Are These The Most Dangerous People In Marketing?

The most dangerous people in marketing. They steal time and waste budgets, they frustrate CEOs and CFOs.

They aren't the people who usually get a bad rap – new-age strategists, or digital gurus, social media zealots, content spewers or dilettante creatives.

They are the marketing drones.

They most likely did a marketing course at a college somewhere, have only ever worked in marketing, probably in a massive department in a global company. It's unlikely that they've ever been involved in the development of truly great work. They aren't senior marketers, but they're dangerous because they have some control, and the ability to waste precious budgets.

They are the most likely to latch on to the latest fad, and pay attention to lame industry conferences, the most likely chase spurious proxy goals like Facebook likes, Youtube hits, Twitter followers and shares. They have just enough power and little enough responsibility to spend much and achieve very little. And they tend to have very little real understanding of how advertising and marketing can really help businesses.

Without them, the rantings and ravings of the new-age strategists, or digital gurus, social media zealots, content spewers wouldn't really matter. A crazy only causes problems if you actually listen to them. Agencies spend inordinate amounts of time trying to keep these people happy. A truly dangerous bunch.

Over the last sixteen years I've noticed one consistent theme – the companies that get the best out of their advertising are the ones that don't involve the drones – where the most senior marketer and even better, the CEO are most closely involved with their agencies and the development of advertising.

The Conquest Of Indifference

This should be required reading by anyone and everyone working in advertising and marketing today. It's a brilliant reality check that puts paid to some myths and nonsense peddled by the krazee Kool-aid drinking brigade who pollute the business with their idiotic beliefs and shit ideas that end up wasting clients' money.

Jammy Sod

Whilst we're discussing how best to sell things to people, top bloke and Photographer Elliot Cole is bimbling around Sri Lanka taking some pretty cool photos - so I thought I'd share his blog.

Usually I avoid like the plague anyone wanting to show me their holiday snaps - but Elliot's blog makes me want to throw my oyster card away, cancel the Campaign magazine subscription and get on the next plane out to a beach in South East Asia.

Once he's finished having an awesome time and making the rest of us jealous - I'm sure he won't be short of Editorial and Travel commissions.

Amazing Chemical Reactions...

These really are worth a watch. I like the simple way this is done and presented...

Alan Alan, the worlds shittest escapologist

Newsreel archivist British Pathé have uploaded their entire 85,000 film archive to youtube. There are some crackers in there, here are a few of our favourites.

Cricket Balls

Ten Stone Baby (Teased With Chocolate)

The Cutest Ever Baby Gorilla takes a Bath

Vintage Political Posters From Cuba

Stumbled across this terrific collection of Cuban political posters. There's many more here on the treasure trove that is 50 Watts.

Are Ad Agencies Wasting Talent?

Ben Kay's latest blog post is interesting. You should have a read if you haven't already. Loosely, it's about the notion that it takes a lot of effort to do brave work, and that people are naturally disinclined to put in that effort if the chances of the good work being used seem slim.

It's especially interesting if you read the comments, there appears to be a lot of disenfranchised creatives out there, who appear have given up on producing good work and are just phoning it in.

What a sad state of affairs that is for the industry. But I don't think it's the creatives' fault. There's a problem with advertising agencies – they have lost their sense of purpose. Their goals have become confused, they are now more about keeping the client 'happy', building relationships, doing what it takes to not lose the account, keeping the bean counters happy, keeping their awards scores high in the Gunn report, looking good in the trades. All of these distractions from what their purpose should be – that is, using creative thinking helping to their clients meet and exceed their goals.

Agencies have lost that single-minded purpose. The irony is, if they regained it, long-term the effect would be happier clients and better financial results. But they play the short game of not upsetting clients in the short-term, to the detriment of the work, the results and ultimately, the long-term relationship.

I believe there is still a huge pool of clever and talented people in advertising, but they are being crushed within agency systems that are completely off-purpose. It's no wonder you see this level of disillusionment.

When we set up Sell! Sell!, it was with the single-minded purpose of creating the best creative work. Everything falls out of that. Everything. Off the top of my head, to consistently produce great advertising (not just one or two hits a year amongst everyday dross) you need, amongst other things

Happy, relaxed, talented creatives who are challenged but given enough time and space to meet the challenges
Mutual respect between agency and client
Clients who understand (or are made to understand) that the best work doesn't come out of happy-clappy relationships where no one argues
Clients who give the agency space to answer the problem
An agency that is prepared to stand its ground, but respects the client's opinion
An agency focused on producing a great solution, not a menu of solutions
The problem-solvers (creatives) at the centre of everything
People who are afforded a good work/life balance, not worked to the bone every week, which means realistic deadlines, and realistic staffing
A strong and open culture of the single-minded purpose – "It's all about the work"

There are more, that's just a quick list. But all of these things fall out of the single-minded purpose. All of these things exist because that's the best way to consistently get great work. That's what everything we do, how we are set-up, how we work, is built around. Everything we do is built around the single-minded purpose of producing the best creative ideas to help our clients.

Until agencies regain their sense of purpose, I fear that the industry will be stuck in its rut. Clients won't get the best work, good work will continue to be the rarity, client tenure rates will continue to fall, and talented people will continue to be stifled, and their efforts wasted.

What Do People Want From Advertising?

A lot of paper and oxygen is expended in the ad business arguing the toss over how best to use advertising. A LOT.

Some say this, some say that, some say 'tother. It's kind of amusing in a way given how long advertising has been around. There's always something new too, isn't there? Once upon a time it was the USP, then for a while the fashion was to never feature the product, then it all became about branding, rather than products, more recently the fashionable talk is about emotion, and heuristics, neuroscience and behavioural science.

But one thing that always bothers me, is that no one ever seems to ask what do people want from advertising?

Not you, or me. Not the client, not the planner, not the creative, not the creative director, not the director, not the creative technologist, not the industry commentator, not the strategist.

The person. The punter, the customer, the consumer, the target audience – whatever you want to call them.

Most likely, if you asked them, they would immediately say they're quite happy for there to be no advertising. But I reckon if you interrogated that a little, they would maybe accept that some advertising is useful.

I would wager that most normal people – if they accept that advertising has to exist to pay for television programmes, magazines, papers and other content – would like advertising to be honest, fair, transparent, truthful, not annoying, not patronising. Then at another level, to be entertaining or rewarding (in exchange for their time or interrupting their programme) and to serve some useful purpose to them as a customer.

The problem is, that doesn't sound like a lot of advertising to me.

It seems like in the industry we spend a lot of time arguing about what we think is right. And very little considering the point of view of those who are subjected to the results.

The Other Side Of The Coin – Let's Get Social

We are nothing if not fair here at Sell! Towers. So in the interests of balance, as a counterpoint to yesterday's post, here is the other side of the coin...


The Most Controversial Suggestion In Advertising?

The Most Controversial Suggestion In Advertising?

“Make the product the centre of your advertising.”

It doesn’t sound that controversial does it? But it seems that if you want to use advertising to get more people to buy your product more of the time, your average agency person is likely to sigh and exclaim, “You just don’t get it, do you?”

That’s possibly because the idea of giving people a reason why they might buy your product is out of fashion in the advertising industry. It appears that even the idea of featuring the product at all has become deeply unfashionable in agencies.

Fashionable planners and creatives argue that all products are the same, so it’s just down to getting people to ”connect with your brand”. And they believe that advertising can influence consumers’ attitudes to the brand enough to change their buying behaviour.

Because they think your target audience are stupid.

They think of consumers as emotional zombies who lack decision-making abilities and buy only on feelings. They attempt to woo them with fluffy, happy-clappy ads and emotional mood-pieces that leave no place for the thing that would actually be of interest to the viewer (whisper it: the product).

It’s a point of view that is all-pervasive in the advertising industry.

The trouble is, they’re wrong.
Consumers are people. People like us, people like you.
And they’re way smarter than most advertising people give them credit for.

They know when advertising is being condescending and disingenuous. They’re intelligent and discerning, and deserve to be treated as intelligent and discerning.

We think advertising should treat people with more respect. It should provide them with a good reason to try your product, whilst being charming, engaging and entertaining. We don’t think that all products are the same. We think that’s lazy thinking from people who would rather be making some award-winning film than selling your product anyway.

Our simple belief is that the best way to grow a business or brand is to sell more products. (That’s pretty much how all great brands have been built.) That buying behaviour influences attitudes far more than attitudes influence buying behaviour.

And so the best way advertising can help is by communicating to people why the product might be of benefit to them, what they’ll get out of it. It should be honest and true to the product – and treat the consumer with intelligence and respect.

And it should do all of that in an entertaining, engaging, memorable way. And crucially – in a way that is distinctive in the category. (Because sometimes products are similar – and the way you communicate the benefit gives you the edge.)

We sometimes meet marketing directors and CEOs who feel a sense of relief as we show them that it is possible to feature their products in good advertising, whilst doing a strong job for the brand. (The secret is that every ad says something about the brand, whether you like it or not. The tone, character and approach of your advertising influences what people think about your brand, even if the focus is on what makes the product of benefit to them.)

This all hardly sounds like rocket science I know, but it’s the equivalent of shouting “Jehovah” in advertising agencies today.

And it isn’t just theory. We’ve been taking this approach on behalf of our clients for the last eight years. Putting their products at the centre of eye-catching entertaining, distinctive advertising. Making them the star of the show, not just a walk-on at the end.

We’ve helped to consistently increase sales, and grow their brands in the process. People tend to come to us when they feel they have good products that just aren’t getting the advertising they deserve.

If that sounds familiar to you, maybe we should talk.

Shit Infographic Of The Day

Stephen Wildish's Taxonomy of Shit. More good stuff from Wildish & Co here .

Like Films... only shitter and with Jessica Ennis

At the weekend I visited my local multiplex. I arrived nice and early, got comfy, and the lights dimmed. Before the movie started - there were 25 minutes of cinema length adverts aka extended versions of sop story narratives tenuously brought back to brand values by tail-ending them with a logo end frame. You don't just find these type of commercials in cinemas, but having all these extended cuts back to back made their efforts to be poignant all the more hollow and cringeworthy.

The grade, the wispy voice, the piano based soundtrack, the slow motion humanity stuff - given the cinema setting and the length of these ads they transcend into something akin to a Terrance Malick movie... only they're not, they're really really not. No matter how poetic the script and all the money that's pumped into the production - any moment you're waiting for them to link all those adjectives the vo's been listing back to ... you guessed it ... the Brand.

Enter a fake-panting Jessica Ennis, a bank logo and half a screen of legal supers detailing how they're going to take your house unless you keep up payments. Santanders' attempt at story telling lasted a total of 120 seconds with a 90 and following 30 to really hammer it home. I love going to the movies, and don't mind an ad or two whilst my eyes and buttocks are adjusting - but it all got a bit silly, and judging from the audience's groaning as they were subjected to the brand launched emotional barrage one after another - reality check time.

Cinema advertising can be a really powerful media - you've a relatively undistracted captive audience, and amazing sound and picture quality to play with - but for the love of god just because you're playing in a cinema before a Film does not make your advert any less of an advert. Sell things!

Luckily the film eventually started - and for two hours Captain America showed me with his fists and sexy sidekick why Capitalism is awesome.

Shooting Fentimans..

For the last two days we have been shooting Fentimans' first TV commercial with the illustrious and talented Mr Mark Denton Esq. and Lady Fern Berresford from Coy! It was a great cast and crew, with superb performances, costume and art direction, which means we're pretty excited to bring this together. And... wait for it... there's a product in every scene, and not a kitten in sight! Can you imagine? So unfashionable. A few phone pics from the studio...

Zombies are in vogue. The dumbing down of modern advertising.

The fashionable thinking in agencies today is that people are controlled by their emotions, and that brands need to get potential customers on board by owning an emotion, or creating an emotional bond with them.

So when a recent study to find out the secret of the UK’s happiest brands takes some of our most treasured emotions – happiness, optimism, trust, playfulness, generosity – and applies them to brands, it may seem par for the course [Be careful if you read the article, the startling revelation that people like chocolate and ice cream more than banks, political parties and Ryanair may make you fall off your chair].

However, by attempting to boil things down to an emotional essence we are in danger of simplifying humans and insulting their intelligence. And in the process, agencies are totally misunderstanding how people come to buy what they do, and how brands become popular and successful.

Unfortunately, this thinking tends to over-emphasise the role that emotions plays in brand building, whilst simultaneously depicting consumers as unthinking, emotionally-led zombies.

But why then has this thinking become so popular?

The underlying theory is worth looking at in a wider context, and examining where these ideas may have come from.

It does seems that some findings from neuroscience have left the lab, passed through the lens of popular culture and tiptoed into agencies, reappearing, often oversimplified, as seductive reasons why the primary goal of ads should be attempting to make consumers feel an emotion about the brand.

Neuromarketing and ‘buyologists’ (yes, really) today search for what they call the ‘buy button’ in our brains. They are infatuated by the lighting-up in brain scans of that walnut-shaped bit of our brain called the amygdala.

“Neuroscience shows us that the decision to purchase something is often formed deep within the subconscious” say Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience. “Consumer choice is an inescapable biological process” claims NeuroFocus, a neuromarketing firm located in London.

And here is A.K. Pradeep, CEO of NeuroFocus, in an interview with Fast Company, on the subject of the iPad, "When you move an icon on the iPad and it does what you thought it would do, you're surprised and delighted it actually happened," he says. "That surprise and delight turns into a dopamine squirt, and you don't even know why you liked it."

He talks as if the damn thing doesn’t even work on a functional level, or lacks a rational purpose.
The view seems to be that there is no room any more for human reasoning. To them we are biologically determined to behave in certain ways. There is no room for autonomy or free will.

Interestingly when they are challenged about this, they claim you are simply post-rationalising, the choice was made by your objective brain and not your subjective mind.  Worryingly, to them we are all mindless zombies.

Noticeably, law firms have more issues with this that ad firms.  In law, people are judged to be in control of their faculties unless demonstrated otherwise – whereas ad-land seems to be taking the opposite view.

In fact neuro-marketers appear to have more faith in neuroscience than neuroscientists. Raymond Tallis, neuroscientist and humanist, “If human beings were so simple that they could be understood in scientific terms alone, then we’d be too simple to be able to understand ourselves.”

With over a billion neurons and zillions of synapses in the brain, neuroscience is at its earliest stage of understanding the most complex object in the known universe.

This misappropriation of neuroscience (which I am sure will turn out to be of huge importance to medicine eventually) by agencies and clients leads them to leap to the apparent end conclusion of “Hey, why bother mentioning product attributes, or providing any rationale to buy? Lets not bother with the conscious mind at all”.

Our own point of view is rather old-fashioned I’m afraid, and empirically based. Brands are, in fact, built by the cumulative effects of people purchasing and using products, which over time builds an emotional attachment to the brand providing that product.

For now, at least, effective advertising must be noticed (consciously), believed, remembered and acted upon – as if that’s not enough of a challenge in this crowded, over-communicated world. We maintain that behaviour change precedes attitude change not vice versa.

We believe that ads should treat people as reasoning subjects rather than passive objects. The thinking behind an ad should start with what we know about the product and where it sits in its category, why people might benefit from it and why people may choose it over our competitors’ products.

Only once we have this understanding do we think about how to have impact – by being entertaining, emotionally engaging, charming or unexpected.

Greedily, we want advertising to be both rational (in what it communicates) and emotional (in how it demands attention and interest, and stays in the memory).

Purely emotion-laden films with the product as a mere afterthought are lazy shortcuts in advertising, and lack empirical evidence as to how they get people to try their subject’s wares (and keep them front of mind for future purchases).

In fact products are often invented for a rational reason – to do something more efficiently or better, or differently. And our non-zombie consumer understands this. It is most clearly demonstrated in word-of-mouth, when one person advises another. They tend to tell the other person the specific reason why they may like the product, rather than they “will just love it”, or “get joy from it”, or “feel like a with-it thirty something” for no given reason at all. Yet for some reason, advertisers seem to treat this as too simplistic an approach for advertising.

We worry about the damaging consequences for brands of forgoing their heritage or the actual function of their product and replacing it with emotional brand qualities. We fear that in an age where the consumer demands transparency and authenticity, they will be seen as disingenuous in their desire to emotionally manipulate the audience. If trust is key to advertisers, treating us as zombies is probably not the best way.

Product advertising doesn’t have to rely on boring technical jargon or corny metaphors, but it is often depicted as such by those who prefer the emotional brand approach. It’s all too easy to argue against it by using bad examples of the genre.

But we believe that the product should more often play the lead and not just a walk-on role in smart, compelling, entertaining advertising. It’s far from easy to do well, but it’s not brain surgery either.

Let’s be mindful of the sort of advertising we create and not treat people as mouth-breathing morons. People are way smarter than most agencies are giving them credit for right now. It’s time the industry started making smarter advertising that gives people a real reason to believe.

As Mr Bernbach famously said, "The magic is in the product".