Anyone who is involved in the creative process should really read this. The rest of the blog's quite good too.
Well, this is a bit odd. Strategy Magazine just named us the Top Client of 2006.
At first we thought it was some sort of typo, but it turns out it's legit. It's part of a creative report card Strategy puts together every year based on the total tally of creative and effectiveness awards. And we were, of course, our own client for our website, which won a lot of awards last year. Based on that we finished in a surprise tie with Pfizer (for all their great Viagra work) at the top of the list. This might be a bit hard to explain to our actual clients, so you'll have to forgive David & Judy for their slightly embarrassed smiles. We also came in as the fourth-most-awarded Canadian agency, behind Taxi, DDB, and Rethink.
Congrats as well to Israel Diaz for being the second-most-awarded art director in Canada (just missing out on the top spot); to Len Preskow for making the top 5 in the copywriter rankings; and to everyone else who made the list.
Spoofing ad agency goings-on seems to be fertile ground recently. We make easy targets, so it's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. But hey, I guess it beats working on actual client stuff.
Here's another video that's doing the rounds. It was done by Cliff Freeman last summer but recently resurfaced. The target this time is the new business pitch. It funny. Me laugh.
A few more articles from the last few days that are worth the read:
The NY Times has a good article looking at research into the roots of superstition, ranging from lucky totems to sports fandom to magic (it makes clear it's talking about something distinct from faith).
I'm fascinated with this stuff - I have a degree in psychology and really should know better, but I still have my lucky rituals. According to the article, the idea that people can affect the outcome of events with their thoughts, wishes and rituals is "far more common than people acknowledge" and has evolutionary roots in the wiring of the brain. It's related to pattern recognition, and also to how our emotional brain can trump rationality. And it has some survival benefits: "the sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress."
But maybe it's not just superstition. The article doesn't get into this, but some psychologists and quantum physicists are starting to wonder if indeed our thoughts can, in a fashion, create reality. A subject of a lot of recent discussion in the personal coaching and self-help world is the idea of the "Law of attraction" - positive thinking can beget positive outcomes, and negative thinking negative outcomes. A documentary film and book on the subject, called "The Secret," is becoming a huge underground hit (I watched it a few weeks ago and despite some cheesy production values, it's quite interesting). And anecdotally, I've noticed recently an increase in people talking seriously about this stuff, without skepticism or irony.
My brain's too tired to figure out what it all means. But fortunately the always interesting John Grant has some related ruminations on the little rituals we all have, and the brands that sometimes are a part of them.
Thank goodness for John. But on this subject I'll leave the final word to Stevie:
I'm a week late to this but it's fairly big news and I hadn't noticed anyone else talking about it: Volkswagen is doing a big U-turn in their North American marketing. Over at Adliterate, Richard had hosted some debate a few months back celebrating the campaigns VW and CP+B had been doing, and wondering what the sales effects might be. Well, it seems we have an answer, and it's mixed.
AdAge ran a cover story last week that despite the extremely positive press and word-of-mouth around the campaigns, VW is about to completely change direction. They've also fired the senior client who had hired Crispin and oversaw the recent work. And they're looking to go back to an umbrella campaign, with a "Drivers Wanted"-esque tagline (the recent work had distinct campaigns for the Jetta, Passat, GTI, and Rabbit, abandoning any unifying VW-ness other than perhaps a smart attitude). Now people are openly questioning whether CP+B will be able to keep the business.
So is it a case of some fresh, different creative that just didn't move product? It turns out it's not that simple. And this is where it gets interesting. According to AdAge, the ads did work, up to a point. In 2005, previous to the new work, VW of America had posted a big loss. In 2006, VW posted 5% growth, generated showroom traffic, and increased purchase consideration. Turning around a loss, re-energizing a brand, getting on shopping lists, and posting decent growth in year one of a new campaign sounds pretty good to me. And AdAge reports that the target for growth was 5-10%, so they did meet their target, albeit the low end. But here's the kicker: AdAge quotes from internal sources that "VW had actually hoped to increase sales something like 30%." And that's where it starts to smell fishy.
A lofty goal for growth like that, coming off of several years of decline, and in a category with a long purchase cycle, sounds more like crazy wishful thinking than anything else. And if the stated goal was 5-10%, then having another hidden goal, especially an unrealistic one, just isn't fair to anyone. So are they changing campaigns just based on that? To be honest it sounds like the advertising has been doing its job. It's not that I'm a Crispin apologist - after all, they've done their share of crap work, and are being lambasted for their creepy new Orville Redenbacher work (full disclosure - ConAgra, and Orville, are also a client of ours). But from what's being reported, it sounds like CP+B shouldn't take the fall for VW, unless there's more to the story than it would seem.
VW logo art by Stepan Gencey
When and how to try new marketing ideas, especially in the face of colleagues & clients who are reluctant to take chances, is something we all struggle with. I certainly have.
But I had a little thought. Has anyone tried stealing some language from investment advisors and positioning marketing ideas using risk vs reward tradeoffs? Investment companies generally profile their funds on a continuum from Safety (low risk, low return) to Balanced (medium risk, medium return) to Aggressive Growth (high risk, high return). And they usually recommend that people keep a mix of funds in the portfolio. At least, the people that I keep my $4.70 in savings with do.
That seems like an intuitive way of talking about a marketing plan as well. It's OK to base a marketing plan around some low-risk tactics, but we should make sure everyone understands that low risk also inevitably means low return. On the other hand, trying something radical and new has higher risk, but it also has the potential for higher returns.
A good marketing plan probably also needs a diverse mix of the safe and the radical. Do some stuff that you know will work, either because you've done it before or because you've tested it to your level of comfort. I've often found that having a few safe & familiar options covered off gives
clients (and agencies) the comfort to try something more radical with another part of
their budget. Then use that to try things that can't be tested, something that no one has done before, where you can only guess whether it will work. Those are the things that might just pay off with exponential growth.
Is that a useful way of seeing things? It's probably not all that original. Maybe someone's
already written a management book about it. But even if it's not new I figure it's worth reminding ourselves that there's no such thing as a low-risk,
I guess this also suggests an approach for the client-agency relationship: starting the marketing planning process with a discussion, much as an investment advisor would, about their comfort with risk and their long-term goals.
I should make clear I'm talking about tactics here, assuming that the strategic underpinnings are solid. Whatever direction we choose, there's no substitute for a good understanding of the problem, insights, target and objectives.
Is 2007 only 3 weeks old? It feels like forever already. Lots going on.
If the last few weeks are any indication, 2007 is shaping up to be an interesting year.
We've crunched through several major client presentations, and just finished one new business pitch. Can't mention the client, but it seemed to go really well. We felt relaxed and had fun, which is always a good sign. The chemistry in the room seemed to be good - lots of questions and discussion. They were smart and we got the sense we'd enjoy working with them.
Only small thing was we made the cardinal error of having a few people without clear roles in the meeting. People who would be key day-to-day contacts on the business, but who weren't part of the story we were telling in the pitch, so they sat there with nothing to say. Jon Steel would not approve. Must remember not to do that again. Always make sure everyone in the room has a role.
We're in a bit of a post-free stretch right now - a couple of big client presentations last week (both of which went swimmingly), and several big new business pitches over the next few weeks (fingers crossed). The online quiet here reflects the disquiet around the office.