An Advertising Agency That Sells

When I was in my Communications class at Xavier Institute of Communications, the creative director from Satchi & Satchi decided to spend a full class showing us some very creative advertisements from around the world to show us the power of the "creative". Several years later, when I was taking a marketing class at Akron U, our marketing professor did the same thing! She decided that the team could benefit from viewing a selection of the most hilarious, and a few poignant advertisements from around the world.

Both Professors no doubt thought that the students would benefit from learning how to communicate a message creatively. And, in fact both of them succeeded in demonstrating to us how complex messages can be communicated creatively.

But the questions that has always nagged me is, how useful are these advertisements in doing the job they were designed to do - sell the product?

In my job as a marketing guy, I have heared a fair share of pitches from agencies. Agency after agency will come in and trumpet the "award" they won or the "Prize" they received for their work. They will often start the pitch with a creative campaign that they recently conducted for some other client, and proceed to tell us about the process they went through to generative the campaign. Once they have reeled you in emotionally, they then make a pitch for why "they" should be the ones working on our product. I can understand the Agency using the "creative" campaign or the "award" as a bait. But to the client the only "prize" that should matter, is the success of the advertising in generating more business business!

Today there is an industry built around celebrating "creative ads" or "creative websites" or "creative campaigns". Agencies are constantly submitting their campaigns for the "Telly" award, or the "Webby" award, with the hopes of winning one of these so that they can make receive the imprimature of an "award winning" agency.

Clients though, should be wary of such "pitches". For such pitches demonstrate only one thing - the agency's ability to harness some creative slob into saying things a bit differently - not necessarily the agencies ability to develop a campaign that will deliver sales. When a client invests money in a campaign, it is with the intent of earning a "return". If the agency is unable to demonstrate a "return", then that agency should not be considered for new business.

Ultimately, in business what matters is "dollars and cents" return on the campaign. And usually the best ads to deliver the "return" are the ones that communicate the product attributes and benefits in the most mundane manner. Take for example the latest Coors campaign. Some time ago Coors, in keeping with the Jones (read Bud Lite and Miller), changed its ad campaign from the traditional "Rocky Mountain" campaign celebrating the freshness of the beer to a "lifestyle" based campaign. And the campaign bombed at the altar of the Sales God. Wiser counsel prevailed at Coors and the company is back with a "back to the basics" campaign. The ad age piece in fact focusses on the "mundane-ness" of the new ads.
Coors' consistent messaging borders on maddening: Every ad harps on cold refreshment, invoking the brand's cold-filtered origins (they call it "sterile filtered") and Rocky Mountain roots.

The fact that this mundane messaging has succeeded in getting Coors businss growing is a proof enough that repeating the same message over and over in the most direct fashion is the best way to do an ad!

The Coors story is a great example of how effective the nuts and bolts of marketing can be in making a brand successful. Some times a "creative" campaign might work to generate "warm and fuzzies" around your brand in the short run. But in the long run, people forget which brand showed them the creative ad unless the value proposition of the brand is tied into the emotional message.

On the other hand an attibute based advertising stays with the customers long after the ad has been run because attribute based advertising is meaningful because it helps the customers make a choice between various products out there. In other words, it is adding value to their decision making. An agency that can deliver that consistently, is worth its weight in gold and should be the one getting your business.

So, next time an agency makes a pitch, don't get pulled into doing a "creative campaign" just because it makes you laugh or makes you cry. Ask, "what will the ad do for business?" "Does the ad communicate the key message?" "Does it remind the customer of the key attributes?" If it does not you should be looking for a different agency, an agency that relies on nuts and bolts of marketing - not the glitz of creative advertising.
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