In the world of mature countries, advertising is a challenge: it is costly, and its results are not always measurable. They are, however, measurable at the time of the brand’s launch, at which time it quickly becomes apparent whether the public’s demand and attitudes – as well as those of the trade – have changed.
The cost factor raises questions as to the appropriateness of advertising. There are sectors where launches are unthinkable without advertising: the FMCG sector, for example. But even in this case, it all depends on the precise category. The UK’s current number one wine, Jacob’s Creek (an Australian brand) was launched in the country in 1984, and its first large advertising campaign was in 2000. The brand has since stopped advertising, and now sponsors the Friends television programme.
The brand’s success was built on an excellent, multipleaward- winning product, trade support, public relations, plenty of in-store promotions, and encouraging consumers to try it at the point of sale, to say nothing of on-site promotions. It also develops product placement, a real lever to create and maintain the ‘cool factor’ of a brand.
Top-of-the-range brands also work on winning the long-term support of opinion leaders, capitalising on word of mouth. In the world of the internet, ebay – the only start-up company to have been profitable from the start, making it the internet’s real success story – operates only through online referral and public relations.
When advertising is needed to give a boost to sales and business, the familiar old maxim springs to mind, ‘Half of my advertising budget is wasted – but I don’t know which half.’ Actually, we believe that this half can easily be identified. Wasted advertising is advertising that:is not sufficiently creative, and so will not be seen;misses its target, so will not be seen by the right people;will be seen in places with no stores, where there is no distribution system in place.
These three points are the true causes of the waste; and the first of them is the most important. The question it raises is not so much the quality of the advertising agency as that of the client/advertiser. An advertiser can make a major contribution to the creativity of its agency – and thus to the quality of the campaign – in two ways: through the quality of its brief, and by the ability to take creative risks.
To achieve a leap of creative genius, a great creative idea, the brand proposition must be incisive, not bland. What can a creative person do with a brand proposition coming from a typical McKinsey-style brand consultancy output, such as ‘Brand X is the ultimate (whisky for instance)’.
There is a real problem with the tools and consulting companies that excel in analytics but produce no ideas. Because of the reduction in the demand for strategic consulting, most of the big consulting companies have reoriented their staff. They want now to accompany the client all through the executional process. However, analytical people, recruited for data processing skills, produce thick and exhaustive reports and a mass of matrices, but a dearth of actionable ideas.
The mistake is to think one can rely on the agency to transform as if by a miracle the bland proposition into a great creative concept. It just does not happen this way.
The second condition for a creative leap is to realise that the advertising target must be radicalised. It cannot be a simple description of those who will buy, but should provide their reflection. If advertising is to break out of the clutter, it must not present plain people.
Think of the Budweiser advertising saga ‘Wazzup’: by choosing quite radical characters in the commercials, the brand showed strong signs of modernity, of reinvention and of reinvolvement of the public. This was a challenge for this mainstream popular brand, which all Americans have known almost since they were born.