I wrote a post on my other blog over the weekend about the Occupy Wall Street’s lack of clear messaging and how they might improve it by asking themselves the questions we ask ourselves each time we’re trying to sell something. Greg asked me to post it here. Here’s a link to it: The Message has an Occupy Wall Street Problem.
This might seem like a small point to post about, but I think it’s important. When you go to a meeting to present creative, bring the strategic brief along. Ideally, you should set up your work using the brief, but at least have it with you.
Inevitably, the creative director, or account person or the CLIENT will ask to be reminded what the net takeaway on the brief is. It’s okay to whip the brief out and read it (usually, an account person or planner will be all over this). What doesn’t look so good (and believe me, I’ve seen this happen) is if all the creatives just look at each other, hoping that someone remembers the main thing their work is supposed to communicate. This puts a bullet in the work before it’s even been presented. It says that there’s a good chance your work will be off strategy, because you don’t even know what the damn strategy is.
I tend to lose things easily, so I started making a 3/4-sized photocopy of the brief and pasting it in my sketchbook. That way I always know where I can find it quickly. Just in case.
One of the important things you’ll have to do many times in your advertising career is craft language to frame a topic a certain way. This simply means that you control how someone looks at an idea. What perspective are they viewing it from and how are they judging it?
You obviously can’t always control how someone perceives your idea, but with the right language and the right tone, you certainly can influence it. Here are some examples:
1) Setting up your work for a client. I like to let the client know, as I set up the work we’re showing, how I judged the work and what I think it has going for it. This doesn’t always mean they’ll agree, but it lets them understand where I’m coming from before they form their own opinion. Or I’ll ask them to put their 12-year-old boy hat on (or whatever the target is) for a moment as they listen to the script.
2) Is there a completely different strategic approach? When my agency did a campaign for Brita Water Filters, which had always been about super-clean water without impurities, someone had the smart idea to re-frame the issue to be about conservation. Because a good deal of the plastic water bottles that people use end up in landfills or circling the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Here’s another example, the likes of which you’ve probably seen in hotel bathrooms.
The cynic in me sees those signs and thinks, “Yeah, right. The hotel’s just trying to save money on laundry.” Which may be true, but it is helping the environment too, and in the end I reuse my towels.
3. Word choice for the little things. Consider these possible call-to-actions in a banner ad:
Click here to visit blah.com.
Discover more at blah.com.
Start the journey at blah.com.
They’re all asking me to do basically the same thing, but each sets my expectations for blah.com. Is there a better way to say what you want?
Here’s another example that always strikes me when I see it. Rather than the typical SELL BY DATE, some drinks have the much more promising ENJOY BY date.
Framing is not about tricking anyone. It’s about asking someone to consider something from a different viewpoint. And if you have any questions as to whether it’s important, I invite you to listen to this episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Radiolab. In it, they discuss the potential effect of Obama’s election on the academic performance of African-American students, as well as how the simple act of framing a test (i.e. the language used to say what the test measures) can have a huge impact on test scores.
Q: Should strategy statements accompany the ads in your book?
A former student recently asked my opinion on this. Let me share it with you:
As creatives, we should be in the habit of eliminating any element that’s not contributing to the ad. I think this includes strategy statements in your book. No, they’re not part of the ad. But in the book, they are part of the presentation. And like a poorly art directed tagline, it’s one more thing drawing the viewer’s attention away from your work.
The argument for including a strategy statement might be to better familiarize the viewer with the brand. But you don’t see strategy statements in the One Show or CA annuals, which feature tons of great ads for brands I’ve never heard of.
Yes, there will be some exceptions. Ambient media sometimes warrants an explanation (different than a strategy statement). And on rare occasions, they might emphasize very big, incredibly insightful ideas. Use your best judgement.
But generally speaking, if the person looking at your book isn’t familiar with the brand, your ad should be enough of an introduction. If it’s not, maybe you haven’t done your job.
The summer between my first and second years of portfolio school, I interned at GSD&M. (I don’t think GSD&M has hosted interns from my school since. Make of that what you will.)
We knew the agency was involved in a high-profile pitch, so we asked if we could help out. We were given the same brief as the other four or five teams, and went to work.
At the initial internal presentation, we went first. (Whether we were over eager or being picked on, I don’t recall.) About halfway through our stack of paper the group creative director asked us to stop. He’d seen enough. We were a little off strategy.
That was more than a little crushing. But the real insult was when he went next and presented an ad that was simply the strategy statement as a headline with a relevant photo. Not everyone oohed and aahed. But a few did.
We brought in a ream of envelope-pushing ideas, and you just art direct the brief?! Geez, I’ll be a GCD if that’s all you have to do.
I learned two things from this experience:
- Anything art directed is going to have more impact than something drawn with a Sharpie. In group presentations, quality is going to beat quantity. (That said, don’t waste your time laying out concepts when you should be thinking.)
- The strategy as a headline is actually a great place to start. And in retrospect, I think that was what the GCD was trying to do. It keeps you from veering off course. And when you’re able to root the execution in strategic thinking, it becomes substantially more sellable internally, to the client, and to the public. (That said, don’t use the strategy statement as a headline as anything but a jumping off point.)