I took a load to the local dump the other day. As I hucked yard debris and unwanted consumer goods out the back of the truck, I got to thinking about waste in advertising…
There are mountains of it.
Despite all the analytics that are available, the digital targeting and the plethora of specialized channels, waste still happens. And for smaller businesses that are trying to maximize every penny spent, it really stinks.
Often it’s due to a lack of strategy. (Here’s the difference between strategy and tactics)
As an ad agency copywriter I often found myself working on the creative execution of a campaign without ever seeing a well-articulated creative brief.
Which means the client and the account executive had no idea what they wanted us to communicate in the campaign. There was no unique selling proposition. No positioning strategy. No clear strategic direction whatsoever.
So naturally, that produces a lot of waste… wasted time, wasted talent and wasted money. We spent a lot of time spinning our wheels, developing ideas that did not have any strategic foundation.
Creativity without strategy is like a Ferrari without a throttle.
If you ask the agency folks, clients are notorious for not knowing what their value proposition really is. In an extensive survey conducted by The Better Briefs Project, more than 80% of marketers say they’re good at writing briefs and briefing their agencies, but only 10% of agency people agree.
Using the creative process to clarify marketing strategy is not an optimal approach. Unfortunately, some clients don’t want to pay for the research and planning that is really necessary. And many small ad agencies simply don’t have the personnel to provide insightful strategy.
Agency Account Executives who manage clients often don’t have the experience or business acumen they need to provide true strategic guidance.
So the creative teams have to come up with a strategic nugget of their own, or continue throwing conceptual darts, hoping something sticks. Not a good arrangement for either party.
So here’s some insider’s advice on how to work with your ad agency, digital marketing firm, or whoever’s handling your marketing communications in order to reduce waste in advertising:
First of all, if you want the creative output to be memorable and effective, you need to provide good input.
You’ll need to do your part as a business owner or Director of Marketing. That means staying involved and providing concise strategic input in the planning phase of the advertising process.
Because it really is a case of garbage in, garbage out. And there’s already too much garbage out there.
Avoid the advertising landfill with a good Creative Brief.
Every ad agency has its own version of the Creative Brief. Creative teams rely almost entirely on this document, so the only way you can be sure your ads will be on target is to agree on the strategy mapped out in the brief. As a client, it’s imperative that you understand that document, and sign off on it!
Jon Steele, the strategy guy on the famous “Got Milk” campaign says a good creative brief should accomplish three things:
“First, it should give the creative team a realistic view of what their advertising needs to, and is likely to, achieve.
Emphasis on realistic. Honest. Authentic.
Second, it should provide a clear understanding of the people who the advertising must address. It should include some real insight on the target audience, not just a one sentence list of the demographic group.
And finally, it needs to give clear direction on the message to which the target audience seems most likely to be susceptible.”
In other words, be clear and be relevant.
In a nutshell, Steele says the creative brief “is the bridge between smart strategic thinking and great advertising.” When it’s done well, the strategy and the creative execution are perfectly aligned. When it’s not done well, it produces a lot of waste in advertising.
Unfortunately, smart strategic thinking is often lacking in the small-agency environment. Agencies pay lip service to it, just like they pay lip service to doing “breakthrough creative.” In reality, most small agencies simply don’t think things through very well before the creative teams begin working.
It’s perfectly natural considering the creative product is their only deliverable. Everyone wants to get to the sexy stuff, ASAP.
Sergio Zyman, former CMO with Coke-a-Cola, says “ strategies provide the gravitational pull that keeps you from popping off in all different directions.” Likewise, the creative brief is the strategic roadmap that keeps all your agency people heading in the same direction.
Drafting a truly insightful brief is both a creative and a strategic exercise. Andrew Cracknell, Former Executive Creative Director at Bates UK, says “planners take the first leap in imagination.”
Steele says the brief should not only inform the creative team, but inspire them. Instead of just listing the problems that the creative team will face, a great brief offers solutions.
In the case of “Got Milk,” the brief said ditch the “good for you” strategy and focus instead on deprivation… what happens when you’re out of milk. That was a HUGE strategic leap. The creative team took it from there.
So if you’re a client, insist on staying involved until the creative brief is absolutely nailed down. Then sign off on it, and set the creative team free in the right direction.
Then, when they present the creative product, you can judge not on subjective terms, but on one simple objective question: Does it follow the brief in a memorable way?
Don’t overwhelm them with data.
Advertising people don’t look at business like MBAs do. And as a general rule, we hate forms. So don’t expect your creative team to glean much inspiration from sales reports and spread sheets. And don’t assume they understand the fundamental metrics of your industry.
You need to have your elevator pitch and your essential marketing challenges nailed down in layman’s terms before you go to an agency or a freelance creative team.
As Zyman said, “If you want to establish a clear image in the mind of the consumer, you first have to have a clear image in your own mind.”
Do a presentation for the agency… present your version of the facts, and then engage them in dialog. It’ll force you to focus on strategic thinking and it can generate tremendous team energy.
But don’t be surprised if they question your most fundamental assumptions. That’s what they do.
Remember, most advertising people are specialists.
Don’t expect your agency team to grasp all the nuances of your business. Even though agencies often claim to immerse themselves in your business, most are completely focused on creative forms of communication.
If you want someone who understands balance sheets and stock option restructuring, hire a consulting firm.
And frankly many digital advertising specialists don’t even care about creativity. They just want to put something “out there.” Anything to fill an insertion order and flood the TicToc airwaves with more ads that they can make commissions on.
It’s unfortunate that so many ads are nothing but garbage. But if you have your act together from a strategic branding standpoint, and stick to the process of providing a clearly defined brief, you’ll see tremendous success.
It’s a two-pronged approach: First, collaborate to answer the question “What are we going to say?” That’s the strategy piece. Then let the advertising pros decide “how are we going to say it.” That’s the execution piece.
It’s a classic win-win arrangement: They can win awards, and you can win business.
For more on positioning and how to avoid waste in advertising try this post.