Tactical naivety

Tactical naivety.

I'm not talking about footballing pundits describing the approach of African footballing nations to defending in the 70's and 80's.

No, the post refers to the depressing trend of a lot of advertising to focus on producing one-off executions rather than long running campaigns that help build a brand over time.

Now, it's clear that there's a prevalent culture of short-termism that puts pressure on everything needing to be done by yesterday but this runs counter to the way that most advertising actually works.

If companies genuinely want people to think or feel differently about their brands then they need to recognise that it takes time for this kind of step change to actually happen.

There is no magic wand that can be waved that will change the way a brand is perceived overnight.

It takes time. And it takes money. And it takes repetition of a consistent message within a consistent campaign to really cut-through and have impact.

Clients can be impatient as they're often in a hurry to make their mark as quickly as possible so they can continue to shin up the greasy career pole.

And agencies can be impatient too as winning awards, the allure of creating something shiny and new along with a "not invented here" syndrome that can exist in creative departments means that investing in a long running campaign is not top of their agenda.

All of which sadly creates a vicious circle that leads to more one-off, temporary, wheel-reinventing executions being created or campaigns being killed before they can reach their full potential.

There's no doubt that things like "crowdsourcing" and the rise of the "viral" and "online content" have exacerbated the problem as the ridiculous and unrealistic assertion that great ideas can come from anywhere has made advertising seem much more disposable and undermined the real value that great creativity can bring in the eyes of an easily influenced and increasingly inexperienced marketing community.

Some agencies and clients are pissing money away by actively encouraging pieces of work with no depth and substance that have a lifespan shorter than a mayfly.

And the "always in beta", "everything's changing", "let's throw lots of things against the wall to see what sticks" attitudes of the blinkered neophiles hardly stimulates the kind of breakthrough thinking that ends up with giving a brand a distinct and differentiated campaign that can live for years and years.

From a wider perspective, this short-term outlook and behaviour means that advertising agencies are in severe danger of being dragged down into a tactical ideas bunfight with other marketing service providers.

Rather than getting into X-Factor style idea auditions where fluffy, nebulous, PR generating soundbite stunty bollocks ideas are the order of the day ["let's build the world's tallest mountain out of cake", "let's sponsor the tomato/donkey/goat/ant throwing festival in Spain", "let's make a fake Turin shroud and pretend we've washed it"] advertising agencies need to reclaim the ideas high ground.

They can do this by concentrating on doing what they do best and doing what nobody else can do.

Producing brilliant, entertaining and rewarding long-running advertising campaigns that consistently captures the public's attention and imagination.

The bottom line is that's the thing that puts value on the bottom line.

As my old mate Sun Tzu said in the boozer last week;

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.


  1. Looks like Mr Tzu would be a good fella to have with you when presenting work to client

  2. I think this is very true, but I think it's partly driven by the point you made with the title of your blog - these sort of things are tactics, but too often they're being confused with strategies.

    If people actually understood the difference between the two, I think it would help. No client, or agency, really just wants to do "tactics" (hence the inflation into everything being a strategy). But if the terms were applied correctly there could be a constructive discussion about if the tactics being presented actually contribute to the long-term strategy or if they're just a nice random idea that doesn't really do anything for the brand.

  3. Another thoughtful post – thanks. Where I work, in technology B2B, long-running strategic campaigns are scarce. The quarterly tactical campaign is the norm, driven by shareholder and analyst calls.

    Organisations in this space tend to be beyond pure tech in search of an application, but they're by no means market-driven.

    The rush to make the numbers means that long-term marketing is often shouldered aside by 'the next shiny tactic' – ironically, often to the detriment of short-term sales.


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