An Absolute Commercial Necessity

Advertising that surprises, entertains or provokes a reaction is much more likely to be noticed and remembered.

That’s certainly not to say these things should be the sole aim of advertising. It’s not good enough to be entertaining just for entertainment’s sake, or shocking just for shock value.

The surprise, entertainment or provocation needs to serve a purpose – it has to be there to make the benefit of the product and the brand more noticeable and memorable.

This should be a guiding principle behind the development and direction of advertising ideas.

This is becoming increasingly important as we are bombarded with more advertising and information than ever before, and we are becoming ever more adept at screening out any uninteresting and irrelevant noise.

Sadly, most current advertising falls into the category of dull, irrelevant or uninteresting.

Clients and agencies often agonise over their strategy, but then package it up in bland or formulaic advertising that completely passes the viewer by. 

This means that making your advertising surprising, thought-provoking, interesting or entertaining (in a way that makes the product benefit and brand more noticeable and memorable) is not a stylistic or indulgent choice, as it is so often portrayed.

It is an absolute commercial necessity.

For more pithy challenging of received wisdom, our new book ‘How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better – The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution’ – is available exclusively at the Design Museum.

Be Known For Something...

Have you ever looked at the celebrity pages of a newspaper and thought, Why on earth is that person famous? What have they done?

The pointless celebrity is modern phenomenon. Today you can be famous just for being famous.

But the problem for vacuous celebs is that their popularity can wane just as quickly as it rose.

Real fame comes from being known for something.

People like Prince, Bowie, Hendrix, Jay-Z, Adele, Picasso, Damien Hirst, Banksy, Ayrton Senna, Lewis Hamilton, Winston Churchill, Barack Obama, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Orson Welles, Audrey Hepburn - these people were and are famous for a reason.

They are famous for their abilities as musicians, artists, sportsmen, statesmen, scientists and actors.

Their fame isn't fickle, because it's based on what they bring to the world.

It seems to me that, increasingly, marketers and advertising people are happy for their brand to shine briefly into our consciousness like the pointless celeb.

Let's do a funny video, people love that shit - a cute animal or dancing baby, famous puppet or cartoon, or (dare I say it?) a drumming gorilla.

But how about something with a bit of substance that might last longer than tomorrow's freesheet newspaper?

I think people in advertising need to wake up from their lazy views and received wisdom about so-called product parity.

There's a pervading, fashionable notion among advertising people that we are at a point of universal product parity in all categories, where there is no discernible or relevant difference between competing products.

This is often used to make the subsequent argument that there’s no useful role for the product in advertising because the only difference is at a brand level.

But the notion of widespread, complete product parity is an exaggeration popularised by people who would rather not be making advertising about products anyway.

They'd rather make make the dancing baby ad anyway.

But if you mention product benefits or qualities out loud in advertising, people will immediately fire back Hey dude, the USP is dead, you just don't get it, do you?

We need to end this constant confusion of USPs, product differences and relevant qualities.

While we are at a stage where the vast majority of products in most categories can be said to ‘work’, the extent to which they work – and the quality of how they are made and perform – is still often different at some level. 

The fact is, products do have qualities or benefits that are important to the customer.

They are the very reason the customer buys the product in the first place – to perform a task or fill a need.

They don’t need to be unique (as in the USP), they just have to be relevant to the customer.

And if they are relevant to the customer, then they are very much worth talking about in advertising.

Let's remember that the customer is the most important person in advertising.

To be top of mind is extremely important, but the real value is in not just being known, but being known for those qualities that are relevant to the customer.

Be top of mind, but top of mind for a good reason.

Be known for something.

Be famous for something.

All great, successful brands and products are famous for something.

What are you famous for?

For more pithy challenging of received wisdom, our new book ‘How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better – The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution’ – is available exclusively at the Design Museum.

Don't Be A Category Clone, Be Distinctive...

Which is your brand?
Something we've observed over the years is that to have the best chance of success, brands should be highly distinctive in their category. This is borne out by Byron Sharp's findings (which you can read in his excellent book How Brands Grow), being distinctive in the category makes it easier for potential customers to notice your brand, remember you, and then recognise you and select you when they come to buy.

But a large number of brands are consistently bad at this when it comes to advertising. For example, at the moment it’s barely possible to tell the difference between the advertising of different car manufacturers, or of different spirits brands.

Advertising has become plagued by clichés, category norms, comfortable territory and accepted ways of doing things.

Unfortunately for brands who have fallen victim to this, similarity is the road to obscurity (and a huge waste of marketing budget) as they become lost in the crowd.

Finding happy mediums, familiar territory and compromise might keep people happy in meetings, but it often also strips ideas of their power.

What might seem like a safe choice in the confines of a boardroom will most likely be a waste of money when it’s out in the real world.

It's an old cliché, but true, that advertising that feels safe or familiar is actually a quite risky thing to do.

There’s no ‘safety in numbers’ when it comes to advertising. If someone else is doing something similar to what you’re doing, or looks or sounds like you, you’re both in trouble.

Generating and maintaining a distinctive presence in your category will go a long way towards helping your product be the one selected by the customer.

That means more people buying your stuff, by the way.

For more pithy challenging of received wisdom, our new book ‘How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better – The Manifesto for a New Creative Revolution’ – is available exclusively at the Design Museum.