away from a “creative” solution because he feels some readers/viewers might not “get it.” But as I mentioned in a guest post some time ago, it is poison to create for the dullards. This recent spot for FedEx is an example of how you can be creative without leaving the masses in the dust. It unmistakenly communicates “FedEx provides small businesses a competitive advantage,” but it does it in a way that is fun, memorable and relevant.
You gotta love all those end-of-year lists. They’re neat, tidy and timely.
That being said, I thought this might be a great opportunity to unveil our own end-of-year list. But rather than focus on the highs or lows of the past year, I thought, why not revisit campaigns that, quite literally, changed everything.
These are campaigns that gave us not just great ads, but forced us to rethink the very possibilities of persuasive communication. They’re presented in more-or-less sequential order.
1. Volkswagen “Think Small” (Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1962)
The now-famous Beetle campaign from DDB demonstrated how a marketer could succeed by creating a personality for his/her product, not by talking about the product, but by making the campaign more about the buyer. Volkswagen ads were like a dialogue with customers. Buyers could see themselves as part of the Volkswagen community. Looking at the DDB campaign en toto, one would surmise the Volkswagen buyer to be smart, frugal, no-nonsense and possessing an understated sense of humor. Truthfully, who wouldn’t want to be seen like that?
Until this famous TV Benedictine monk came along, business-to-business advertising was dull as dirt, pretty much confined to cold, boring sell sheets that reps would leave with their business cards. Business people don’t have time to be entertained, so the thinking went, so advertising to them as we would consumers is a waste of time. Kudos to Needham for remembering that business people are consumers, too. And that the best way to demonstrate a product’s true benefits are through storytelling, not bland bullet points.
In the 1970s and 80s, Chicago Director Joe Sedelmaier directed some of the funniest commercials ever aired, whether for FedEx, Wendy’s (“Where’s the Beef”), Alaska Airlines, Sprint (where I got the chance to work with him) and many others. His unique style of visual humor helped expand the definition of “what’s funny” in commercials. Until Joe, humor was pretty much restricted to quippy one-liners. Suddenly, sight gags were funny, characters were funny, ridiculous storytelling was funny. But the key thing was, with Joe, the needle moved. While many in the business derided him for “making fun” of the customer, results showed that “the customer” liked it, remembered it and acted on it.
4. Miller Lite “Ex-Jocks” (Backer-Spielvogel, 1976)
The use of jocks in advertising has become somewhat ubiquitous these days. And many of the spots are quite entertaining. But before the original Miller Lite spots, athlete advertising was pretty much of the hold-up-the-product-and-smile variety…not much in the way of capturing the personality of the jocks. Then Miller Lite came along. And Backer-Spielvogel was tasked with making a lite beer acceptable to the largest segment of beer drinkers—men. This campaign did it in spades. It not only propelled Miller Lite from a niche brand to the best selling brand of beer in America, it solidified jocks’ place in advertising lore.
5. Nike “Michael Jordan” (Wieden & Kennedy, 1986)
Nike did dozens of great ad campaigns prior to signing a rookie basketball player named Michael Jordan as a spokesperson in 1985. But Jordan became the brand, and the brand be came Jordan. The two represented the same values, and became inseparable, so far as Nike’s audience was concerned. The spots were so well crafted, they felt as if they were coming directly from Jordan, not scripted for him. Even these earliest spots featuring Spike Lee as Mars Blackman gave a hint at what was to come.
6. Apple MacIntosh “1984” (Chiat/Day, 1983)
Okay, so this is the low-hanging fruit. Yes, it ushered in the era of the bigger-than-life Superbowl commercial. But more importantly, it demonstrated how cinematic production values and flawless storytelling, when combined with a legitimate product promise, can move mountains.
A great campaign to be sure, in every sense of the word. But “game changing?” I struggled with this at first, then decided to include it, for much the same reason Volkswagon and Xerox were included. For years, the Milk Board ran a campaign called “Milk Does a Body Good” that did a pretty good job of highlighting all the reasons a consumer should WANT to buy milk. Despite all those millions spent, growth was non-existent. Then Got Milk captured America’s fancy. And it did it by acknowledging HOW people used the product and WHY they wanted it. In short, folks didn’t buy milk because it was loaded with protein and Vitamin D; they bought it because somehow, nothing goes better with those monster chocolate chip cookies you love. Not just storytelling, but honest storytelling.
BONUS – 8. Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” (Wieden & Kennedy, 2010)
Maybe this one is too recent to be included as a campaign of seismic proportions. But to my mind, it is the first campaign that successfully integrated traditional media with community-building Social Media to create unprecedented buzz (more than 1.4 BILLION views and mentions) and sales response (sales up over 100% in the two months following the campaign’s launch). And that doesn’t include the “updating-the-stodgy-brand” factor. From this day forward, I doubt there will be a “big idea” in this business that doesn’t include a strong Social Media component.
Can you think of any other campaigns you felt “changed everything?” Let us know, we’d love to hear from you.
Chances are if you sat through an agency creative presentation back in the days BSM (Before Social Media), you probably heard your fill of the importance of “breaking through the clutter.” The idea being that because the consumer is exposed to as many as 4,000 marketing messages (primarily via mass media) per day, we need to create something amazing that is going to be among the 12 or so he will remember the next day.
Funny how you don’t really hear much anymore about “breaking through the clutter.” Today, we preach the gospel of “going viral.” No longer is the high-bar creating content our audience sees, remembers and likes, but creating something that folks actually pass on to their own personal networks.
So how do we approach the creative challenge when our goal is to not only have our audience remember our messages, but spread them as well?
My take is that not much has changed. The messages that we lauded as “breaking through the clutter” have way more in common with today’s “viral campaigns” than you might think. In both cases, successful messages can be described as being both “sticky” and “slippery.” The “sticky” part is pretty straight forward—it means there is an idea or concept that captured the audience’s imagination and helped them remember the message. It made an impression with them, got them involved in the message.
The “slippery” part is a little trickier to understand. It relates to the ease at which that idea is spread to others. It’s easy to describe (or pass on) to someone else.
“Hey, did you see the E-Trade spot with the talking baby?” “What do you think of that Old Spice spot with the guy on the horse?” “How about the FedEx spot where the company tried to save money with Nordic Tuesdays?” (see below) These conversations are viral. They’re an opportunity to share something you like with others. Conversations like this are nothing new.
What is new are the tools of Social Media. You don’t have to meet at the water cooler or wait for some sort of invitation to join a conversation. You can simple post it on your Facebook wall, for all your friends to see. You can even link the spot as part of the conversation. And everytime one of them reacts to it, that messages gets even more slippery.
Content that is both “sticky and slippery.” This is where your emphasis should be. These are the filters you should use when creating or evaluating content.
My advice is, don’t get so hung up on the tools you’re relying on to spread the message. Get hung up on the message itself.
In this scene from the movie “City Slickers,” trail-hardened cowpoke Curly (played marvelously by Jack Palance) sums up the secret of life for city slicker Billy Crystal:
One Thing. The secret of life. Also the secret for succeeding in business. Another term for your One Thing is your Brand Vision. It is the one thing your customers agree you do better than any of your competition. The one thing you want your customers (and non-customers) to think of every time your name comes up.
So what is your One Thing? Is it fast, cheap, attentive, sturdy, sleekly-designed? Is it reliable, techie, funny, intuitive, caring? Summing up your competitive strength in one word might seem simplistic, but in truth, one word is all your customers and prospects will reserve for you.
And please, no boiler-plate terms like “world-class customer service.” In addition to activating my gag response, it doesn’t mean anything until you back it up with specifics. It may make management feel all warm and fuzzy, but to the customer, it’s just table stakes.
Think you have your word? Make sure none of your competitors can use the same word to describe themselves. If they can, you need a new word.
Once you’ve discovered your One Thing, figure out how to engineer more of it into your products or services. If you determine your word is ‘”reliable,” for example, consider initiatives that will reinforce that strength in your customers’ minds. A super-long warranty, no-questions-asked return policy or a zero-deductible repair policy would be a few examples.
The strongest brands have always had their One Thing. A few examples: Ferrari. FedEx. McDonald’s. The Grateful Dead. Four different brands, and you probably have no problem coming up with a single word to describe them.
Bio: Mickey Lonchar opted for a career in advertising after many assurances it would not require any math or heavy lifting. Having spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.