Big ideas should be media neutral
There comes a point in every business conversation when my clients say "and now we need some advertising". Sometimes it comes early in the conversation. Sometimes it is the first thing they say to me. Generally they are not mandating advertising as a solution, they are simply saying "we need to get a message out there."
And that is fine. But when someone really does mean "we need some advertising" they tend to be a junior person who has been told, by their boss, that advertising is what they need. Some time ago I worked with a marketing manager whose boss instilled the fear of God into her with the words "I want to see the schedule this week." By which I deduced that the boss was so frustrated by the inactivity of his marketer that he was mandating physical proof of effort ("If she shows me a media schedule, with a budget, I’ll know she has done some work").
Of course fear in business is generally counterproductive, and so it proved in this case. The marketer in question could no more brief, debate, consider and then present a coherent media schedule than I could bake a Raspberry Pavlova. Not unaided in any case.
As I worked to coach this lady, I raised a silent prayer for forgiveness - for all the times I had berated my account executives for lack of progress with their clients. Holding a marketing conversation with her was like wading through molasses. Nevertheless, we emerged from the brief writing process with a serviceable media brief. It had taken six weeks, for a media campaign that was intended to run for … you’ve guessed it … six weeks.
Skill levels aside, when a business needs to say something important to its marketplace it is generally a good idea to begin without preconceptions. Why constrain the ability to create an impactful idea and express it in the most relevant channel by sticking to what you know? "Vernacular radio has always worked for us " is rarely an adage expressed by business folk who have tested wider options.
We call this process of campaign planning without preconceptions ‘ media neutral’ or ‘channel neutral’ planning. And the good news is that you do not need an advertising agency to start the process.
First of all gather two or three of the clearest thinkers in your business. Season them with a couple of specialists from outside – perhaps a savvy PR person and a calculating media planner. You could add a creative person, but only if they are mature enough to think beyond execution (most young creatives only think in terms of how the website or billboard or TV ad might look).
Then host a series of short sessions (90 minutes is in my experience the absolute limit for productivity) where you try to develop the strongest promise your brand can make, and check that against what the competition is saying. Consider the people you have to persuade if your campaign is going to work, and be ruthless about stripping away target audiences that are not critical. The only prize for being inclusive in marketing is having to find bigger budgets. Then consider all the ways in which you could reach them (channels), and prioritise them.
In 2002 Toyota launched the latest model of Corolla in the UK. Corolla is a good car, but as a brand it is anodyne. It works, it looks ok and, er, … that’s it. So the team had to find an emotional hook to hang the campaign on.
They settled on ‘a car to be proud of’. If they had approached the campaign with preconceptions about the media to be used, this would have resulted in the sort of campaign we often see on billboards in Africa. A picture of the Corolla; the headline ‘ A Car To Be Proud Of’; and then a rash of contact details and social media logos. Mind-numbing stuff.
Instead they launched the campaign with a stunt, by printing and distributing (free) special car covers with the new Corolla printed on them. In that way people could cover up their existing car with a Corolla, and pretend they owned one themselves. Then they placed volunteers in the crowds at televised football matches with banners proclaiming ‘ I’ve got a new Corolla!’ Then in TV and on radio they developed campaigns about people going to extraordinary lengths to be associated with the new Corolla. And so, impact was created and demand generated.
Will your next ‘advertising’ campaign be half as brilliant?
Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people. www.thebrandinside.com
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