Excerpts from the Book
What is advertising?
Depending on whom you ask, you will no doubt get all sorts of different answers to that short and simple question. The most common ones are here:
As you can see, opinions about advertising are not so different to opinions about religion, homeopathy or politics. It is better not to raise the topic in polite company unless you are willing to get into a long and painful argument that will end with no-one changing their minds and everyone hating all those who made the fatal mistake of participating in the discussion in the first place.
What is not advertising?
You have probably seen a lot of movies about the advertising industry and the work processes that go on inside an agency; if nothing else then maybe, ‘What Women Want’ starring Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson, at the very least…? Well, you can pretty much forget everything you learned from it. It’s a nice enough movie but it doesn’t give you any especially accurate information about work in a real-world advertising agency. The same goes for ‘Mad Men’, which, whilst it does have some real-life elements to it, is just too cool for school—and certainly too slick to ever be true.
In just the same way as criminality or the fashion industry are made to look especially hip and sexy on the big screen, so too is the advertising industry. The people are beautiful. The cars are fast. There is always more than enough money and the projects and brands that people work with are huge and successful. While there are some agencies that may have the brands and money part all sewn up in the real world, in most cases it is most unlikely for your average ad agency. Similarly, the time-frame that the projects are given in the movie world prove beyond doubt that they are outright fantasy. In the film, for example, the whole agency might be given an entire year to work on one project alone. Back in the world of us mere mortals, however, you’re more likely to have an hour, a day, a week or—just maybe, for bigger projects—a month. The main difference is that, in a real-life agency, there are usually several projects on the go at any one time. I have never seen a client (or heard of one, for that matter) that could book the whole agency for a month so that their project, and theirs alone, would be in sole development. Sure, everyone in the advertising business fantasises about that prospect but don’t pin your hopes on it actually happening. You’d better just read on instead.
Cards on the table: I wasn’t there when the first advertisement was created but—as far as I can ascertain—it was rather a long time ago. It all depends on what you consider to be advertising.
I firmly believe that it was one of the very first occupations of all. Now, you might well argue that prostitution was in fact the first but consider this; somehow the fallen women had to communicate and garner interest for their services before they could be—ahem—‘taken up’ (so to speak), so advertising must inevitably have come before. Actually, one of the very first advertisements in the world is believed to be located in the ancient city of Ephesus in Greece. On a marble road there are some drawings purported to be an advertisement for a brothel. They feature a footprint, one finger showing the direction of the library and another pointing towards the brothel. The woman’s head supposedly symbolizes the women waiting in the brothel and the heart shows that the women are eager for love. Or, at least that’s how it has been traditionally interpreted—an understanding which is, I’m sure, hilariously wrong.
They also say that cave paintings were actually nothing more than a form of advertising—and why not? I’m quite sure that every caveman was advertising himself to the woman in the next cave as the greatest bachelor with the biggest stick—and yes, I assure you I do mean club… In later years, all farmers undoubtedly praised their own products in the marketplace, thus advertising them in their own way and so on.
I once found another great, ancient advertisement online (so, obviously, it has to be true—the internet never lies, right?) and since I liked it so much, here it is again for you to enjoy:
♦ ♦ ♦
30 gladiators, with substitutes—should anyone be killed too quickly—are fighting on 1st, 2nd and 3rd May in Circus Maximus. A great wild animal hunt will follow the fight. The famous gladiator Paris will fight. Hurrah to Paris! Hurrah to noble Flaccus who runs for triumvirate!
Marcus wrote this sign by moonlight. If you hire Marcus, he will work night and day so the work will be done well
♦ ♦ ♦
What is fun to notice, should you happen to come across a newspaper magazine from the early 1900’s is how many of the promises in advertisements have remained the same. All facial creams had NEW and IMPROVED contents even long ago and they have been promising to perform miracles and make you younger for over a century. It’s amazing that my older relatives don’t all look like twenty-year old nymphs in their first flush of youth.
It is generally believed that the golden age of advertising lasted from the ‘50s to the‘60s, but I believe that it actually ended with the year 2000. Up until this time everyone in advertising was very cool and money would came effortlessly pouring in. From everywhere. In uncontrollable amounts. Ad agencies often pondered on whether they should write the invoice for 2,000 or for 20,000 and then—just for the hell of it—they wrote it for 200,000. The client duly paid up and the ad man gleefully bought himself an even tighter suit, one tight enough to make his eyes bulge when he put it on. Sure, the financial size of the advertising industry may certainly have increased even further since that time but it has, unfortunately, been accompanied by a comparable rise in the drawbacks associated with the business nowadays.
A lot of great things were accomplished in advertising during the ‘golden age’ and at the beginning of it. This was the time when everyone did everything, in every which way, and this helped to show exactly where the limits of advertising should be drawn. The industry understood more and more that there were things you should never do in advertising (or perhaps that you should conceal better in the future if you did plan on doing them), as well as what it took to create a successful campaign. Unfortunately, a lot of trouble followed these conclusions because most of what had worked so well in marketing up until now was suddenly regarded as forbidden practice…
Golden ages are not meant to last. This is where my heart goes out to everyone who remembers those halcyon days and even more so for those who never even got to experience them in the first place. So what happened you might ask? Well, several things. Firstly, a new generation of marketing managers were born. Previously, the marketing managers had come straight from university—where they had studied everything but marketing—or from a previous job that required as much strategic planning skill as a hotel doorman. But the new breed of marketing manager had actually studied marketing and may even have previously worked as—wait for it—marketing managers! As things became much more competent, many ad agencies fizzled out with pitiful pops or were forced to merge with others. This rise in expertise also lead to the industry creating more beautiful, and in some cases, more effective ads.
As a result of this agencies had a lot of clients, an abundance of work and more people wanting to work for them than they knew what to do with.
The fact that competition between agencies was increasing was noticed by clients fast and they began to question the unrealistic invoices that they had been receiving. Since it was impossible to justify a lot of the prices, agencies were forced to lower them. And clients came to the conclusion that:
♦ ♦ ♦ it is always worthwhile haggling over the price, as it will undoubtedly be inflated. ♦ ♦ ♦
One of the things that led to this opinion was the widespread use of Photoshop amongst the general population, owing to the prices of design capable computers coming down. And, dare I say, increasingly easy access to pirate software. Client looked. Client drew moustache on picture of friend. Client laughed. And then they concluded that actually every design job could be done in one hour. Max. When the first marketing manager reached this conclusion, every advertising professional in the world felt an unexplained chill. They shook themselves and closed the windows. But the boogie man was already inside.
I believe there was a certain black magic that helped to sell advertising services for prices so high they made you gasp. And now that magic was lost in a puff of smoke. But even more went with it. Not only had the mystique vanished but it took down common sense too. Now prices were being demanded by clients that were just not realistic any more. It was often not understood by clients that you have to actually buy and update an awful lot of software, buy high-end computers for design and animation works and train your staff. Oh, and not forgetting paying the ever increasing wages of good designers, account managers and marketing geniuses on top. Okay, end of rant.
So, what will happen to ad agencies in the future? I mean, when everyone flies to work in their personal flying devices… probably in ten years’ time or so? If my crystal ball isn’t lying (and it does that very rarely, being quiet most of the time), I’d say that many ad professionals won’t fly to the workplace at all. Firstly, a certain amount of them will have been laid off and secondly, many more will work from home, not actually needing a separate, physical workplace in which to spend their days.
How will we end up like that? (And I don’t mean how will we end up with personal levitation devices; I believe it is clear enough to everyone that this is going to happen. Should my readers demand it, I will publish a separate book with exact blueprints for just such a device so that everyone will be able to build one themselves. You just need a rucksack, two bottles of pressurized whipped cream, some wire and you’re good to go). No — what I mean is, how do we end up having fewer people in an agency?
Easily enough. Since, as a general rule, advertisements are made by people who are nothing like the target group, it will ever more frequently become apparent that the ads which are created by actual consumers themselves generally prove to be much more effective, such as when members of the public share the messages they’ve heard through social media. It could be through sending a text, forwarding a video or innocently posting a comment on Facebook but, in whatever form, they are serving to promote the brand, be it wittingly or otherwise. The consumer-to-consumer ads can only gain in popularity. So much so, even, that some have said that ad agencies are doomed and their time is up. I don’t personally believe it’s going to be quite that drastic but I am sure that the number of regular agencies will certainly decrease. The ones who can’t keep up with the changes which are occurring, and who believe that advertising is all about matching funny pictures with witty slogans, will die like flies that have had unfortunate and inadvisable contact with DDT. Or they will be just barely alive, breathing ever so faintly that you only notice it if you listen really hard. A few small, struggling clients will keep them alive sharing their misguided belief that these changes will be merely temporary and that it is too risky to mess with the old, tried and tested methods. Au contraire.
Soon we will see that every agency—with the exception of the really huge ones—will have just a small team ready to react with lightning speed to anything and everything that occurs. And all of them will be project managers who simply coordinate things; the actual leg-work will be sub-contracted to independent specialists. Already it is a pretty clear and self-evident trend that when a person is truly excellent at their job they don’t want to work for anyone else. They would, understandably, rather be independent so that they can manage their own time—sleep in, play with their kids, entertain the pet rat… and maybe work a little as and when they feel like it.
Another trend is towards self-service marketing solutions for companies. The process of consulting a third-party, external ad agency will be cut. Even now you need no such agency to create simple ads on most social media channels. I am sure it is not nearly as effective a way of marketing in every case, but considering the simplicity of the process it is difficult to argue with those who opt for this choice. If a client can concentrate their entire marketing budget as easily on one channel, such as Facebook or Google AdWords, and guarantee a certain number of page views for themselves at the same time, then why would they need an ad agency to repeatedly blab about integrated marketing communication?
That’s what is waiting to happen—and probably sooner than many agencies are prepared for.
What will happen to advertisements?
The main trend is that ads will become more and more personal and digital. They will find you, wherever you are, talking to you on the website you are visiting, through your interactive television and through the wallpaper on your desktop wall. All mobile devices that people log in to with their name and location are a big help, making it easy for marketers to profile and locate them. Location based services are the main focus and this is where most things are happening right now. The clever bit is that marketers don’t need to invent some cunning way to learn where people are—customers actually broadcast it themselves, by allowing apps and mobile operating systems to track their location. I’m not sure why people do that (although, I admit it is considerably easier using maps, for example, when the app knows my whereabouts), but you don’t hear me complaining about it. Much.
Newspapers, magazines and outdoor ads in their current form are doomed. They just don’t make sense once you have become accustomed to reading from a device with a great screen and amazing multimedia content. Devices like tablet computers and smartphones are all personalised, requiring you to sign in. This means that marketers know who they are dealing with and where they are located. This is the key information in marketing! It is the only way to create personal ad messages that have any possibility of being appreciated by the customer. Everyone can think of ads they hate because they see them so often and yet are not actually even relevant to them. They soon start to loathe the brands involved. And, believe it or not, this is not the aim of any marketer. It is an awful waste of money and it damages the brand. If an advertisement could reach you at the precise time when you are most likely to potentially need the product then the advertising would become hugely more effective in an instant, separating the customers from their money faster than those marketers could hear the sound of their tills ringing.
But how do you differentiate one TV viewer from another? Currently it is only done by guessing which kind of people would watch which types of shows. And sometimes surveys are conducted. However, if TV required logging in just the same as other smart devices do, things would be much easier. It’s a known fact that people tend to fill in all sorts of personal information when registering for a service, even the optional fields. That’s why websites already use that data to display relevant ads based on the user’s profile. It’s far from being a perfect system, but it’s something. What’s wrong with the current way of doing things is that usually only age and gender are considered. The result is that I tend to get offered endless quantities of motor oil and shaving foam, regardless of the fact that I don’t even own a car and I shave with an electric razor. Hmm. This is something the web portal neither knows nor, I’m afraid, actually cares to know. Considering the fact that the product advertised might only be perfectly suitable for, say, 87 users, the website couldn’t sell the ad slots for the amount of money it would like to. Clients like the idea that their ad will reach 1, 200, 000 people much better than the ugly truth of smaller numbers. Things are not so bad in countries where there are hundreds of millions of people, since then there is probably a potential customer for every bizarre product you could imagine.
So that people will not have to suffer—god forbid—from the dreaded peace and quiet on the street (which, of course, they would otherwise have to…!), several technology companies have made great efforts with their product development. For example, a sound wave generator has been invented that can aim a voice message at someone standing a few meters away so precisely that no one else can hear it. Cameras and displays allow for the recognition of customers and then supply relevant ads and personalised messages and visuals for a single product so that they appeal to that particular target. This is much more effective than keeping a static billboard ad up for weeks and weeks, irrespective of whether it actually applies to most of those who see it.
Another big thing is augmented reality. Forget virtual reality—it’s as boring as reality itself. But combine these two and you’ve got something very special. Imagine the extra layer of information displayed on everything and everyone you see (maybe using smartphones or glasses, or even contact lenses or brain chips one day). Imagine walking down the street and seeing reviews of restaurants pop up next to the premises as well as a notification of whether any of your friends are inside… Annoying, I know! But, nevertheless, I have no doubt it is going to be huge and happening very soon, as recent developments from companies such as Google are already beginning to show.
As you can see, the key in all this new advertising business is information about the consumer. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) databases—often keenly collected and yet not always used because of a lack of knowledge about how to do it the right way or because of general laziness—will be incredibly valuable assets.
I’m absolutely sure, too, that another component will be added to the kinds of information that will be gathered about consumers; a little thing called DNA. I recently noticed that a genealogy and social networking site has started to offer DNA tests to find your relatives. It’s a very convenient service that is already quite reasonably priced. When I saw the news, I had no questions about where the marketing world would take it. Sooner than you think, DNA databases will be collected by many companies. This information will be sold to third parties or used by the companies themselves—and it will leak. You’ll be able to download a pack of DNA information connected with names and e-mails from the nearest dodgy torrent site.
The uses for such information in marketing are numerous. The easiest examples are that you will be targeted with ad messages based on your genes: “So, you’re going bald? Try our new shampoo, ‘Bald BeGone’!”. The Viagra spam e-mails might suddenly start to feel uncomfortably familiar… and I’m sure there will also be many more ingenious ideas about how to use this type of information that I’m not even considering right now. Time will tell.
Even though these precisely targeted ads may be appreciated in some instances and I myself am not personally as concerned with privacy issues as some people may be, I would not like this scenario. On the other hand I have no illusions about whether or not it will happen. It’s coming.
But enough now of history and the future. Let’s get on with the following—very promising—title!
HOW TO CREATE A GOOD ADVERTISEMENT
Advertising is a subject where—I must admit with a certain bitterness—there are an awful lot of “specialists”. Everyone has their own opinions about it and, as I complained at the beginning of the book, these opinions differ from each other like tomatoes differ from tomahawks.
I often overhear conversations where one person says something like, “Look how bad this advertisement is”, and the other replies with a ridiculous comment such as, “Yeah, it’s bad alright!” It’s just not that simple, I’m afraid. Therefore, if anyone should ask me I never give my evaluation of an advertisement before knowing its objective and the target audience. Even if the ad looks suspiciously like the resulting graduation project from a summer school for fumblers.
Where were we? Oh yes, trying to figure out what the heck makes a good advertisement. It is often thought that a good advertisement is one that makes you laugh. Too often, even the industry awards themselves are given based on this criterion. And the second most widely held opinion is that a good advertisement is artistic and stylish.
Both opinions have some truth to them, though not as much as you might think. The thing is, both could be part of a good advertisement but neither one of them guarantees a good ad, even when combined. Since ads are not ordered to be put on show in an art gallery or in the pages of a humour magazine but are aimed at allowing the client to get their investment back many times over, an ad has to sell. So, to be quite blunt—a good ad is one that sells. Sells like crazy. And remember, it doesn’t have to sell an actual, physical product; it could very well sell ideas instead.
Now this is where things get complicated. It is not too hard to make a joke. Or a stylish design for that matter. But how do you create an ad that really sells? Well, first you have to understand the following:
- What is the product/service you have to sell?
- Who are the potential consumers and what is it that drives them?
- Who are your competitors and what do they do?
- What does your client want to achieve?
- How much money does your client have?
The advertising industry knows of an awful lot of unbelievably ugly ads that are anything but funny and yet they sell no end. On the other hand, the very same industry knows plenty of cases where a great idea, excellent production and amusing or catchy ad messages which make it quickly into everyday expressions do nothing to help sell the brand.
Now this is what makes it so difficult to give reasonable advice. And it’s true what Athos said in Alexander Dumas’ book, ‘The Three Musketeers’: “You only ask for advice to ignore it or to have someone to blame afterwards.” It’s true, but since I am brave enough, I’ll take the risk and give you a few more tips to work with.
- Know the product for real. How and when is it used? Who uses it and in what context?
- Research. What has been done for similar brands and how well did they do? This is not so that you can shamelessly copy the idea, but because it might actually give you useful pointers about what not to do.
- Test on a target group. This way, you’ll know if your idea has any impact at all.
- Ask yourself whether this is just a cool idea you’d like to see executed or whether you believe it will really sell. If you think it will justify it to yourself, your friends, or—better yet—your enemies.
- Read this book again and underline everything that looks like something you could learn from.
(I am already sniggering as I imagine you underlining every single word in this book. I’m an optimist.)
So, what I’m saying is that you really need to know the product or service that you are going to advertise, you need to understand your client and their ambitions and most of all, you have to know the target group! I mean, really know and understand them. Then you have a pretty good chance of coming up with concepts that can actually be considered ‘good’ advertising.
Does advertising work?
Of course it does. But to know for sure how well or badly your advertisements work, you have to measure the results. To make that possible, every campaign has to have an objective. There is no point in just advertising and then measuring, since even a very lousy advertisement impacts on something, even if only to make things worse. The only question is—can you measure the thing that your ad impacted on?
For example, you could measure:
1. The number of people who have contacted you
2. The number of new clients
3. The number of reactivated clients you already had
4. The general awareness of people about your company, brand, product, campaign, etc.
5. The number of recurring purchases
6. The change in the profile of your customers
7. The popularity of the idea you were trying to cultivate
8. A million other things you have to come up with for yourself—come on, work with me here…
When measuring the efficiency of your campaign you need to take into consideration the following two points:
FIRSTLY: You have to have something to compare the results with—a ‘base-line’— i.e., a similar survey taken from sometime before the campaign. Even more so, it has to be from a period of time that is comparable to the one you’re comparing it with. For example, you should measure the results of your Christmas sales against your Christmas figures from last year, not with last month’s results. (Although, of course, there may be some exceptions brought about by the general economics of the situation and so forth).
SECONDLY: It is best to measure several indicators at once, since you could end up drawing the wrong conclusions if trying to base your analysis on just one. For example, if you should measure the number of purchases and see that there has been no change at all, you might well think that your ad campaign was rubbish. And maybe so. But it is also possible that an unpleasant sales person or a strange smell in your store frightened away all of your customers. This is why you should also try to measure whether people were more interested in your offerings than usual—did the counter on your door or the statistics on your web site register any changes during or after the campaign? If they did then you know the ad did everything it could, and the shortcomings were elsewhere.
Maybe one of your objectives is to reposition your brand. For example, you might consider making a luxury item out of your instant noodles brand that you have previously aimed at students with low income. In this case, you should survey the profile of the new customers after your campaign to see if your brand has started to attract rich people.
You can gauge the effect of your ads yourself, using the old grey cells and Excel. However, if you have a big business or more sophisticated needs then you might want to try using specialist research companies. Should your company be active mostly on the internet then this would make things easier in many ways since, as I said before, everything is measurable online.
As a smart marketer you probably used a mix of several different mediums. Now, how do you know which of the channels worked and which did not, so that you can make your next campaigns more efficient? There are several ways to find this out. One solution, which can also be used to separate the customers who contacted you because of the campaign from the ones who would have contacted you anyway, is to use an offer code. You could state in your ad that when using the offer code, “Jamaica” you get a discount at the store. You could use different offer codes for different channels. But it’s no magic pill that will work in every case, nor is it exceptionally precise. For one, your ad will be seen by the customers that would have bought your product anyway and they will just use the offer code to get the good deal. The code itself could spread like bats out of hell by WOM (word of mouth), so it will also be used by people who never saw your ad on that specific channel.
Even asking your customers, “Where did you hear about us?” doesn’t necessarily give you particularly accurate results, since most people will have heard about you from several different channels and they might just answer with the name of the first medium through which they noticed you, not the one that made them actually decide to take up your offer. But more than likely, they will give you a random answer just to get it over with.
Another way to evaluate media channels separately is to advertise different contacts (phone number, landing page on a website, etc.) on each channel. Since it needs no additional bonus incentive you can actually get rather more reliable results. Later, you can just count the calls or web site visitors and draw your own conclusions.
So you see, measuring the results of your advertising activities might not be the easiest thing to do but it is well worth the effort of doing so, nevertheless.
And if the desire to advertise hasn’t completely gone out of your mind yet, then take notice of the following recommendations:
14 commands for the advertiser
I’m sure 15 would have been more impressive but quite honestly, I just couldn’t think of another one to round up the numbers. However, as seven is a number that sounds quite magical too, you might want to see these as 2×7 commands—you choose.
- PLAN AHEAD
Before you do anything, think when would be the best time to bring out your campaign, what effect it is likely to have on the market and what you will do next. Plan for several scenarios.
- BE FLEXIBLE
Although planning ahead is very important, you can never rely on everything going exactly as you intended. The ability to react to a situation and adjust the plan is equally crucial. When making a year’s plan you never know for sure what your competitors are going to do, who might be the new players on your turf, which new trends might appear and what sort of ‘force majeure’ could handicap or benefit you. Don’t carry out your ‘Big Plan’ mercilessly or unwaveringly but improvise where needed, doing it purposefully and with an eye on the future.
- ABIDE BY THE LAW
Firstly, know the laws that relate to you and your business. Besides general advertising regulations there may be some that are specific to your territory, be it healthcare, legal services or anything else. There is no need to be paying fines and damaging your brand.
- ABIDE BY ANY UNWRITTEN LAWS
Where something isn’t directly banned by law but your hunch says you probably shouldn’t do it, listen to your conscience. Although everything may be legally ‘by-the-book’, everyone will know you did it on purpose and will think you are some kind of filthy low-life for doing so. Such a message spreads fast on social media and will damage you and all the brands you are associated with. In addition to the direct harm it does, engaging in this kind of business shouldn’t really be enjoyable to you. If it is, consult your doctor.
- LISTEN TO SMART PEOPLE
Although it might seem impossible, there are actually a lot of people in the world who are noticeably smarter than you in one way or another. Find them and listen to them. It is incredibly hard but also vitally important to find people who you can trust so if you do find any, make good use of them.
- CONSIDER THE TARGET GROUP
When creating your advertisements, consider the desires of your target group. When testing your ideas, do it on the right people. Don’t test an advertisement that is aimed at old farts on young women, however much fun it might be.
- CHOOSE YOUR PARTNERS WISELY
You can’t do everything by yourself. Believe me, I have tried. That’s why you should find partners to help you out, be they ad agencies, designers, studios, or such-like. This is something most ad agencies and advertisers do already but too often they are satisfied with mediocre people and companies. It is important to find partners that are true professionals in their field and that are also trustworthy. Whilst you will probably find more professionals in the world than you know what to do with, finding dependable people is another kettle of fish altogether. This requirement decreases the number of potential partners available to you dramatically.
- TRUST YOUR GUT FEELING
But before you trust it, you better be certain your gut is not some kind of pathological liar. Think about your previous experiences—when do you tend to be right and when has your hunch let you down? If you can make peace with your ability to recognize when you can trust yourself and when you can’t, you have an amazing tool in your hand.
- BE INFORMED
Learn the things you don’t know, but probably should—even if it is only so you don’t get swindled by all the conmen in the business. Stay in touch with the news about your industry and with the current and emerging trends. It’s actually much more effective to be constantly on top of things through the internet than to attend seminars once or twice a year.
- WORK WITH PASSION
I believe this is true for every occupation. If it is worth doing then it is worth doing with all your heart. This way, it is not just a job and you don’t have to make yourself learn and work because you are genuinely interested in everything about your industry, and you will therefore do your work more proficiently. If you have no passion for marketing, you better do something else that works for you. I mean it—drop the book now!
- DON’T COPY AN IDEA BADLY
It is understandable that ideas tend to repeat themselves time after time. Someone once told me to give him 24 hours and he would find me a similar concept for any ad I showed him. Mostly, this sort of copying is done unwittingly and unintentionally. It is not exactly nice to plagiarize others’ ideas, but it is downright ugly to do it so incompetently that your version is worse than the original. If you need to copy, you had better improve on the concept. It is also very distasteful—and naïve—to copy famous formats where there will be absolutely no way that anyone would believe you were the first to think of them.
- DON’T ACCEPT THAT ANY MEDIUM IS INHERENTLY BAD
I see this all too often. People think of a certain channel (radio, internet, TV, etc.) as being generally pointless and about as useful as buying Enron stocks in the middle of 2001. Only the way you use a certain channel can be wrong.
- DONT’T CLAIM ANYTHING YOU CAN’T PROVE
This concerns the claims you make during the preparation of marketing materials as well as what you say in the advertisements.
- DONT’T TRUST BONEHEADS
Before you listen to someone, make quite sure you have a reason to. The fact that someone can waffle constantly with a straight face (or that they have written a book—ahem!), doesn’t necessarily mean that they know what they are talking about. Also, don’t believe someone is smart in marketing just because they are your relative.
Categories of advertisements
When spending time with marketing people you will definitely have heard all sorts of acronyms and I’m not only talking about DVDs, CEOs, PhDs and BMWs. Perhaps you have heard someone throw acronyms like BTL and ATL into the conversation? These mean, respectively, ‘Below The Line’ and ‘Above The Line’. So there’s a line somewhere, right? Well it’s the one that separates mass-media (ATL) from more niche focused activities (BTL). You could also say that as a general rule ATL channels are paid for whereas BTL channels are, in the main, free to use.
|ATL channels||BTL channels|
The most famous form of infomercial is the TV Shop. The consumer is shown something, told how amazingly great it is, then given a demonstration of it working and—to top it all off—shown just how easily it can be stored under the bed. There are not many people who can manage to withstand such intense brainwashing, especially as the price is right, you get ten different nozzles with it and the phone number to call and order is flashing so nicely and hypnotically… If you add in here the message that the offer is valid for only a limited time, then there’s no question about whether you should call and order now or not; of course you should!
This kind of advertising is meant to create impulsive purchases, so that you would have something to share as a lesson for others, “Yep, son, this is the story of how I bought the Muscle Master 3000 and how I still regret it…”
Infomercials are divided into long and short ones. The duration of long infomercials is around 30 mins, and short ones are generally about 30 seconds or the length of your usual TV ad.
I would consider many TV shows as infomercials as well if they consist of no original ideas but are just a wrapper for the marketing messages baked inside. It’s kind of funny to see how the interviews in such shows are always to the same formula and all the replies are so unbelievably predictable.
TV host: And so who is this body lotion really suitable for?
Product manager: It is suitable for everyone!
TV host: Wow! Have you any surprises for your clients this autumn?
Product manager: Yes, as a matter of fact we do! This autumn the whole collection is 15% off!
Although there are a lot of restrictions on advertising alcohol and especially tobacco in most countries, a number of sly tricks have nevertheless been invented to promote these brands. For example, the brand name might be tagged onto something completely different, such as when Marlboro licensed their name to an Italian fashion house in order to raise their public profile without having to actually advertise the cigarettes themselves. Or when Bacardi and Smirnoff produce music albums. My guess is that it is not a very profitable business on its own, but it certainly helps the popularity and the public image of the brand. When the colours, fonts and other elements of one’s brand are widely recognised they are sometimes used to create other messages and designs. The consumers’ brain will make the connection easily enough and will understand what they are really being told and who by.
This is a type of advertising where a product is placed into a media environment so that it doesn’t look like a direct plug. Instead, it appears more as a natural part of the set, but the brand is still clearly visible. A good example here would be a paparazzo noticing a celebrity sporting a certain brand of sunglasses or drinking a particular brand of mineral water at a press conference for instance. But the most famous product placement areas are TV shows and movies. All too often nowadays, it seems as though prime time TV is less of a subtle hint in the direction of certain companies, and more like a full on advertising break. One good example of taking it too far is the movie “I, Robot” where the viewer is bombarded with images of products from Converse, Ovaltine, Audi, FedEx and JVC before the first 10 minutes of the movie are up. Also among the usual suspects are the James Bond movies. In ‘Casino Royale’ there was actually dialogue to emphasize the brand name; when Bond is asked if his watch is Rolex, he replies, “No, Omega.” In ‘Skyfall’, Bond even abandoned his signature drink of vodka martini in favour of, uncharacteristically, beer—in this case Heineken. Bond can be a tough guy, but even he isn’t impervious to the lure of a good old-fashioned pay cheque.
It is believed that the first instance of product placement was when Jules Verne was asked to mention certain transportation companies in his 1873 book, ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’. The first movie to use this trick was probably, ‘Wings’ (1927) in which you can see Hershey’s brand name featured, so the practice has a long history.
The biggest trend now is to take your brand into virtual environments—i.e. computer games. And it’s no wonder since computer games are already a bigger market than movies. You can see certain brands built into games as part of the environment but it doesn’t stop there. You can actually buy clothes, accessories, cars and so on inside some games. The thing is, you pay real money but only get virtual goods that are essentially pixels which give you nothing more than a visual tweak of your avatar and the vain hope that someone thinks you are a cool dude.
Many companies give out their products for free so that they are seen being used by professionals. Camera producers, for instance, will choose as many celebrity photographers as their budget will allow and give out high-end models of their photography equipment. Such kit could easily cost 30,000 $ but for the image it creates for consumers (Oh, boy! Even he loves this camera brand! It has to be good!), it’s well worth the money and can pay for itself in terms of generated sales.
♦ ♦ ♦ True story: ♦ ♦ ♦
One day a well-known sports reporter came into our agency and said he had a great offer for us. He could get our client’s brand onto national TV (where advertising is not allowed) for a certain amount of money. The scheme was simple enough: we would pay him, give him a t-shirt with the logo we desired and he would show up on TV wearing it. He would wear it as many days as we paid for. He was even helpful enough to suggest that if we thought the price too high, he could wear the shirt with multiple logos on it, effectively splitting the cost of one day. We didn’t take the offer but seeing the guy later on TV with a shirt full of different logos every day, I understood that not every agency was as bull-headed.
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You often notice either a celebrity or an unfamiliar face on an ad, telling you, with their name clearly displayed, that they would drive this car, be a client of that bank and get their best sports results in such and such a tracksuit. If it is an unknown face, the advertiser hopes to achieve authenticity and a real-life take on their products/services. The reasoning behind it is that you can trust the opinion of Joe next door, as people often think that celebrities are easily bribed to say whatever is needed. I, of course, couldn’t possibly comment on this.
Testimonials from celebrities is an easy, although not cheap, way to get noticed and make your (unknown) brand famous fast. The advertiser can ask a musician, actor or athlete to advertise instead of the company itself. The products of an unknown company will magically feel much more trustworthy and alluring overnight. But it is one of the most obvious ways to advertise and therefore not so interesting. In addition, there’s always the danger that if you have linked your brand to someone they might totally wreck their reputation during the campaign. You become dependent on their positive public image, and any knocks or bad publicity will rebound onto the brand.
♦ ♦ ♦ True story: ♦ ♦ ♦
My client told me they had a storage room full of great products from a respected company but they had ordered these without any branding for some reason. That reason was not relevant anymore and now they needed to get rid of the stuff. We proposed linking the product to a celebrity sportsman, branding the product as a limited edition with his signature on it. The client loved the idea and we designed nice stickers for the products. Guess what happened? Before the stuff was put on sale the sportsman was accused of doping and wrecked his reputation totally in the eyes of most people. But as online communities of supporters loyal to the sportsman quickly formed, we used these channels for marketing, saying we believed his innocence too and why don’t you buy this product if you like him so much… The store was sold clean. Now that is an advertising trick.
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This is when two or more companies decide to advertise together. It’s cheaper you know! But, of course this is hardly the only reason to do so. The thing is, when you show your products or services in context their essence and value becomes much more memorable and takes on greater meaning for people. As a result, when a consumer buys one product they might well want to buy the other one too. For example, producers of bricks and cement might engage in this kind of advertising, or meat and wine companies may join forces to promote and sell their goods.
Sometimes the other company’s product is attached for free to the one you are buying. They hope that when you try it you’ll just love it so much you will buy a whole bunch of it next time when you are in store. As with drug dealers—the first hit is free!
These type of ads try to deliberately startle and offend people in order to get noticed. Then consumers rush to buy a reflector, stop drinking when driving and check their fire safety at home. Or theoretically at least. Shock advertisements are generally not too hard to make and if you’re out of ideas, it is worth trying. It tends to be the style of choice for advertising social causes where it seems it’s enough to show a big-eyed, vulnerable child; top results are as good as guaranteed. Another reason why shock advertising is used in relation to social causes is that given the context, a more hard-hitting approach is often not so disapproved of.
You can, though, easily go in the wrong direction with ‘shockvertising’. The fact that you get people talking about your brand is not necessarily a good thing. If you are at least reasonably sane you can’t believe the old adage that even negative attention is better than no attention at all. Actually, no attention whatsoever is preferable until you have a solid plan about how you are going to make people love your brand. It’s much easier—and more cost efficient—than trying to fix the damage of negative publicity years later by throwing huge sums of money into a recovery campaign.
Social causes advertising
If you are working in an ad agency you will come across something called advertising of social causes. It’s advertising alright, but it is not (usually) directed at selling a product. It is more about making use of marketing tools to promote a healthy lifestyle, fight social problems or change people’s disreputable or dangerous behaviour. Advertisements for social causes are mostly very scary or heart-wrenchingly sad. The point is to appeal to those feelings that commercial advertisements are too afraid to target, since it would work too well.
There are two possible ways in which you might find yourself making advertisements for social causes. The first is that you are directly contacted to help out some organization as a sponsor. You may get your logo on the materials. You might even get a symbolic fee. But either way, you will definitely give your conscience a good boost. Often these kinds of good-will projects are aimed at raising money or buying some equipment for a children’s or animals’ institution. You might also find yourself in a position where you just can’t say no. If your client is behind the social cause and asks for your help in such projects there is no easy way out without wrecking the relationship. On the other hand, if you agree to the work, you and your client will end up being much closer from then on. The client knows they owe you one. Bonus.
The second option is that you, along with many other ad agencies, participate in a ‘pitch’ and in this case the situation is quite the opposite. You might find that the budgets for such advertising are actually huge, especially where state department money is involved. So winning the pitch is extremely worthwhile. Such projects might involve health and safety campaigns, equal rights, anti-violence or other social causes.
Just as with governmental projects, advertisements for these social institutions are sometimes made half-heartedly. Nobody really takes the time to think about the concept but merely tries to make everything just good enough so that bureaucracy is satisfied. Granted, at times an unrealistic timeframe is to blame or both parties are more interested in using the EU or some other fund’s money before it is withdrawn than making a dedicated effort to create an effective campaign. It’s sad actually, since given the objectives of these projects they often deserve for the ads to work very successfully.
Changing people’s attitudes is a really tough job. Some say it is downright impossible. That’s why many such campaigns are planned with the premise that one generation of people will just have to die out with no hope of changing them. Not a cheerful prospect, I know.
♦ ♦ ♦ True story: ♦ ♦ ♦
There was a campaign recently to convince people to eat at least five different fruits or vegetables a day. It was a fine campaign and all but what was half-baked about it was the objective of the campaign. Five fruits a day? Considering right now that the number must be somewhere around 0.0113 fruits a day, there’s no point in asking people to eat five—no-one will do it. The human brain tends to work on a principle of, “all or nothing”. So if I am told to eat five fruits a day, it might seem to me so impossible that I will just continue with my current eating habits; it is too far-reaching and over-ambitious. The campaign should have asked people to eat maybe one or two pieces so that they could easily achieve it, thus feeling good about themselves and giving them the confidence to believe in their ability to reach the goal. People would be encouraged and motivated to continue and the impact of that would be much greater—in a few years you could get to five fruits a day by building up to that number. But now, instead, people will simply dismiss the advice as impossible, continue to eat as they did before and wind up feeling bad in addition. So rather than just suffering from vitamin deficiencies they are now clinically depressed into the bargain too. Brilliant.
…(Unless the investigative author just uncovered an ingenious conspiracy by Xanax salesmen…? The plot thickens…)
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With certain exceptions one could say that ads for cultural events are also social advertising. Even national broadcasters, who are not generally allowed to show advertisements, often display ads for exhibitions, musical events and so on, in the same way as they do with ads for social causes.
The best ads for social causes are made by life itself
Experiences that touch you closely are powerful motivators to change yourself, others or the whole world. Events that are huge or in some way fundamental (birth and death for example) are often enough to also impact on those who are not directly connected to the event.
Cheerful mood in a car on a highway. Arrow of the speedometer devilishly shows the speed a little over the permitted limit. Car passes a home-made memorial—an improvised cross tied with some fresh flowers. Mood in the car changes instantly with this unexpected reality check. Driver says: “Well, then…” in a sombre manner and automatically eases his foot off the gas pedal.
I’ve seen this kind of behaviour many times with drivers. A momentary reflective seriousness. Considering how short the time is that you actually see such a memorial next to the road you can say that they are an effective way of advertising the social responsibilities of safe driving. Much more so than the huge billboards on the fields next to the road that instruct you to be a responsible driver, however much they cost.
Would the impact on people be even higher if these sorts of memorial crosses and stones were more common? Maybe we should have crosses all over the roadsides as a campaign? Probably not, since that would devalue the meaning and dilute the effect. Every such memorial is a little bit individual since it has been created by different people from different cultural backgrounds and this is what makes them so realistic and effective. It’s still a mathematical inevitability that, in practice, you could end up with a memorial popping up along every kilometre of your route. That’s why some regions try to limit such activity. For example, you may only have a memorial in California if the crash was caused by alcohol. In New Jersey, there’s a limit for the time allowed to display the memorial and there are special memorial parks in Delaware wherein you can have your loved one’s name engraved on a wall if they died in a car accident.
This kind of advertising is considered to be a goldmine by many agencies and often for good reasons. Whatever the state of the economy, most political parties seem to have more than enough money to make themselves highly visible to the public and—with any luck—get themselves elected or re-elected, as appropriate. Mediums change with the years, but generally new ones are added to the repertoire rather than old ones being forgotten or replaced. Right now the main trend is towards social media where politicians write blogs, hold Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts and discuss some political matters directly with their followers. Barack Obama (or rather his team) are considered to be one of the wizards of social media amongst politicians at this time.
Many parties have their own ideologists and publicists who have already determined the main themes and concepts of the overall election campaign, and agencies simply have to design the materials and smooth out the details of the messages put forward. And there’s a lot of that to do! It may include all the standard materials sent out to everyone involved; everything from matchboxes to pillow cases and condoms to chocolate for some of the more important figures. There’s a certain amount of stuff meant for everybody and the more humble assemblymen at the bottom of the political chain probably won’t even use it—they’ll simply discard it at the first opportunity or hand the materials out to their friends in large quantities. Candidates nevertheless have to be active themselves, especially those that are not particularly well-known. In these cases they’ll often become very active on social media and do the rounds, knocking door to door within the community. In addition to the party’s own newspapers you will suddenly see more of the politicians in the regular media as their PR advisors vie to gain them maximum attention. Note that if a politician has a child then, regardless of the topic of the article, he or she will undoubtedly feature in the picture alongside Mummy or Daddy Politician. This will show the candidates as responsible family people, with values and attitudes to match. And who wouldn’t vote for that, right…?
On top of what is clearly political advertising, where you can usually see a politician so over-retouched they look as though they are straight off the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine, there are a lot of political ads that are meant to look like something else. There are countless examples of this but I’ll give you a great tip on how you can identify a political ad, however cannily it might be disguised.
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Great tip to identify if it’s a political ad:
If it seems like it might be a political ad, then it most certainly is one.
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Trust your gut feeling on that! It’s like in the case of stomach flu—your gut feeling can be trusted. Of course the prerequisite is that you don’t have the IQ of a hamburger and you don’t work in a monitoring agency whereby using your powers of logic or reasoning is strictly prohibited.
If you see a friend from another ad agency during election time, they will definitely ask you whether you’ve got your share this time or not. If you have, then they will nod in recognition. The attitude of your clients, however, is likely to be quite the opposite—companies might ask whether you had anything to do with political ads with a certain degree of contempt. In this case, you probably want to respond with vague answers which deliberately evade the question, such as: “But what is politics actually? And where do we all come from anyway…?”
Still, you can’t rely on the bottomless goldmine of political parties, as recent times have shown. A lot of parties, even the large ones, might not pay the bills on time and that could even mean the end of some agencies that have depended too heavily on them for business.
Fear not, this isn’t a network of anthrax dealers, but yet another way of advertising that makes good use of existing social networks. The name comes from the wish of marketers that the advertising should spread like a virus and gain unrivalled coverage in the right target group. As the main point of this is that consumers will spread the ads by themselves, it should offer a nice monetary saving on top of everything else. But there’s a catch—the ads have to be genuinely good and the target group need to like them. They have to be sufficiently exciting or fun that they would realistically be shared with friends. You can use viral marketing to spread whatever form of messages you choose, from simple text on Twitter to movie clips, web based games and much more complex media.
Sometimes clients tend to think that every ad of theirs is cool enough to spread like wildfire throughout the internet and human consciousness; however, it’s anything but that easy. And thank god—advertising agencies would quickly be in hot water otherwise.
‘Prakvertising’ is a quickly developing sub-form of viral marketing. In this case a video clip is usually made whereby unsuspecting people are put in an unlikely and weird situation. More often than not it is the resulting horror and fright on the victims’ faces that are shown, much more rarely than their over flowing happiness. Authentic emotions are the best way to make people identify with the situation and care about it, which is why it often works so well. (As a side-note I’m absolutely sure there’s not a grain of authenticity in those clips and that they are all staged. In most cases I have seen the proof too). Still, it adds up—who would think that a huge company could wilfully scare people and film it, without getting their heads sued off? It’s also very hard to film an improvised event that is not under the control of a director. It just doesn’t look good afterwards. The camera angles are wrong, the emotions are wrong and the reaction of the people involved is all wrong too. It just has to be staged to get that documentary look. It’s one of those things.
One interesting aspect connected to such forms of marketing is how the ‘news’ about it or the title of the clip is worded. Notice that it usually tells you what to feel before you have even seen the clip, “You won’t believe what happens when this dog sees his new owner”, “You will cry by the end of this clip!”, “You will be SO scared if you find out this man’s real identity”, etc.
When companies have accumulated enough money they tend to get a burning desire to organize events. There are all sorts of them; from customer days, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. right up to corporate summer/winter fairs.
Sometimes the task to organize such an event is given to a secretary, who will simply ask for offers from the same place they partied last year, approach the same caterer and maybe—if they really go all out—ask around to see what kind of music people want to have at the event. If everything goes well, a band is selected. Failing that, everyone brings their MP3s.
Instead of a full blown event there’s always the option to just go out and eat with all or some of the employees from the company, or maybe take some clients along. As everyone will be drunk enough by the end of the first hour to forget that they are having to spend a free evening with the very same people they work with all day every day, the plan is faultless.
Though, sometimes one (or both) of the two following things happen:
- There’s an awful lot of money in the budget and the department has to spend it before the new budgetary year.
- Managers want to have a more special event.
This is where advertising agencies or specialized event marketing agencies come in. First they need to know who the event is meant for and what the objective is—should it be just to have fun or is there some hidden agenda to teach attendees something about the brand or focus on teamwork development? Once this is established, they get to work. Usually a secretary can manage pretty well with all of this but now basically the same tasks are executed by a team of vigorous creative people and one or two project managers who try to keep things on track. The thing is, organizing events is actually hard work, as you may remember so well from your own birthday last year.
If a company organizes an event by itself, they usually start by deciding where to hold it. An event marketing agency, however, will begin by creating a general concept. Everything else comes from that. Only then is a suitable place selected. If the budget allows, then they could opt for a very original or unusual location. The problem is that the more original places tend to have difficult logistics. Getting electricity, toilets, catering, entertainers and so on to the site is often a struggle. The schedule of the event is then put together so that everyone will have a good time. Also performers, games, indoor and/or outdoor decorations are selected; audio, video and lightning technicians are ordered; invitations are designed, even accommodation is thought about (if needed) and millions billions of other details are tended to.
When organizing an event there are usually tons of uncertain things in the beginning, but there’s one thing you can bet on. It is a sure thing that some sort of a mess can be expected. For example, the cable you checked five times over has mysteriously vanished into thin air. Or your main performer has been taken ill by a particularly nasty bout of dengue fever. However, in 99% of cases neither the client, nor their guests, will ever know that something went wrong since generally speaking, everything miraculously comes together at the very last moment. I believe that gnawing at the nerves of event organizers like this is just an evil way for some higher powers to spend their time.
So, everything is organized excellently, the photographs in the magazines are more colourful than ever and the memories of the party are worth remembering. Of course you have to gather the photos as well as the memories during the first hour of the event. After that everybody will be drunk, desecrating the magnificent rooms and demolishing the beautifully served pâté de foie gras, leaving in its place an unidentifiable and distinctly unappetising mass.
Public relations (PR)
Public relations is all about that part of advertising that cannot appear to be advertising but rather has to look like news instead. As a general rule PR channels are free, but as PR specialists’ often command much higher fees than those of an ad agency, you don’t necessarily gain any financial advantage. So you can’t decide based on that alone, right? Well maybe these arguments will help you a bit.
♦ For advertising:
1. Using PR you can never be quite sure if and how your message is going to be put across by the media, whereas with advertising space you have full control of the content. Should the value of your national currency suddenly plummet your advertisement will still be published, but you can forget about seeing a news story showcasing your new electric toothbrush with its faster motor and ergonomic design in the wake of such a newsworthy event.
2. You can deliver a press release about something only once—those who see it, see it— but you can show the same advertisement several times over in order to guarantee reaching a greater number of contacts and achieve better coverage amongst your target group.
♦ For PR:
1. When reading the text of an advertisement, people have a preconceived idea that they are being palmed off with something, as opposed to reading a story by an ‘impartial’ journalist about the same product, which tends to feel much more credible. PR can be used to praise yourself so much better—it’s something that looks silly in advertisements. For example, it is much better when someone writes an article about wonderful Kent than me buying an advertisement in a daily newspaper and saying so myself. However true it may be.
Why did PR have only one positive point? I’m not sure, but I have a sneaking feeling it might have something to do with me being an ad man. As always in marketing though, the reality is that it’s not a matter of which one to take and which one to leave but how to combine the advantages of both. Only dumb and/or reckless marketers will tell you to stick to only one approach—and it is probably the one they specialise in.
Press releases are issued about everything, even the most crazy things and I’m often surprised to see how many of them get picked up by the media. Usually the ratio between press releases and original stories shows the level of journalism at work—after all, it is tantalizingly easy to publish pre-prepared press releases that have been sent to the news channel and abstain from the actual slog of research and writing for themselves. However, readers don’t want to settle on reading nothing but press releases alone and can only swallow a certain amount of them in between other stories before they start to get suspicious. And people don’t usually like suspicious things.
A while ago I discovered that there was a separate category called ‘Press Releases’ on a popular Internet news portal. Today this section has vanished. I wonder how many people actually clicked on that link in total, especially once you deduct the PR people who sent them out and the companies whom the stories were about. Two people? Three perhaps…?