Archive for March, 2010

This post was inspired by a random lunch with a profane Welshman.

I use Tweetdeck in an attempt to impose some order on the real time opinion and content assault that results from following several hundred people.

Most of that content can be filed under ‘professionally useful”.

Some generous, well-read and well connected people save me a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted on Google, trying to stay on top of ‘stuff’.

But there are several people, and I probably really can count them on the fingers of one hand, who are defined (for me) on Twitter as much by their tone of voice as by their content.

I’m not talking about Twitter accounts whose sole purpose is to shock or entertain.

I’m talking about real people who don’t hold back when they tweet. They log on to Twitter with the safety catch off.

The result can be entertaining, extremely funny, emotionally raw, sometimes shocking, or downright unhinged.

And they light Tweetdeck up with the force of their personality.

I’d love to give specific examples, other than the one above, but that would be wrong.

Dan (aka @adlandsuit) writes funny, sweary stuff about cricket, rugby and reality TV, and he insults his friends. He also gave me the nod to feature one of his tweets.

Most of the other people I’m referring to are charismatic on Twitter because they pour their hearts out and/or don’t engage brain before tweeting (in a good way).

What they say feels incredibly private albeit on a highly public platform. They’re for me to know and you to find out. Sorry.

The point is that personality allows a few people out of several hundred to stand out from the crowd.

Very few brands manage to pull the same trick. Not just on Twitter. I mean anywhere.

I’ve been fortunate to work with Adam and co. from EatBigFish on a couple of occasions.

Adam literally wrote the book on Challenger Brand theory.

And one of the characteristics of a Challenger Brand is what EatBigFish call a Lighthouse Identity.

Most brands spend fortunes on research to get as much information and insight about their audiences as they can. Then they effectively navigate by that insight, allowing it to influence the brand’s behaviour.

By contrast, Challenger Brands say ‘Bugger that. This is what I stand for and you (target audience) can bloody well navigate by me (as you would navigate by a lighthouse).’

The Twitter ‘few’ definitely have lighthouse identities.

Everyone is talking about ‘earned media‘.

But not everyone has grapsed the fact that earned media have to be, well, earned.

Nor that a charismatic personality is a good way to increase your media earning potential.

For as long as I’ve been in the business I’ve sat in meetings and joined in with ‘If this brand were a person it would be….’ exercises.

These exercises are pretty much guaranteed to generate a list of usual suspect celebrities (regardless of brand or market sector) and they almost always translate into a sterilised, sanitised list of vanilla adjectives in the tone of voice section of the resulting brief.

Brands used to get away with this when whacking any old shit on telly would have a positive commercial effect.

But it’s not a case of ‘If this brand were a person…’ any more.

In social spaces and in earned media, brands really are the people behind them.

And the charismatic brands will be those that allow the people behind them to actually behave like human beings.


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The first rule of Pitch Club is that you most definitely DO want potential clients to talk about your presentation afterwards.

And they’re more likely to do so if they can actually remember what you said.

We’ve all been there.

You attend a presentation.

Someone who didn’t attend asks you to paraphrase later the same day.

And you can’t.

Or at best you struggle to piece it all back together.

Crystal clarity and an unmissable straight-line narrative thread go a long way towards winning pitches.

Not only do they make you more memorable, but the process of stripping things back, of straightening out the chicanes and removing interesting but unnecessary tangents actually invests your presentation with a much greater sense of conviction.

And that sense of conviction, allied with your clarity, only adds to your memorability.

One of the best pieces of training I ever had was when I blagged my way onto the judging panel for the media agency pitch process that one of my clients was conducting.

This story would be better if I could name names but I’d better not, even though with the passing of time I don’t think I’d be betraying any commercial confidences.

The pitch brief asked for media strategies on two brands in the client’s portfolio. Two brands with quite different issues.

It was a thorough brief and a fair process in terms of access to the client and opportunity to ask questions etc.

My abiding memory of three out of the four pitch presentations is the sheer level of work that had gone into them. The kitchen sink had been well and truly chucked. The thoroughness of the research and the quality of the presentation materials, including video content, were impressive.

My abiding memory of the fourth pitch is what they said.

They structured the presentation as a boxing card.

“Bout 1” for Brand X was billed as Boys versus Girls.

They framed the media planning issue as a straight decision of prioritising one gender over another.

“Bout 2” for Brand Y was billed as Safe versus Dangerous.

Brand Y had a reputation for high profile, ‘out there’, risky creative work. And agency 4 contended that this ‘dangerous’ creative work had historically run in very ‘safe’ places.

Agency 4 stripped their presentation back to ask these two questions and then emphatically answered them. No diversions. No temptation to pad things out with evidence of effort, unless it added to the narrative. Or if there was temptation it had been resisted.

Agency 4 won the pitch by a country mile. Less than half an hour after the other presentations we genuinely struggled to agree as a group on what had actually been recommended.

And, from memory, I don’t think the client actually agreed with Agency 4’s recommendation on one of the briefs.

But they’d seen enough to know that they wanted that team on their side.

And that’s the second rule of Pitch Club.

The second rule of Pitch Club is to remember what the client is looking to buy.

The pitch brief may ask you to present ideas, but the client is looking to buy an agency.

But that’s another blog post.

What would be your first rule of Pitch Club?

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I was very much taken by this post by Mike Arauz.

It spoke to me.

In fact it spoke to the reason that I joined a specialist digital agency after 19 years in advertising.

Mike talks about how digital technology lets you do clever tricks.

And about how ad agencies tend to be good at storytelling.

But that real magic happens when you combine the two.

His post is well worth reading because he expands on these points and illustrates them with a lovely piece of video.

His Venn diagram (above) makes the point that it takes a combination of technological trickery and good old fashioned storytelling to create the magic.

And I guess the small area of overlap implies that this happens all too rarely.

For me, however, the area of overlap between tricks and storytelling is huge.

Huge as in huge opportunity.

The main reason I’m where I am today is that I wanted to work with ideas that are unconstrained by 30″ timelengths or A4 formats.

With ideas that are enabled and enhanced by technology and human interaction.

It’s true that, all too often, ‘creativity’ in digital agencies is interpreted as design rather than conceptual thinking.

But true also that the approach to technology in ad agencies is, all too often, equally naive.

Interesting times ahead as erstwhile ad agencies tool up with technical trick merchants, and erstwhile digital agencies tool up with conceptual storytellers.

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I’m in two minds about this old giving-clients-what-they-need-not-what-they-want adage.

On the one hand it appeals to the image we agency types like to project of being top-table, C-Suite, trusted adviser consultant types.

On the other I shy away from the intellectual arrogance that it implies. I suspect that many clients shy away from its implicit (explicit?) intellectual arrogance too.

Nonetheless, here’s a story in which the adage could not have been more true.

Several years ago Honda briefed the Leith Agency to develop campaigns for two vehicles – the CR-V and the (then) brand new Jazz.

We came back with two absolute rip-snorters.

(If I say so myself).

There’s a phrase, favoured by literary reviewers, that goes something like “This is a tour de force by a writer at the peak of his powers.”

Looking back that’s how it felt at Leith working on those Honda briefs.

The planning was good and we had a group of young, hungry creatives who were in an incredibly fertile groove.

We had Dougal (Wilson – now a top international pop-promo and commercials director), Gareth (Howells – now Creative Partner at Newhaven) and Alex (Flint – now a senior creative at Goodby Silverstein in San Fransisco), all working into a fired up Gerry Farrell.

The CR-V campaign was executed in the style of those Commando war comic books that came back into nostalgic fashion a couple of years ago. It turned everyday family situations into highly charged combat scenarios, allowing us to seamlessly show off the features of the car in the process.

The campaign line was ‘The Honda CR-V. Because it’s hell out there.’

A trip to the supermarket in the CR-V was treated like a helicopter insertion behind enemy lines. The carpark was the ‘L.Z.’ and one of the kids was discovered to be ‘M.I.A.’ as the shopping was unloaded into the (capacious) boot. ‘I’m going back in’ said the mother. ‘But that’s crazy talk’, replied one of her other siblings.

The print work was a highly distinctive combination of photography and all-action illustration, complete with speech bubbles and ‘Achtung Spitfeuer!’ style exclamations. It worked well in every format from small space press to dealership window stickers.

The Jazz campaign was a sure-fire award winner. I know this because it was almost identical to an award winning Toyota Corolla campaign that came out a few years later.

The Jazz strapline was “One Proud Owner”, a play on words on the phrase “One careful owner”, much beloved of second hand car classified advertisers. One of the print concepts featured one proud Jazz owner deliberately getting flashed by a speed camera to get the car’s photograph taken.

The later Corolla campaign carried the line ‘A car to be proud of’ and it won a stack of awards for several executions including one which featured a proud Corolla owner deliberately getting flashed by a speed camera etc. etc.

Our Jazz campaign also included some very funny radio ads.

I remember us killing ourselves laughing as Alex (I think it was Alex) phoned some local builders to get them to quote for building a rotating plinth in his driveway to showcase his new Honda Jazz.

We recorded several hilarious conversations with obviously bemused tradespeople as they attempted to define the scope of the project and put a cost to it.

These were great campaigns, presented to a client that was looking to buy stand-out work. They were exactly what the client wanted.

But neither campaign ever ran.

The two briefs were the basis of a pitch for the Honda UK account.

We were pitching against several agencies, one of which was Wieden & Kennedy London.

W & K didn’t give Honda what they wanted.

W & K’s pitch was based on what they thought the client needed.

They pitched that Honda shouldn’t be trying to sell cars in their ads.

They pitched that Honda should be building a brand.

They pitched that Honda was cool, but that not enough people realised it yet.

They pitched the basis of their famous Power of Dreams campaign.

So, although we presented two fantastic campaigns that I genuinely believe would have won nine out of ten pitches, we got blown away.

It was one of the most bitter, bruising but ultimately useful pieces of training I’ve ever had.

Many client briefs, particularly briefs to digital agencies, go beyond articulating the problem and suggest the approach to solving it.

The suggested approach may turn out to be the right approach, but you should always always go back to the base problem and think from there.

Clients don’t always like being told that there’s a better way than the one suggested in their brief. These can be difficult conversations.

But being blown away is worse.

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This book moved me.

I read a lot and derive some form of pleasure from the vast majority of books.

But to be moved is unusual.

This book made me reconsider my views on an important contemporary issue.

This book made me laugh on several occasions.

Particularly the exchange early in the book between one of the two main characters and a taxi driver who looks like Brian May from Queen.

This book kept surprising me all the way through to the end.

An end which I didn’t see coming.

Which, like being moved, is unusual.

The blurb on the back cover says…

“We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.”

Having read the book, I now understand that this is not the marketing hyperbole that I assumed it to be.

Having read the book I feel the same way. Do as I have done and only read the reviews and the back stories after you’ve read the book itself.

But read this book.

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