Friday, October 23, 2015

Thursday, September 17, 2015

So This Happened...

This is how my old friends at Campaign Brief have reported my little piece of news...

CB Exclusive - Campaign Brief can reveal that DDB Sydney creative director Simon Veksner has departed the agency to form his own social media start-up, Hungry Beast. 

Veksner told CB: "I've been very active in social for some time, through my blog (Scamp) and increasingly for my clients at DDB. It's an area I'm passionate about, and the time feels right to start something: social media now represents over 25% of media consumption - it's booming.

"But aside from one or two successful specialist agencies, not many people are doing it well. Let's be honest, most of the work in social media is quite average.
"With my background in creative advertising at places like BBH and DDB, I'm confident I can help brands create better content for social. And I believe - we all believe - that better content will create better results. 

"That's the plan. It's that simple... and that difficult."

Veksner has had an 19-year advertising career spanning agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi, DDB London, BBH, and DDB Sydney and has won awards including a Cannes Grand Prix (he co-created the VW 'Cops' ad) and multiple Cannes Lions, plus two D&AD Pencils and over 40 D&AD In-Book entries.

Veksner joined DDB Sydney from BBH London in December 2010, re-uniting him with former colleagues ECD Dylan Harrison and DDB Group CEO Chris Brown. He left DDB in April 2012 to write his second book on the ad industry, then in November that year joined Naked Communications as head of ideas. In March 2014 Veksner again joined DDB Sydney

In 2010, he published a book aimed at young creatives called 'How To Make It As An Advertising Creative', and has a second book coming out soon, titled '100 Ideas That Changed Advertising'. His Scamp blog was the most popular advertising blog in the UK and in 2013 he re-launched Scamp in Sydney, where it has become a weekly feature on Campaign Brief.

ajt said:
awesome news, congrats Simon!!
Markham said:
Ooh, first comment. Nice one Simon, you're gonna be a sqillionaire.
Sohail said:
Nice One Simon! Best of Luck!
Dave Shirlaw said:
Congraulations Simon. I'm sure you'll do very well.
Game On said:
I have witnessed Mr. Veksner being 'very active in social' first hand which has earned me more than a couple of morning headaches and bacon cravings.
Gudonya, Simon - hope you smash it.
Old CD Guy said:
I'll miss our little love-ins.
D said:
Congrats Simon you'll do really well!!!
HG said:
Prefer the kiwi with the laser eyes, but hey a cocker spaniel works too. Great move mate, you'll smash it.
student said:
Congratulations Simon!!
a fan said:
All the best simon! i'm sure you'll kill it!
Kershaw said:
Congrats Simon. I'm sure you'll make a massive success of it.
Idea first, media later. said:
Looking forward to seeing what becomes of this.
As Simon states, there are so few great social ideas around.
Hopefully you set the benchmark for Australia.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Matt Eastwood's Jacket

Matt Eastwood, worldwide chief creative officer of JWT, has one of the world's biggest creative jobs, and has to be considered one of Australia's global creative leaders not just in advertising, but in any field.

Is it partly due to the way he dresses?

Now don't get me wrong, Mr Eastwood has overseen a ton of great work. A TON. Examples: “Yeah, that kind of rich” for the New York Lottery, and the “Hashtag Killer” campaign for WATERisLIFE.

I really enjoyed this recent podcast in which Eastwood discusses topics as varied as leadership behaviour, and how JWT invented the grilled cheese sandwich.

He's impressive throughout - a solid combo of charm, insight and dedication.

But because I'm extraordinarily superficial, there was one section in particular that really struck me. It was a part where he described his days as a young creative, and how on deciding that he wanted to become a Creative Director, he changed the way he dressed. He smartened up, and started to wear a jacket.

At first his fellow creatives ribbed him a bit, but after a while they accepted it... and so did the senior Suits, and Clients.

Shortly afterwards, he was promoted to Creative Director.

Now, I expect I'll get heat for this. Some of the most rabid comments I've ever had on this blog were not triggered by frenzied debates over controversial pieces of work, but came when I dared to suggest that what you wear makes a difference to how you are perceived. 

I guess Creatives are hardcore and want to think "it's all about the work." That's a praiseworthy belief to hold, but there is plenty of evidence showing that your appearance matters too.

So... are you wearing a jacket?

And please note, I mean this as much metaphorically as literally. In other words, I'm suggesting you ask yourself: are you solely focused on coming up with great ideas, or are you also making smart choices about how you progress your career?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Can Online Advertising Be Saved?

Sometimes, a technological advance kills an entire industry. Like CD's killed vinyl.

Could ad blockers be about to kill online advertising?

For many websites, who rely on selling display ad units, the situation is highly concerning.

On the typical gaming site, for example, ad blocking rates now top 50 percent, according to ad tech firm Secret Media, while those for fashion and lifestyle sites are close to 35 percent.

The phenomenon is worse in some countries than others - only 15 percent of American users, for example, are using ad blockers.

But what if the Americans catch on? 

There are signs they are about to. Online searches for the term 'ad blocker' are rising rapidly.

I am a long-time advocate of advertising, and of the value of advertising. (That website you like? It's almost certainly funded by advertising).

I personally would never install an adblocker, and I think the technology is close to being immoral, because it creates a 'free rider' problem - people benefiting from web content, without paying its creators. It's akin to piracy.

In fact the business model of AdBlock Plus is arguably comparable to piracy; they earn their income from charging big companies for an exemption from ad blocking - a characteristic that had French web publishers contemplating legal action against them.

We have to be honest about the forces that are driving uptake of ad blockers. They are brilliantly summed up in this article by Tom Goodwin - the same guy who wrote this widely-read critique of Cannes.

Goodwin points to pre-roll ads that insert themselves midway in articles, ads for Mercedes vehicles that are seen before beheading videos, pages that take forever to load because they're swamped by cookies and content the user didn't ask for, articles on websites which “welcome” you with bogus welcome screens and where pop-ups barge their way past browser settings.

Some of his solutions are so innovative that he feels obliged to describe them as 'thought-experiments': they include the idea that web publishers could reduce online advertising inventory to one-tenth of its current size, and use only premium spaces.

But his main recommendation - and one I wholeheartedly agree with - is very simple.

Create better ads.

When the ads are of at least decent quality, consumers will be more happy to accept the trade-off (I get free web content, in return for seeing some ads).

At the moment, the amount of time and money being invested in creating online advertising is far too low.

The targeting capabilities of online advertising are incredible, and far exceed anything possible in traditional media. Now it's time the creative bar was raised too.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Which Is Better For A Sports Team’s Digital Channels – Winning Or Losing?

This last week has seen the starkest possible contrast in fortunes for two of Australia's sports teams.

The cricketers were thrashed by the English. Australia ‘lost’ the Ashes – although technically it never really had them, since the actual urn, for reasons of colonial oppression, remain on permanent display at Lord’s – leading to the retirement of Michael Clarke, the captain. Yes, the ‘Pup’ has been put down.

Meanwhile, the Wallabies ended a four-year drought with a sparkling 27-19 win over the All Blacks, and are being tipped as World Cup winners.

So, enough of their performances on the field, how are the two sports faring in the digital arena?

It turns out that the Australian Rugby Union has a far higher percentage of their audience engaged at 44.0%, compared to Cricket Australia which has 2.8% engaged.

The most effective medium for Cricket Australia – by far – is Twitter. In fact it has the leading Twitter engagement rate of any of the 44 Australian sporting bodies tracked by BrandData. (In addition to having the most successful website). Yet curiously, it is the second LEAST effective of all 44 bodies on Facebook.

The Australian Rugby Union, by contrast, is the MOST effective on Facebook. (And also first on YouTube). But is nowhere on Twitter.

Since one is weak exactly where the other is strong, and vice versa, the obvious conclusion is they could create a real social media powerhouse by simply combining the two sports.

For sure, the merger would throw up some challenges. Like… which ball to use? It certainly wouldn’t be easy to hit a rugby ball very far with a cricket bat. Nor would it be a cinch to locate a cricket ball in the ruck. As far as personnel, there are some easier calls. Steve Smith surely has the physique to be a scrum half. Mitchell Johnson could power down the wing, no problem. And if Matt Giteau can bowl as well as he kicks, that would really help this ‘Crugby’ team succeed.

But other than a merger, the Brand Data conclusion for what each body needs to do to enhance their online presence is clear:


For despite its on-field success, the ARU has dropped three places in the last week, in terms of the digital league table of sporting bodies. While Cricket Australia, despite its defeat – or let’s face it, probably because of the excitement that the team’s crisis has created – increased seven places (to 12th).

Monday, August 03, 2015

Do You Talk Too Much?

One of the biggest blunders I have seen ad agency people make - again and again, over the years - is to spend 55 minutes of a one-hour presentation, talking.

The result of course is that the most crucial part of the meeting, the back-and-forth, is severely curtailed.

We do it because we think we're selling something, rather than working collaboratively with the Client to solve their marketing problems. We do it because we train people to 'present' not to listen. We do it because we hire extroverts, performers, and egotists. 

(Please note I'm not excluding myself from these criticisms. Been guilty many times).

There's an interesting article in the latest Harvard Business Review titled 'Create a conversation, not a presentation'.

Many of its recommendations are totally impractical in our industry, such as, for example, circulating a presentation to the meeting's participants several days in advance. Consulting may be different, but in advertising that would often mean we didn't have any time to do the actual work.

But the main thrust of the piece - that a good meeting is a conversation, not a presentation - is well-observed.

Obviously, the key is to ask questions. And I'm talking about genuine questions, not the fake kind whose real intention is to display how smart the question-asker is, or how much knowledge they have.

I think too often we're concerned to fill the time. Whereas some of the best meetings I've ever had occurred when we finished early by mistake, and it then devolved into just a really productive chat.

We're also too often concerned to appear 'right'.

But usually the person who has the right questions is more useful than the person who has, or thinks they have, all the answers.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Does This End The Logo Size Debate Forever?

It's just possible you may have seen this campaign for the iPhone.

It has apparently run in 70 cities and 24 countries, in magazines, newspapers, billboards, transit posters and more. 

I attended some research groups the other day. The first question was "have you noticed any ads recently?" and the answer came back "Apple, Apple, Apple, Apple." Always Apple.

As well as its huge media spend and undoubtedly high impact and recall, it can't be considered too shabby from a creative point of view, since it won the Cannes Grand Prix for Outdoor this year.

But amidst all the hype, one aspect of the campaign has been overlooked.

The teeny weeny size of the logo.

Running a rough ruler over it, I calculate that the logo occupies only 0.12% of the total area of the ad you see above. And yet the branding is super-clear.

Partly this is because there isn't any extraneous communication here, so there's not too much for the eye to wade through before it reaches the logo. 

But mostly it's because the whole ad is an Apple ad, not just the part where the logo appears.

As I've argued before, branding should be in an ad's DNA, not slapped onto it like the branding on a cow.

That means each ad needs to be part of a consistent brand world. This is essential for proper attribution, and so that each ad contributes cumulatively to brand image, building a coherent picture in people's minds.

Apple have used a consistently clean and minimalist style for years - they have a brand world, for sure.

But assuming your brand has that - and it isn't a cheap & cheerful one where a big logo and starbursting price are appropriate - try to stand firm the next time someone asks you to "up the branding".

You could perhaps mention that the only brand in the world which has people camping out in the street to buy its latest product, uses a logo that's just 0.12% of the ad. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Our Industry Is A Little Unwell. Will This Guy Put A Bullet In It?

Steve Jobs killed the compact disc. Henry Ford killed the horse & buggy.

Now ex-Havas CEO David Jones may be about to do the same to the ad agency.

He has raised the enormous sum of $350 million to set up a global "brand tech" company that will build brands using technology. His plans are a little vague at the moment, but he is adamant that "Everything that the traditional model does, we will do the opposite." 

I've written before about the need for a new agency model - let's face it, this is an urgent problem - so props to Jones. He's going for it.

And I applaud his focus on technology. No one knows exactly what the evolution of the agency model will look like, but we have to assume that technology will play a big role.

However, like anyone touting a new model, Jones is obliged to say that the old model is shit.

Therefore, he lays a out a damning series of accusations against the agency business.

Are they justified?

Let's take a look.

"I’d rather give 100,000 film-makers $10,000 and the opportunity to create content than give one overpaid, under-talented creative director $1 million," he says.

Hmm. Maths may not be his strong suit. If you give $10,000 to 100,000 film-makers, you've actually spent $1 BILLION, not $1 million. (I'll be charitable and assume it's the journalist's mistake, not Jones's).

But the idea that there is an under-talented creative director out there earning $1 million is just laughable. You simply can't get to that figure in our industry, or even a third of that figure, without being insanely talented.

Here's his next criticism of ad agencies: "You could only create if you were one of the 10 per cent of the agency that were in the creative department," Jones says. "In fact, if anybody outside of that 10 per cent had an idea, it was automatically the dumbest idea on the planet."

So, so, so, much wrong with this. So much. First of all, why the hell was he running an agency in which only 10 per cent of the staff were creatives? No wonder he wasn't impressed with them. They were probably run ragged...

But the bit about how you could 'only' create if you were in the creative department? So annoying.

I'm a CD and my whole job is to deliver good ideas to my clients. I'm always on the hunt for ideas. I'm desperate for more ideas, better ideas, different ideas. And there is nothing stopping the suits and planners from coming up with ideas. In fact, in my experience, they do continually make suggestions. Not usually fully-formed ideas, but 'ways in', thought-starters, and 'angles' - which is as it should be. 

The suggestion that any ideas from outside the creative department are considered automatically dumb... I've heard this one so many times, it's really starting to tweak my wiener. I definitely don't care where ideas come from. Why would I? Gold is gold, and whoever puts it on the table, I will take it straight to the bank, believe me.

I think what happened to David Jones is that he suggested an idea, it got rejected, and he assumed it was rejected because he was an account man. Easier to think that, perhaps, than to accept that the idea wasn't very good.

The typical creative team might have to put up ten, twenty, thirty or fifty ideas to get one the CD thinks is good enough to show the client. It ain't easy.

And despite his good intentions, I worry that David Jones thinks it is.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Advertising Haiku

For anyone who doesn't know, a haiku is a three-line poem of 5 syllables/ 7 syllables/ 5 syllables.

The acknowledged master of the form was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), whose most famous haiku (titled 'Old Pond') goes like this:
old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water's sound
Not terrible. But imagine if he'd been writing haikus about a subject as exciting as advertising?

My old friend McDermott (a suit) once wrote one called 'The Account Executive':

Remember to smile.
Give 'em the ol' shuck and jive.
You have people skills.

My effort:
I got a new brief;
It said: "Wanted. Big idea."
Thank God for YouTube.
(It's always nicer to be self-deprecating than to slag other people off, I feel).

And yes, I do acknowledge that mine is pretty shit.

So let's hear yours. 

Monday, July 06, 2015

Why What Won, Won

Juries no doubt think they are objectively choosing the best work they see.

But the fact that every year certain styles of work are more heavily awarded than others has to mean that juries aren't just choosing the smartest, most emotive, or most insightful ideas... but also what is somehow on-trend.

Hate the word 'trends'. It implies a flash-in-the-pan - buzzwords like 'big data' and 'storytelling' which flare up one year and disappear the next.

But in terms of trends that have been around for a while and look set to be with us for a while longer, you'd have to pick out two - cause-related marketing, and technology ideas.

Cause-related marketing used to be something that was done separately, by a company's 'CSR' department. Now it's at the heart of many brands' communications.

Dove was one of the first, and they're still doing it - this is a brand that sells itself not on its moisturising qualities, but on its concern for female self-empowerment. P&G's Always doesn't talk about 'no leaks', it encourages respect for women by asking us what it means to do something #LikeAGirl. And Honey Maid is sticking up for tolerance and diversity in society, with its re-definition of what is wholesome.

Trend 2. New technologies have revolutionised our entire world, and that includes advertising. From the dawn of subservient chicken, to today, when a Cannes Grand Prix is awarded to Crispin Porter for a piece of utility that enables consumers to order Domino's by tweeting a pizza emoji.

If 'cause-related marketing' and 'technology' are the two mega-trends, then it stands to reason that work which sits at the intersection of the two, will be the most on-trend.

And so it proved.

The biggest winner of the year was probably Volvo Life Paint, by Grey London, which took out two Grand Prix - in Design, and also in Promo & Activation.

This is a brand addressing a social problem, using the technological innovation of invisible reflective paint. Cause, and tech, in one. 

Across all the categories, the Golds, Silvers and Bronzes, you will see multiple examples of juries' love for the place where ‘cause’ intersects with ‘tech’. 

A stationery store in the UK tries to reduce the environmental consequences of discarded ink cartridges - Ryman ‘The Eco Alphabet Project’. 

Samsung. They sell phones. They sell TV’s. What can Samsung have to do with road safety? Samsung Road Safety Truck by Leo Burnett Buenos Aires. 

Now, it’s highly possible that some of these projects were made more for awards juries than the public.

This has certainly been the accusation in a lot of commentary during and after Cannes.

But set against that, you’d have to acknowledge that Volvo’s Life Paint idea got great PR for Volvo all over the world.

These ideas are spreading, and spreading organically via social media. They’re associating the brands involved with good causes – in a way that’s relevant, and likely to make them more preferable to consumers. 

They work.

But it's because they’re on-trend - and not necessarily because they're the cleverest or most insightful ideas - that they're winning the biggest awards.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Hidden Gems Of Cannes 2015

While the Grand Prix and Golds get most of the attention, I like to pick through the Silver and Bronze pile, to find the hidden gems.

These are the ads that won't change the world, and didn't get huge coverage (if any) in the trade press, but are nevertheless excellent. In my opinion, obvs.

In amongst the usual big-budget promotions for batteries and Sharpies, there was actually some rather nice print work.

Sweet. Simple. Silver in Outdoor and Press.
Simple and funny. All you want in a beer ad. Bronze in Outdoor. (Click to embiggen).

Why don't more people make ads using the company's logo? The result is inevitably both strong and well-branded... Bronze in Outdoor. (In case you can't read the line, it says "Bi-Xenon Headlamps").

Maybe I'm biased, as this work is from our sister agency A&E DDB London. Or maybe I'm biased because I'm a cat fan. (If you're one too, you'll want to check out the awesome making-of video). But I absolutely love this campaign for Mars Temptations, which won Silver in Outdoor and Press.

S7 Airlines must be from Russia, although they hired W+K to make their ad. Wise choice, because it's brilliant. Starts out like a cliché, then twists hard, so stick with it.

Melanoma Likes Me. Wow, just wow. Best use of Instagram so far? Almost certainly. So simple, and yet so sinister, really. Silver in Promo & Activations, Bronze in Creative Data. (Is that a category now? I guess it is).

Taco Bell Blackout. Ballsy, counterintuitive thinking... that sounds like it really paid off. Bronze in Cyber. 

Honourable mentions to the Dead Island trailer (Bronze in Film), Saving Aslan (also Bronze in Film) and Nazis Against Nazis (Bronze in Cyber).

Something caught your eye in the silver and bronze pile? Share it in the comments. Or just general opinions about this year's work. Why not.

Monday, June 22, 2015

'Twas The Night Before Cannes

I reckon this year's Cannes will showcase the best work our industry has ever produced.

Buoys that detect sharks, children's books that are also eye tests, radio stations for dogs... the sheer creativity is staggering.

But so is the irrelevance.

This article by Havas strategy dude Tom Goodwin, published in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago, gained wide attention. Its title: 'What if Cannes Lions celebrates the worst, not the best of advertising?'

Goodwin's argument is that much of the work at Cannes isn't solving real business problems, and isn't being seen.

It's a tough, tough bind. Last week I was searching for an old commercial, and found it as part of an ad break that someone had recorded from about 1997. The production values were miles ahead of what we have today. And while the work was arguably nothing more than a succession of high-quality pub gags, it was entertaining stuff.

But the point is that this work was being widely seen. (TV audiences were huge). And it was solving real business problems. (Admittedly, business was a lot simpler then. A category disruption meant someone adding alcohol to lemonade, not developing an app that eliminated an entire industry).

I'm not too worried about Cannes. The festival is well organised, it's a lot of fun, and is doing a great job of its core mission - to celebrate and inspire creativity. (Although it's not a good sign that people are taking the piss out of it - witness this Grand Prix Generator thing).

But I am worried about our industry.

We need to ensure our creativity is as relevant and as widely-seen as our clients need it to be, or I fear we may one day look back on Cannes as little more than a highly public suicide note.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

This Is My All-Time Favourite Asterisk

There has never, in the history of the world, been a competition that had no terms and conditions.

I don't even know if such a competition could exist.

Okay, let's try to imagine it. A competition without terms would have no entry mechanic. It would have no cut-off date. And it would have no means of deciding a winner. So it would basically be a competition open to anyone in the world, forever, that they could enter any way they wanted, and there would be no way of knowing who won.

That is the grim future that a heroic lawyer at the Mazda corporation is protecting us from, in the ad above.

Unfortunately, this lawyer remains anonymous. We will never know his or her name. Their achievement will go unrecognised, unrewarded.

And I, for one, don't think that's fair.

I have therefore taken the liberty of composing a short poem in honour of this fine lawyer.

As you will shortly realise, I am not experienced - or indeed skilled - in the art of writing poetry.

But I hope that my sincerity and genuine appreciation for this unsung hero (or heroine), will nevertheless shine through.

Ode To A Lawyer

Lawyer, lawyer, burning bright
In your office, late at night
Knees are weak, arms are heavy,
Just finished the last of mum's spaghetti,
Such a long day, your brain feels floppy
But before you go home,
Got to check this Mazda ad copy

It's a one-word headline
Should be simple enough
No dubious claims
Or marketing fluff

But o horror of horrors -
Most unfortunate day
You can't pass this ad
Not like that
Oh no way.

People might think that everyone can win
And that is no state for society to be in

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
Ignore the agency when they continually moan
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are totes losing their shit
Then you're doing your job well
So you don't falter, not one bit

You won't be deflected, you won't be deterred
You act out of love, you're protecting the herd
With shift 8 on your keyboard - the asterisk key
You keep the world safe, you keep our world free*

*'Free' in this context refers to free as in 'freedom', not free as in 'no cost'. Charges for living in our world may apply. E.g. for food and whatnot.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Soon, You May Not Be Working In An Ad Agency

I had dinner with a friend the other night, who happens to be a headhunter. Her general comment on our industry was this very straightforward bombshell: "It's shrinking."

Of course there's still the same amount of stuff being made. It's just that less of it is being made by ad agencies.

It's starting to be made by clients in-house (e.g. Apple), by media agencies, by media owners (including the 'new media' owners like Google and Facebook), and by a barbarian horde of all-around content providers, such as Vice, Maker Studios, etc.

Have you seen 'Dear Kitten'? (above). If not, watch it immediately.

This was made by BuzzFeed.

Not an ad agency.


(Incidentally, I love the way there's a header at the beginning which announces 'BuzzFeed Presents'. Wouldn't it be cool if we could open our ads with 'DDB Presents...')

An article in last week's Wall Street Journal picked up on this trend.

Titled 'Tech Firms Pull Talent Away From Ad Agencies', it cites someone called Amy Hoover, the president of recruiters Talent Zoo, saying that "almost 50% of creative jobs available today — including copywriters, designers, creative directors and content creators — aren’t at agencies, compared with 30% in 2010." 

And more than 50% of Facebook’s North American in-house creative unit, Creative Shop, come from an agency background.

Despite perceptions that the pay is higher at tech firms, money isn’t necessarily the draw at these new creative destinations. There is “pop-culture cachet that some of these new players can offer, which is attractive to people in their 20s and 30s,” according to Bob Jeffrey, non-executive chairman of J. Walter Thompson.

It’s a challenge for agencies, but if you're a creative person it’s surely good news, as it means you have more options.

So in summary, I'm actually feeling a little less doom-and-gloom than usual.

Because despite the seismic changes that are tearing through our industry like an electric carving knife through a pair of testicles... we will all still have jobs, people!

They just might not be in an ad agency.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Everyone Is Saying 'We Need To Know The Client's Business Problem'. Do We?

This post is basically the same as last week's - I just thought of a new way to write the argument.

So if you've read last week's, you can skip this.

One day, Jonathan Topp-Guy - managing director of AdWow, one of the biggest advertising agencies in BigTown - had a eureka moment. Why were AdWow restricting themselves to solving crappy old marketing problems? It was just so damn limiting. Didn't they have the brainpower, the skills and the creativity to tackle real business problems?

So the next day, he made an appointment to see the CEO of FineBread.
"I'd like to know - what's your business problem?" he asked.
"Oh, I'll tell you," said the CEO. "The supermarkets are selling bread for $1, as a loss leader. They're killing us. We reckon it could be classed as anti-competitive practice, so I've hired an expensive firm of lobbyists to try to get the politicians to sort it for us. Can you help with that?"
"Um, no."
"All right, well can I tell you about our marketing problem?"
"We're struggling against our main competitor, TasteBread. Consumers seem to prefer their products over ours. It's pure image, really, since the breads are virtually identical. But it's a problem that's far from trivial - each point of market share we win from TasteBread is worth $7.5 million. Can you help with that?"

The next day, Jonathan Topp-Guy went to see the CEO of the well-known airline, SkyAir.
"What's your business problem?" he asked.
"Oh, I'll tell you. The price of jet fuel has shot up. It used to be 23% of our operating expenses, now it's 28%. That's a whopping 5% reduction in our margin. I've had several investment banks come in to talk to me and the CFO about buying fuel derivatives, but I'm not sure which is the right deal. Can you help with that?"
"Um, no."
"All right, well can I tell you about our marketing problem?"
"We could sure use some help advertising our new flat bed - it's better than any competitive offering, and a genuinely better experience for our customers - and we've run ads about it, but somehow the message hasn't gotten through. Can you help with that?"

The next day, he went to see the CEO of travel agency HolidayShop.
"What's your business problem?" he asked.
"Oh, I'll tell you. People are becoming more and more comfortable booking holidays online. It's only the older crowd who feel the need to come into bricks-and-mortar stores like ours. Currently we have 700 stores but we believe that in ten years there will be none. It's basically a dead category - a technological innovation has rendered our business model obsolete. Can you help with that?"
"Um, no."
"All right, well can I tell you about our marketing problem?"
"While we manage the decline, we're still spending millions of dollars a year on TV ads, but they're rather formulaic. I believe that if we had better ads, we wouldn't need to spend as much on media. Can you help with that?"

Look, I'm being extreme here, to make a point. Of course it's helpful to know the client's business problem, and maybe sometimes we can use our creativity to solve it. And hey, we'll at least then have more context around their marketing problem. But let's not be so self-effacing as to decide that our marketing communications expertise is not significant and valuable. It is. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Is It Smart For Us To Go Upstream?

I've suggested before that instead of constantly cutting costs, we should consider how to make more money.

However, there's a right way to do that and a wrong way.

The wrong way, IMHO, is proposed in an article in AdWeek this week by Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, chief strategy officer at FCB Garfinkel New York.

Kofi starts by summing up what he sees as the problem, by using a quote from a Diageo marketer that has gained quite a bit of attention recently: "Agencies unable to prove they are driving value for clients risk becoming little more than dust."

It's an attention-grabbing quote, but even a quick analysis shows it to be somewhat meaningless. Surely any business, in any field, anywhere in the world, faces oblivion if it is unable to prove it creates value?

But I guess it's his solution that I really disagree with. Kofi writes: "The client-agency relationship needs to start way upstream of the communications brief. Clients need to invite agencies into the depths of their business, to share all of their data...we need to become true general contractors."

Presumably, becoming 'general contractors... upstream' means going into areas beyond marketing. Sounds exciting. But here's my question. What are we actually going to do, when we start getting involved with areas beyond marketing? Are we really going to get involved with finance? HR? Distribution? Manufacturing?

We just don't have the skills.

Are we really proposing to send a Comms Planner to a finance meeting, to sit alongside the Client's Finance Director, and a couple of guys from Goldman Sachs?

Are we really proposing to send a Copywriter to a meeting about building a new factory, alongside the Client's Head of Manufacturing, and a couple of guys from Balfour Beatty?

It's a joke.

And worse than that, it depreciates what we actually can do.

In an age of commoditisation, marketing (and hence marketing communications) are more important than ever.

Land Rover was once a unique product. Now everyone makes an SUV. Gordon's once had a near-monopoly on gin. Now there are 50 gins. 

In fact I'd turn the Diageo marketer's question back onto the client companies themselves: how is the average maker of a vodka, beer, training shoe, mid-size sedan, vitamin, juice, or coffee... or provider of insurance, mortgages, or personal loans... doing anything to drive value for their corporations?

Their products are almost completely undifferentiated. The corporate structures (of large corporations) are almost all identical. Their financing and management techniques do not significantly differ.

It's primarily marketing that can make the difference.

And yet 80% of CEOs do not trust their marketers, and 70% of CEOs believe marketers are disconnected from business results. (Source). 
The truth is that it's not we who need to go upstream, it's our Clients.

The Marketer is able to create far more value for the corporation than the Manufacturing Guy (since most companies are making me-too products), or the HR person, the legal counsel, etc.

Given the importance of marketing, every Marketing Director should sit on their company's board. Hell, every CMO should be sitting right next to the CEO.

And we should make it our mission to help them get there.

Because if they rise - which they deserve to - we rise.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The ECD Who Doesn't Sign Off Any Work

Very interesting interview this month with Nils Leonard, Chairman and CCO of Grey London.

The bit that really jumps out is that he claims he doesn't sign off any of the work.

Let's rewind. When Leonard first took over at Grey, a few people carped along the lines of 'how can he be an ECD when he's never done any great work as a creative', which is a rather foolish argument, akin to questioning Arsene Wenger's managerial ability on the grounds that he was a mediocre left-back.

Leonard's success is undeniable. Grey London has been utterly transformed under his watch. The agency where people "went to die", and whose creative floor was once known as "Jurassic Park", is now arguably one of the most dynamic in the world. In the last five years, the place has won a shitload of awards, and more than doubled in size.

So what did he do that was so different?

I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but he himself prefers not to tell us. Because it certainly can't be any of the three points he makes in his interview.

The first of these was his decision to go open-plan. As regular readers will know, I'm not a fan. But perhaps Leonard has a new take on it? "We tore down the offices", he says, "and for a reason: it literally is a physical barrier between an idea happening or not if you have to stop outside a door and knock to go and talk to somebody." 

Sounds hip, yeah. But if you actually examine it, I reckon this argument is super-weak. I mean... is that really such a huge barrier - a fucking door? Last time I checked, doors do open. And fairly easily, too. I don't recall them being much of a barrier when we had them at DDB London. They certainly never kept any suits out who wanted to come in. Or indeed anyone. They simply knocked, and entered! And once inside, you could actually have a proper chat... which in an open plan office, you can't.

But anyway, whatever the merits of open-plan, this move cannot be the cause of Grey's recent successes (21 pitches won out of 24), since every other agency in London has gone open-plan too. Hence, no competitive advantage there.

His second point is around looking for what he calls 'long ideas' rather than 'big ideas'. This means ideas that people want to spend time with, rather than simply ideas which can support multiple executions. And he's walked the walk here, for example producing a stage show 'The Angina Monologues' for the British Heart Foundation that was also broadcast on TV.

He's phrased it beautifully - "long ideas" - but a commitment to producing longer-form content cannot be the source of Grey's competitive advantage either, since every other agency in town is doing the same.

His last point is around "no sign-off". Leonard explains that a team consisting of a creative, a planner, and "I guess, a suit, or a producer" (he means a suit, but doesn't want to sound old-school) takes ultimate responsibility for the work - not him.

There are arguments both ways here. Yes, it's true that if people know the buck stops with them, they feel a greater sense of ownership, and may create better work. But on the other hand, you could argue it's a mistake to remove the CCO from the process - does it really make sense for the agency's best creative not to be involved in the work? 

He's certainly being a little disingenuous by reducing the CCO's role to a mere 'sign-off'. The good ECD's or CCO's or whatever the top person is called in an agency are doing a hell of a lot more than just signing off the work. They're adding to it, improving, finessing... sometimes transforming it.

In any case, once again this can't be the secret of Grey's recent out-performance, since many other agencies in London operate exactly the same system - including the last two where I worked, DDB and BBH - as do many other agencies around the world.

And it's certainly not true that this system is, as Nils Leonard claims, significantly faster. "If you trust people," he writes, "you don’t put barriers in the way and you speed up the process... you’ll be twice as fast as most agencies."

Really? Twice as fast? The ECD gets a day or two max to have their input - sometimes an hour. That's not 50% of the entire strategy/ideation/creative direction/presentation process. It's way, way less.

So what is the real reason for Grey's success, and why does Nils Leonard not tell us, instead making claims for the success of his agency which sound modern and groovy, but which aren't actually any different to what every other agency is doing?

In my view, the major change that has made the difference at Grey since the arrival of Nils Leonard... is the arrival of one Nils Leonard.

Obviously he doesn't say that in the interview, since it would sound horribly immodest (not to mention old-fashioned) to claim that one great creative leader can make the difference. But we all know that they can.

I have no interest in crawling up the bloke's arse, since I'm 10,000 miles away and not planning to go back. But by all accounts he's just very, very good at his job. Highly charming, highly creative, great with clients, great with ideas, great at hiring... and of course, great at PR.

And surely it's this latter quality that explains why in his interview he weaves a compelling story - a parable of modernity and inclusivity - rather than revealing the rather boring and old-fashioned truth.