Sunday, September 29, 2013

We Don't Lie To People. In Fact, People Lie To Us

Advertising people are viewed as liars, only marginally more trustworthy than car salesmen.

But the truth is that we actually don't lie to consumers. In fact, it's the consumers who lie to us.

Yes, we probably exaggerate a little. And paint products in their best possible light. But that's just salesmanship - as employed by every industry. We don't lie. In fact there are strict rules against that. Having worked (briefly) in finance and in journalism, I can tell you that advertising is a far more honest business than either of those professions. 

People, on the other hand, do lie to us.

Russell Davies was reminiscing the other day on his blog about "Endless focus groups with company car drivers - constantly lying about why they drove the car they did."

I remember once going to a car research group myself, where they had given the punters some magazines to flick through. From the other side of the one-way glass, I watched a bloke spend several minutes studying a text-heavy ad. Then the moderator asked the group - just to get them talking - whether any of the ads had caught their eye. "No," said the guy I'd watched read every single word.

In research, the punters always say they're not influenced by advertising. That they buy on substance, not on image. And that they'd far prefer a car ad that simply gave them the facts - the car's price, engine size, speed, etc.

And then they go out and buy purely on image.

Hardly surprising, I guess.
According to a 2002 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, 60% of adults can’t have a ten minute conversation without lying at least once.

In business, it could be even higher.

But this is never discussed. Because to accuse someone of lying is a highly aggressive manoeuvre. There's no way back for a relationship after that.

Nevertheless, it goes on. It must do.

So, next time you're pondering something someone has said to you - whether they be a consumer, a client, or a co-worker - don't forget to factor in this extra little possibility into your assessment: they may be lying.

Though of course, you yourself don't tell any lies at work. Do you?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Are We Losing The Ability To Say 'No'?

One of the best creative directors I ever worked under, Jeremy Craigen of DDB London, has many different talents. For example, he has a sixth sense about directors, is great with music, and has an acute understanding of brand tone of voice.

But his best skill - his superpower, in fact - is his willingness to say 'no'.

The way advertising works, there is actually a constant pressure on the creative director to say 'yes'. The suits want him to say yes because they want to have work to show, and don't want to call the client to put the meeting back. The traffic people want him to say yes because they want briefs to keep moving through the system; time is money. And of course, the creatives want him to say yes, because they want to get their ideas made.

So the CD is sitting there, looking at the work, while the creatives are looking at him, their eyes pleading in the style of the cat voiced by Antonio Banderas in Puss In Boots. It may be that the work isn't bad. It may be on brief, and rather buyable. Everyone in the room may want him to say yes to it, especially if they feel that the client (not yet in the room) would say yes to if if they were.

But Jeremy would still say no. A lot. Nearly all the time, in fact. He would find things wrong with the work that you had never even considered were a problem until he raised them. He would see potential in every brief, and smoke you out straight away if you were trying to sneak something average through, even on an average brief. And if it was a brief that everyone saw had potential, his office would become a killing field of ideas. He was a First World War machine-gunner, mowing concepts down by the dozen. So any idea that did make it through his defences, had to be superhumanly good.

However, I wonder if he can still do that. For Jeremy always seemed to have time.

There were entire months to come up with a new campaign idea. Weeks on a TV brief. Many days for a print ad. And if it hadn't been cracked in that time, more time seemed to magically appear.

Nowadays, we're all being given less and less time. It's often cited as a factor in why "the work isn't as good as it used to be." We all know that less time compromises production quality, means less time for the creatives to think of ideas, less time for the planners to write great briefs… 

But crucially, it's also eroded the creative director's ability to say 'no'.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Power Of Negative Thinking

The new Chipotle ad is undeniably awesome.

Yet I wonder how many clients would have rejected it, with the dreaded critique "but you're dramatising the negative."

Quite rightly, clients want us to dramatise the positives about their product.

But what I contend is that if you start from a negative - and the Chipotle ad spends about 85% of its duration in a very dark place - then when you do reach the positive (Chipotle uses only real food) you have a much more powerful ad, because you have taken the viewer on a journey. 

An ad that was 100% positive and focused only on the wonderful fresh food and happy times you can have at Chipotle would probably look something like this:

No journey = flat.

Fear of the negative may partially explain why most ad-breaks depict a smiley, fake world that is barely recognisable as our own. And has doubtful selling power.

The fact is that many of the greatest ads of all time were actually very negative.

Apple's '1984' depicted the nightmare of a world ruled by the conformity of IBM.

Guinness 'Surfer' spends 50% of its timelength on the negative of 'waiting'.

And one of my favourite recent ads, for Devondale Dairy Soft, portrays the comically negative consequences of using hard butter.  

So we're faced with a major bummer, my friends.

I do have one tip though.

The secret training course at which clients are taught to reject ads that 'dramatise the negative' - the same course which has a class on 'maximising logo size' - also has a module on 'the power of the problem/solution ad'.

Problem/solution seems to be acceptable to clients.

Therefore, if you can re-frame your ad that dramatises a negative scenario as a problem/solution ad, you may just be able to sell it. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Isn't Advertising Like Politics?

Advertising is not a science. In the world of science, we know how things work, and we can predict with some accuracy how they will work in the future.

But despite 150 years of research and discussion, we can't really agree on how advertising works. And despite the best efforts of Millward Brown and the brain-scanning neuromarketers, we can't predict with much accuracy how consumers will respond to it.

So if advertising is not a science, what is it?

I'm going to say politics.

Maybe politics is just top-of-mind due to yesterday's election in Australia, but I do think the commonalities are striking.

Both draw from science - politics draws from economics, and advertising from psychology (of which certain agencies have a more up-to-date understanding than others) - but both fields are riddled with competing theories as to how to go about things, rather than any agreement about what works best.

In their own way, advertising theories are as oppositional as the clashes between socialism and capitalism, or progressives v conservatives.

For example, some argue it is essential that advertising has impact - if you don't 'cut through the clutter', your message won't be heard. But others argue that the brain works mostly by Low Involvement Processing - we process marketing messages at least as much when we are paying little or no attention to them as we do when we consciously take them on board, therefore cut-through is irrelevant.

Should we be trying to rationally persuade, or emotionally engage? Sell product, or build brands? Is the purpose of advertising to show how a product meets someone's needs, or to create a badge-like brand that enables consumers to display their personality or values to others?

No one has 'the answer', and that turns advertising practitioners into politicians - out there trying to persuade clients to vote for their way of doing things, rather than another agency's.

The irony, of course, is that when a client does decide to make a change, they probably wake up the next morning, go into their new agency, and find that things are much the same as they were before... but just with a different set of people in charge.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Should Advertising Be A Force For Good?

Advertising was once considered so unethical, a famous ad-man entitled his autobiography: 'Don't Tell My Mother I Work In Advertising, She Thinks I Play Piano In A Brothel.'

But that could be changing.

Not because advertising or the people within it have changed. We're still the same (creative businesspeople) and our job is still the same (help clients with their communications needs). 

But our clients are changing.

Last week I was writing about how every brand should have a 'purpose', and today it seems many companies are concluding that this purpose should not just be any old purpose but actually 'a higher purpose.'

Again, I don't think companies have suddenly become more moral just for fun. But they've realised that their consumers want them to be.

I went to a presentation on this theme a couple of weeks ago, it was given by Craig Davis, former ECD of Publicis Mojo in Sydney, who is now a speaker and consultant on 'conscious capitalism'. You can see his talk here. I'll probably mess this up, but the idea is along the lines of how every company should be striving to do more than just generate profit. Every company should operate ethically, truthfully, empathetically. A company should genuinely care about its employees, and its customers, and should be actively trying to make the world a better place. 

A great example is TOMS shoes. For every pair of shoes they sell, the company donates a new pair of shoes to a child in the developing world.

But where Craig gets really clever is with an assertion (backed up with data) that the stock prices of companies operating 'conscious capitalism' are outperforming their peers. Presumably because members of the public prefer to buy goods from companies that have a higher purpose over companies that don't.

And that affects us.

Increasingly, as our clients put ethics at the heart of what they do, our work will no longer be about selling products, but about communicating values.

Amir Kassaei, DDB’s global chief creative officer, put it pretty well at Cannes:

"We can’t get away with it any more," he said. "We can’t go on selling bullshit products and fooling people… it is time to start adding real value to people’s lives."

He's right, no?