Feb 12, 2007

Bad Ads Start Here

With the brief that is.

It hit home again today as I got handed yet another brief that numerous accountniks and one other creative director had allegedly looked over and approved. It was a fine document, with good insights into consumer behavior and all, but it lacked the one critical ingredient of a good brief: a hook.

Like so many awful briefs, it basically summed up all this fine research with the line : Buy Spacely sprockets because they're good sprockets.

Not something you can disagree with, right? Sounds reasonable. I mean they're good sprockets, Why wouldn't you buy them?

Well, that's where we actually get to make a difference. We take the facts and turn them into an image. I'm not going to spew out all the bullshit "LoveBites" crap, but a brand that stands for something, be it innovation, hipness, fairness, fun, simplicity, or class, is a step ahead of a brand that has no image whatsoever. Which is, if you think of it, the case with 99% of the brands out there.

Take Pepsi, for instance. I mean Pepsi tastes good. It tastes better than Coke to most people because it's a bit sweeter. But when they took the campaign to the next level, when they said "hey, the target thinks that Coke is for old people" and made Pepsi "the choice of a new generation" (I'm screwing up the tag line, I know, but it's late and I don't feel like Googling it) then BBDO made Pepsi into something bigger. They gave it a brand image. (Fully aware that I'm using past tense in that paragraph.)

Now there's clearly not a straight line from a good insight to a brand image to the One Show book, but even badly executed ads off of good insights rise to a level somewhat higher than that of well-executed ads off of insipid insights.

That's the real danger of the current craze for "accountable" advertising, e.g. DM and Web work. Those ads are selling a specific product and they want you to buy (or click) on it immediately. Branding be damned. So that at the end of the day all you're left with is "Buy Spacely sprockets because they're good sprockets. Act now and save 10%."

Not real compelling. And easily beaten by the guy who saves you 11%.


HighJive said...

For quite some time now, I’ve been unsuccessfully pushing a perspective about this topic. The gist of the argument is that trying to generate unique briefs is a waste of time. We live in a totally parity marketplace, where there are no demonstrable differences between products. Additionally, most planners and strategists are useless — especially in big agencies where the majority of them are ex-research people who were barely qualified to stock M&Ms for focus groups before account planning was introduced in the U.S., providing them a reprieve from being rightfully and completely banished from the business.

Don’t misread this argument. It’s still imperative to produce a brief containing all the relevant information and mandatory legal stuff. But since it’s gonna wind up saying something like, “Buy Spacely sprockets because they’re good sprockets. Act now and save 10%,” let’s not spend more than two days writing it.

The industry is now driven by execution. More than ever, it’s imperative that creatives generate breakthrough ideas. The USP has shifted from being less about a physical product attribute to more about an image based primarily on execution.

In short, the creatives need as much time as possible to come up with ideas.

So instead of spending two weeks writing a shitty brief, spend two days writing it. Then give the creatives the extra week and a half to produce even more ideas. Now, there are people who insist that most creatives will procrastinate with the extra time anyway. If your staff is really comprised of people like that, you should fire them. Because chances are, they’re doing shitty work whether they’ve got lots of time or little. Great creatives will appreciate the extra time to explore and allow ideas to percolate and brew. Great creative directors will coach creatives on how to best utilize the extra time.

In addition, you’ll probably realize you can fire some of the planners, replacing them with junior creatives who can help be gophers and wrists, ultimately breaking into the business under the tutelage of others. Plus, more creative bodies means more potential ideas.

Anyway, that’s the argument. Can anyone really counter it by defending their current planners and strategists? If you can, you’re probably in a unique and great shop — more power to you. If you can’t, try arguing for quicker briefs and fewer planners. After all, is your current process leading to outstanding work? What have you got to lose?

Alan Wolk said...

Could not agree more, HJ. Am consistently baffled by briefs that took a month to prepare and have no deeper insight than "Spacely Sprockets Are Good Sprockets."

Don't give up on planning though. You're 100% correct about its current state at BDAs, and how most are former research people.

But good planning works.

Good planning means you go into a room of sprocket users and talk to them about sprockets in general. Their jobs and lives in general. From that, you often get great insights, like Spacely Sprockets make a really unique noise when I install them and when I hear that noise, I know everything's okay. (Okay, we're stretching on that one, but you know where I'm heading.) Good planning does NOT involve testing some proposition the client already believes to be true nor does it involve testing ads or mock-ups of ads.

Good planning isn't nearly as lucrative for BDAs as Bad Planning is, so unfortunately there's not much incentive to do it. Which is why, if it's feasible, it makes sense to send some juniors out with a video camera and get people on the street to talk to them about sprockets. (The problem, of course, with that, is where are you going to find sprocket-users? It works best for mass market products and services. But it works.)

HighJive said...


again, if planning actually works, more power to you. but if the weeks of planning lead to "Spacely Sprockets Are Good Sprockets," then try something different.

Anonymous said...

I think it really comes down to the type of agency you work at. Is it a top agency or is it a hack full-service place. The better agencies draw better talent. They have more resources. Smaller, averaqe shops don't.

AE hacks I knew wanna book at 5:30 to make the gym and make it home in time to watch Sex in the City. They're nothing more than waitstaff taking orders from the client and writing down the size of the ad to be run and calling it a brief. Any AE wanting to prove me wrong, have a Crispin, a W+K or a Fallon in your email address and then I'll change my mind.

Great briefs start with great planning imo, and works when it's done in conjunction with creatives working with them to develop insights - at the start. For all the talk about collaboration I hear though, most agencies I've seen still separate all the people apart who should be together sooner in the process.

(This is not true of places like JWT or Mother from what I've seen. From what I saw, their planners knew their shit about consumers and how they think. Yes, bloggers like me get down on many of the bigger agencies at times for the stuff they put out, but they still have better planners than the smaller shops.)

This also doesn't mean every small 20 person and under shop out there sucks either, but I look at a planner like Russell Davies and the sample client presentations he shares on his blog. They're simple, but dead on. The insights are ones I'd kill for when meeting with most of the account groups I've had to.

This is the exception to the places most of us have all done time in though.

So when it comes to preparing a brief, creatives are usually not the first ones called in. What you have is a very traditional and still linear process:

- Client meets account team.
- Account team talks with planner, (for those agencies without a planner, it's usually the head writer),
-Then creatives are called in .

Oh, and does this scenario sound familar: the account team who basically gives creative two days to develop concepts based on a brief that has almost no meaningful info in terms of insights. THAT never happens, right?

Seems there's this attitude by account teams and clients that creatives don't understand strategy or consumer insight, when in my experience, I've rarely met an AE with their shit together in this department. Again, not everyone out there, just most I've met.

There are also more than a few MAJOR brands out there who think a creative brief is nothing more than a sheet of dimensions for the size of the ad.

Man, am I extra bitter tonight or what.


Anonymous said...

Just to add on the point about sending out juniors to tape stuff.yeah, I think many times if a small shop can do it great. There's ALWAYS a relevant insight a consumer will throw out spontaneously that you know is the money shot for the brief. (So to speak.)

But to the point of bad briefs being lucrative, maybe. Wanted to share a cool thing I noticed at JWT again, (I know many view them as dinosaurs, but when I was there they were bringing new creatives on to try and change the attitude, so I can't pile on.)

Anyway, they were doing research for a new major hand cleaner to be launched in Japan and had sent a team over. They had come back and filled a large room with notes and photos on every aspect of Japanese public customs, meeting places, etc.

Each person was assigned to gather specific info on different things: how people open doors, what their thoughts on cleanliness were, etc. There was so much info on the walls that I thought whatever campaign came out of it, at least they couldn't blame the research.

It was also the most thorough effort I'd seen put into research for a brand and thought why can't it be like that for everything, you know?