Marketing directors were urged to "Lobby for the kind of (creative) work required for your business situation, even if it is the communications equivalent of Cuban heels" in the latest of Helen Edwards' excellent Marketing columns, here.
But why the need to lobby your agency for creative work that you believe is needed to build you business? Below I summarise the key points from Helen's article, adding in some of our own brandgym examples too.
1. The rise of "sponsored entertainment"
Helen highlights the fashion for creative work "where 50 seconds of precious airtime pass and no-one knows yet even what category the brand is in". This will often be presented as "breakthrough creative work" that avoids anything as prosaic as product features and benefits, or "sausage" as we call it at the brandgym. It involves moving away from the "transactional" level, laddering up from attributes through benefits to "meaning" to focus solely on the emotional sizzle. As Helen says, "Life’s big themes will be up there – freedom, humanity, personal growth, love – whether you make fish fingers or stain remover." The risk is that you ladder up so high that you risk losing any connection back to your brand at all, as illustrated by one of my favourite Tom Fishburne cartoons below.
You end up with what I call "sponsored entertainment": entertaining communication that is paid for by the brand, but does little or nothing for the brand in question. I've posted many times on this issue, including one on Air BnB's #Mankind campaign, here.
2. Why product sausage is overlooked
But why do agencies and many marketing people forget the sausage and focus instead on selling solely the sizzle of their brand?
First, there is a misconception that today product is no longer a source of advantage, as everyone has the same product quality. I believe this to be fundamentally wrong. Yes, it is hard to get a massive product advantage that is sustainable over time. But you can still get a product edge that makes your offer distinctive and then investment is needed to keep upping your game to stay ahead of the competition. This is the approach used by Pepsico to continually renovate their Lays/Walkers brand of potato chips. And by the fast growing Charlie Bigham's brand of premium ready meals I posted on here. For more on the power of product, see this post.
The second issue is the view of some agency types that any attempt to actually sell the product or service will diminish the creative potency of the communication. What they may really mean of course is diminish their chances of meaning a creative award. This is why in some cases marketers will, as Helen says, be made to "feel uncomfortable – silly, even – when offer(ing) advice that goes against the prevailing creative winds.
3. Take back control
Sorry to borrow this phrase from the victorious Leave campaigners from the recent UK referendum, but it makes the right point: marketing directors need to do their bloody job. We believe that marketing has one role and that is to SMS = sell more stuff. Yes, marketing should build brand equity and emotionally connect with consumers, but only as a means to selling more of your product or service.
How to do this?
- Be brave: not by buying the latest creative gimmick, but by standing up for common sense and commercial imperatives
- Follow the money: "right now, the emotional epic is in," as Helen comments, but "No firm evidence will be shown to prove this makes business sense". Demand to see a business-based argument to support and creative proposal
- Demand sausage and sizzle: don't accept the objection that selling the product sausage means you have to compromise on creativity and emotional connection. This is quite simply a load of bollocks. In the words of McCann Errickson, the best communication is about "The truth well told"
- Sell the agency on the idea of sausage AND sizzle: there are plenty of examples of brands that have successfully told product stories in an emotionally compelling way. I posted here on the Stella Artois campaign, where creativity communicated the proposition of "a beer of supreme quality and worth". And one of the most highly used examples of viral video, Blendtec's "Will it blend" campaign here, uses the oldest product selling technique in the world, straight from the P&G playbook: the product demo. And there is the highly successful Fever Tree brand's use of product-based advertising that I posted on here.
In conclusion, as Helen rightly says, "the person we’re all asking to be brave is the consumer. We want them to switch from a brand they are familiar with to one they might not know so well. That’s a risk. They might just need some good reasons to take it." So, the next time your agency presents an emotional mini-epic that looks like sponsored entertainment, perhaps its time to ask "Never mind the sizzle, where's the sausage?" !