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I get the occasional email from grads keen to get into planning. Rather than telling them what I think (well, I can’t resist doing a bit of that), I usually point them in the direction of the books and blogs that have had the most impact on my understanding of people, brands and advertising.
If you’re new to Planning I’d start with ‘How Brands Grow’, ‘Truth, Lies & Advertising’ and ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. If you’re not, read on and hopefully you’ll find something newish nestled alongside the Greatest Hits.
This book has had more impact on my understanding of marketing and the way I approach my job than anything else. Before you start talking about planning or advertising, you first need to understand the fundamentals of marketing and consumer behaviour and what it is that really makes brands grow. This book draws on decades of empirical data to bust many common myths about loyalty, targeting, ‘engagement’ and persuasion. Dr Byron Sharp’s cynical tone also manages to make potentially dry subjects feel quasi-revolutionary. Essential.
No, not the Stephen King that ruined clowns for a generation of children. This Stephen King was one of the founding fathers of Planning, introducing the discipline to JWT in the 1960s. An essential look back at where planning came from, outlining the fundamental principles and advice that is still as relevant today as it was. Intros from today’s heavy hitters keep things feeling contemporary.
If Stephen King laid the foundation, Jon Steel is the one who showed many aspiring Planners how these principals should be applied in a real world setting. Steel manages to make topics as seemingly dry as research, creative briefing and copy testing entertaining, using famous campaign examples such as ‘Got Milk?’. Don’t be put off by the rather dated cover. Essential.
An article rather than a book, the good news is this one is free to access on the Thinkbox website. This is the best analysis I’ve read of how advertising actually works, and how our understanding of advertising has evolved over the last century or so. Feldwick questions a lot of conventional wisdom on the subject, reinforcing the importance of context and emotion above rational persuasion. Famous examples like the PG Tips Chimps and Rowan Aktinson’s Barclaycard classic ads bring things to life.
Along with Paul Feldwick, Binet & Field have been very influential on my understanding of advertising effectiveness and are a must-read for anyone working in the industry. The pair analysed nearly 1,000 effectiveness case studies from the IPA databank to prove a clear link between creativity and effectiveness and the power of emotionally-driven ‘fame’ campaigns above rational, message-driven advertising. This video on the Thinkbox website offers a good taster if you don’t want to shell out a hundred-odd quid for the book.
A recent update to the IPA databank analysis found in ‘Marketing In The Era of Accountability’, this time with more of a focus on the difference between short and long term effects of advertising. A wake-up call to those obsessing over big data and ‘real-time’ marketing, this analysis shows the importance of taking a longer term view and the enduring role of ‘fame’ media like TV. I wrote more about this here. Again, if you can’t get your boss to pay for the book, check out the free Thinkbox video instead.
An analysis of what made challengers like Avis, Absolut and Swatch successful. Not just for people working on challenger brands – rather an inspiration to think and behave differently from the competition.
The central point is that brand success has more to do with perception and cultural context than functional product innovation (what they call ‘better mousetraps’) or redefining the category (so-called ‘blue ocean strategy’). While some of the examples might feel a little post-rationalised, on the whole it’s a thought provoking book that chimes with a lot of the creative effectiveness stuff above. I wrote more about ‘Cultural Strategy’ here.
The focus here isn’t marketing or advertising, rather how to approach strategic thinking generally. Former NASA-engineer turned business strategy guru Richard Rumelt highlights some of the typical mistakes people make when trying to develop strategy and offers some good pointers and examples on how to put things right. His cutting tone and refreshing disregard for the usual business bullshit keeps things interesting.
Along with ‘How Brands Grow’, this provides the scientific foundation for effective advertising. Kahneman was the first psychologist to win the Nobel Prize for Economics and this book draws on a lifetime of research in behavioural economics. It explains how, while we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, in fact much of our decision making is emotionally driven and prone to relying on heuristics and bias. It might not be beach reading, but interesting from both a personal and professional point of view. Essential.
While I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas in the book (namely the suggestion that all brands need to become ‘passion brands’), the central premise at the heart of ‘Herd’ is sound. Mark Earls argues that ‘social proof’, or the people around us are the primary influence on how we behave. That might not sound like news, but the book raises some major question marks over marketers’ obsession with one-to-one marketing and data-driven personalisation.
I read this when I first moved from Sydney to Hong Kong. Tom Doctoroff has been running JWT in China for over a decade and while I’m sure some people will argue that China is too big and diverse to make these sort of generalisations, I found this a helpful introduction to doing business in the region. The observations and anecdotes are probably more interesting than the marketing recommendations though, which can seem a little prosaic.
Hope you enjoy some of the above – let me know what you think?
But ‘be more dog’ made me feel and it made me think. Even a cynical cat person like myself had a hard time suppressing a smile – and that’s something you can’t say for a lot of the crap that fills up the breaks. And if you want the plannery bollocks, there’s a nice observation in there about how jaded we are about technology, and in Britain, how jaded people are about life in general. We moan about our mobile internet being a little slow but forget that it didn’t even exist (for most of us) ten years ago.
The sign of a good creative idea is that it contains a point of view that transcends a specific execution and offers a platform for new thinking – and this campaign probably needs to build a bit more before it really starts to feel distinctively ‘O2′.
But the TV spot also shows the importance of ‘how you say it’ in the first place – in this case the power of a simple analogy. If Samsung or LG had tried to tackle this topic, we probably would have ended up with some generic, pompous guff about ‘limitless possibilities’ or ‘the power of curiosity’. ‘Be more dog’ manages to talk optimistically about technology in a way that’s down-to-earth and charming.
If you’re still reading, there are also some interesting digital extensions – throw frisbees from your phone to your PC, make a (rather heavily branded) cat/dog video for a friend or watch Dom Jolly getting overexcited about cool new gadgets etc
Being surrounded in Hong Kong by rather earnest ads for health supplements and tech products, I’ve started to miss the tongue-in-cheek humour that you see elsewhere. I thought I’d redress the balance by posting three new ads from around the world that are unashamedly aimed at blokes. Yes, they may make men look like one-dimensional idiots, but they’re still more memorable than a million FMCG product demos.
Australia has its fair share of awful ads (i.e. pretty much anything from Harvey Norman), but one area it consistently excels is beer advertising. My favourite of the week is BMF’s spot for Tap King. Itcombines what seems like quite a cool new gadget with Lionel Ritchie crooning in a fridge. And they’ve even managed to make the instructional video reasonably amusing.
Next up is one for Cerveza Andes in Argentina, which asks why the most devastating hurricanes always seem to be named after women:
The final one for Stowford Press Cider feels a bit derivative, but it’s still better than the terrible Carlsberg ads that aired recently in the UK. And when you consider it’s the brand’s first ever national TV ad, it isn’t a bad effort:
Here’s a beautifully simple idea to promote Philips blenders in Brazil. Rather than trying to persuade people that Philips blenders spin faster or chop finer, Ogilvy went back to the old cliche that it’s what you do with it that counts.
They decided to show that fruit tastes better when it’s blended together – by creating real hybrid fruits.
Clients are often wary of ‘selling the category’, preferring to talk about incremental product improvements or meaningless proprietary technologies that only the product managers understand.
Not really sure if this is just a one-off awards stunt or part of a bigger campaign, but well done to Philips for realising the potential of a great category idea. And extra kudos to the agency for getting a guy playing the spoons in there.
Really like this Kit Kat idea, I think it’s been kicking for a while but I only just clocked it here. A simple but elegant way of bringing ‘Have a break…’ to life, and just shows that sticking by a classic line doesn’t have to mean stale ideas.
Like a lot of great ideas it works because it taps into a tension that we can all relate to – it seems particularly pertinent here in Hong Kong, where people are well and truly under the spell of their smartphones…
Just read a great post from Simon Veksner addressing a major misconception on the role of entertainment in advertising:
“It’s often said that ads need to be entertaining because the entertainment allows us to ‘smuggle in’ a product benefit – the bit that is the commercially effective part of the ad.
I agree with the smuggling theory, but I actually think it works the other way round.”
Simon’s point isn’t just about making life more fun for creatives. It’s also in line with an increasing amount of research showing that emotive advertising is significantly more effective than ads that seek to communicate a rational product benefit (I’ve written more on this here).
The myth that creativity is just a vehicle for communicating a product message still seems to go largely unchallenged by clients, but it has major implications for how we brief and evaluate work. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend Paul Feldwick’s excellent paper ‘Exploding The Message Myth’ – probably the most illuminating piece I’ve read about how advertising really works.
I finished reading Douglas Holt and Douglas Cameron’s ‘Cultural Strategy’ on the MTR this morning. Thanks to Maria for putting me onto it while we were working together in Sydney. I have to admit I was intrigued but a little sceptical at the time so I’m probably a little late on this. Here’s the blurb:
“How do we explain the breakthrough market success of businesses like Nike, Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, and Jack Daniel’s? Conventional models of strategy and innovation simply don’t work. The most influential ideas on innovation are shaped by the worldview of engineers and economists – build a better mousetrap and the world will take notice. Holt and Cameron challenge this conventional wisdom and take an entirely different approach: champion a better ideology and the world will take notice as well.”
I wrongly assumed it was going to be one of those tedious ‘old model is dead’ books about how all brands need to start a movement and turn their customers into crazy evangelical brand zealots.
In fact, the authors recognise that the success of brands like Starbucks and Patagonia happened when they stopped preaching to the choir and found a way to appeal to the silent majority.
Innovation is overrated
What really resonated with me was their central point that brand success has much more to do with perception than product innovation (what they call ‘better mousetraps’) or redefining the category you play in (so-called ‘blue ocean strategy’). Similarly the role of advertising is not to communicate a literal message or stake out ownership of a abstract emotional territory, rather it’s about context and associations. This aspect fits nicely with Paul Feldwick’s excellent paper ‘Exploding The Message Myth’, which refutes the idea that creative is simply a wrapper to help communicate a literal message.
Implications for planners
While ‘Cultural Strategy’ isn’t terribly complimentary about the contribution of planners in some of the featured case studies, it does raise some good points about the strategic process. Namely that if the executional expression of a strategy has such a big impact on effectiveness then our job can’t just be about defining an abstract strategy statement or single-minded proposition. Rather, we need to foster a more nuanced consensus among the team around the cultural context in which our brand operates and think more about tone and nuance. And this means a less linear process – get the creatives involved before you write the brief, and be there to ensure that the all-important cultural nuance doesn’t get completely watered down by the time the work hits the market. There’s quite a lot of blog chat about this type of thing at the moment, Northern Planner suggests that perhaps our role is as shapers rather than planners.
A good example of this approach (not included in the book) is the way W+K articulated the original brand strategy for Honda. Rather than take the reductionist approach of a brand onion or pyramid, they instead created a visual manifesto that conveyed the idiosyncrasies of tone that would have otherwise been lost. Check out Russell Davies’ APG Entry for more on this.
The other aspect of ‘Cultural Strategy’ that I really liked was the emphasis the authors put on seeking to understand the category orthodoxy and use this as a competitive advantage. Regardless of whether you buy into the cultural strategy approach as a whole, knowing the category cliches is essential and can often a fertile source of ideas – sometimes it’s easier to start by defining what you aren’t than what you are.
You knew there’d be some criticisms
Where I don’t necessarily agree with Holt and Cameron (and their thinking departs from Feldwick’s) is in their assertion that a cultural approach based on ideology is always the ‘right’ way to build a successful brand or advertising. Evidence for the prosecution includes Cadbury’s Gorilla or Sony Bravia’s Balls, unsurprisingly neither of which are referenced in the book. From my understanding their effectiveness was not the result of a cultural ideology so much as a simple rejection of crap messaging in favour of a beautifully executed, emotive piece of advertising.
In addition, it sometimes feels like the authors have retrospectively applied a rather tenuous cultural explanation when the reality was a lot more complex. In most cases they fail to properly acknowledge the role of other factors, particularly luck, which as we know from Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, is often a much bigger factor than we like to admit.
Despite these reservations, in general the book helps to move the conversation about brands along in the right direction. A cultural approach may not be right for every brief but it’s certainly worth a read.