Saturday, November 18, 2006

A lite look at intelligence

When you're selling beer, raunch sells. Thank God someone decided otherwise. Miller Lite has always had a different spin on beer advertising. Clearly, there's a good Planner at work on this brand. Once again, they've gone off the beaten path to sell their beer. Somebody actually gave the creative people a brief for beer that said men who drink beer think about things other than women. (Even if they don't.) Now that's what I call out of the box thinking. I say Miller Lite has got something good going here. We'll have to wait and see. You can see the results of an unusually good brief for a beer at:

Briefly speaking: Sorouh Corporate

You are a property company. How do you communicate something about yourself that's vague, unconvincing and very hard to explain unless experienced over a period of time? You stay away from property. You stay away from advertising it conventionally. You stay away from pretty pictures, lifeless facilities and page-turning imagery. You don't think property. You turn to the customer. My one life brief for Sorouh corporate: When we look at property, we look at you.

The best Planners are not Planners

They're artists, farmers, scientists, law-makers, anyone with a curious mind, someone with the ability to process large amounts of information efficiently, sensitive souls, mavericks, passionate hobbyists, writers, malcontents, anarchists and different people with the ability to think out of the box. If you're looking for a good Account Planner, don't think advertising. Think out of the box. A good Planner is always someone who can. It's why I firmly believe all good Planners are creative.

Getting ahead with a leave-behind

A leave-behind is something you leave behind, in addition to a good impression, when you walk out of a pitch presentation. The one thing you mustn't leave behind is the work. No matter what, work should be presented to whoever it has to be shown to. Work should never be shown by people who haven't helped create it. And that's why you need a leave-behind. When you don't leave your work behind, you want to leave something behind for the prospects to remember you with. Always think of something that represents your agency and carry it with you to the pitch presentation. Walk out with your work. Leave behind the leave behind. And it better be good - like your work.

The best new business pitch

You want new business? Forget new business. The best new business pitch is the work you do for your existing clients. So the next time you're thinking of how to get new business, think about how much more you can do for your current clients. Work your ass off to do great work for your existing clients and you won't ever have to work to get new clients.

Recipe for a good presentation

1 portion real life
Make it personal
Sprinkle with anecdotes
Share stories generously
Lightly flavour with jargon
Simplify carefully
Prepare passionately
Taste with a mirror
Serves everyone

Friday, November 17, 2006

Briefing method

A lot of advertising fails because it has been written for the wrong person/audience. As a communicator, I'm always trying to get as close as possible to my target audience. It's hard. So, how do you get to know your target audience better? You become the person you are trying to talk to. It's called method thinking. Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando are known for their method acting skills. Closer home, Aamir Khan is known to use method acting to get inside the head of his characters. Isn't that what good communicators must do?

The next time you have to write a brief, try and get one of your team members to act like the person you're trying to talk to. It'll help you understand the person better. That apart, it'll also make sure you don't think your target person is little more than a demographic.

Briefly speaking: Saraya

You are a UAE National. You belong to one of the richest countries in the world. You are not allowed to own an inch of your land. Until now. Sorouh Properties has been given large tracts of land in Abu Dhabi which they can sell to the public for personal use. How do you ensure you make the most of the land grab? You mix nationalism and insecurity. My one line brief for the Saraya land grab: Don't let anyone else own your country.

Briefly speaking: Abu Dhabi Municipality

People hate being told what to do. Often, they don't care for the things that belong to them. Worse, when your target audience is primarily expatriates, how do you make them care about something that doesn't belong to them? How do you pursuade people to keep their city clean? You use the carrot and carrot approach. You reward them for selfless acts. As popular scientist Richard Dawkins posits in his book The Selfish Gene, most selfless acts are driven by selfishness. My one line brief to help the Abu Dhabi Municipality clean up our act: Help your city shine, and we'll help you shine.

Briefly speaking: ADCB Investment Services

You can't say we'll grow your money. You can't say we'll secure your future. You can't say we'll give you returns. You can't say anything provocative. Your communication has to be more conservative than a disclaimer. Now write something inspiring enough to inspire creative to come up wth a campaign that'll make people come to you. Sometimes the briefs with the most challenges are the best briefs to write. They make you think. Harder. When you can't say anything, there's a very good chance you'll end up saying something interesting. My one line brief for ADCB investment services: When it comes to us, the last people you should talk to is us. Please talk to our customers.

Language matters

What do you do when you present good English copy and are told by the servicing team that most of the people the ad is targetted at won't understand it so why not go back to the drawing board and dumb it down a bit? You tell them to advertise to the people who won't understand it in the language these people are most comfortable with. And then, you tell them again. Because the people who told you nobody will understand it will not understand it.

It's amazing how many times an English copywriter is told that a line he/she has written for an audience that understands good English is not working because the target audience doesn't understand good English. In which case, why advertise to them in English? Umm, did I just repeat myself? Good. It's worth repeating.

A quick look at print advertising

I've said a bit about the 'less copy is more powerful' school of thinking that has swept advertising this decade. Most people say this has much to do with shortening attention spans and the overwhelming amount of information that is out there. I suspect it also has a bit to do with the falling levels of tangible product differentiation. As a result, with nothing new to say about your brand you're left with no option but to say little, packaged beautifully.

When time is short, people go for looks. Enough said.

Nostalgia bar one

Last night I was sitting with a fellow creative at this lovely big kitsch bar in Abu Dhabi called Zari Zardosi when he mentioned what a big fan of nostalgia he is. It's not the first time I've heard that. I've heard the same wistful comment/lament from many people.

It probably has a bit to do with age. If you happen to be above 30, chances are you're a fan of nostalgia. Speaking of the bar; it's all about kitsch and retro chic. I love it. A lot of people much younger than yours truly love it too. The decor harks back to a different time long gone by. Apart from cigarette smoke, there's a lot of nostalgia in the air.

The thing I find most striking about this is, if things are getting better in life, why are we such huge fans of nostalgia? Brief writers, are advised to make a note of it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Research matters

A lot of people pooh-pooh research, but I think that has much to do with the methodology followed by most researchers in the world. For research to be useful, it has to be conducted innovatively. Research that reeks of research is useless research. If you want to research something, do it in a manner that doesn't make it seem like research. Research has proved that all the research in the world will prove useless unless you find a disarming way to gather information.

When you tell the consumer he/she is being researched, you won't get insights, you'll only end up with research.

Life's a pitch

Contrary to popular belief, the work on the table is not the biggest reason agencies lose pitches.

A pitch is so much about the presentation. The greatest work in the world will not win you a pitch if you don't know how to present it. In the words of another Uberplanner Jon Steel, "In all of the successful pitches I have made, the most common reason given by a client for awarding their business to my agency was that in their opinion, we "wanted it more." They liked our ideas, but more than that they liked us, and they liked our passion for those ideas."

How can a Planner make a difference in a pitch situation? He can make sure the Account Management and the Creative teams are doing work they both believe in. The Planner is the glue which keeps them together. Once creative and client servicing are on the same page, you're invincible. Almost. Ah, now I see why Contract Advertising of old used to win most of its pitches. They were the one agency with an outstanding Account Planner in the mix.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A creative way to evaluate creative work

95% of my work has never seen light of day. For a long time, I thought the only word in the English dictionary was 'No'. Boy, am I happy for it. It has taught me how to be a good coach. So what if I'm not the best batsman in the world, I do know how to bring out the best in creative people. (I think.) And I put it all down to having worked for so many people who didn't know how to. Here's one aspect of how I try not to be like all those people. Here's an incomplete check-list on how to evaluate and help come up with good creative work. As always, when it comes to 'creative', there is no formula.

a. Start with a smile. Creative people hate to see a blank face.

b. Tell people what's right about it.

c. Continue by looking for more things that are right about it.

d. Don't tell people how you would have done.

e. Ask questions instead of coming up with answers.

f. Think of all the times your work has been rejected.

g. Go back to point 'f'.

h. Don't be flip about creative work. Creative work is hard work.

i. End with a smile. Creative people need all the encouragement they can get to go back to the drawing board.

A place for product placement

When few people have time for television and print advertising, it's time to look for another place to place those messages, subtly. Worldspace did it quite nicely in Lagey raho, Munnabhai Gandhigiri. That move, and movie, did more for Worldspace radio than any conventional advertising campaign might have been able to. It also told a few un-Gandhilike white lies along the way, but that's part of the advertising game, unfortunately. The case of Worldspace, most recently, tells me that it's time for agencies and clients to make a stronger pitch for product placement in the advertising game.

It's high time we all looked at the advertising game differently. It's time to look at product placement more closely.

Briefly speaking: 050 from Etisalat

When all you have to do is tell people that come December 15th, they'll need to dial (050) before dialling any Etisalat mobile number, what do you tell them? You tell them more.

You use it as an opportunity to build brand values. You use it as an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the competition. You make (050) stand for everything you want to say about Etisalat. Maybe all you've been asked to do is inform people about a directive from the Telecom Regulatory Authority. I say, you do more. When you're spending over a million dollars on a campaign, you better make it work damn hard for you. Is this an example of what the Uberplanner Russell Davies calls overthinking? No, it's just smart thinking. My one line brief for the (050) exercise: (050) doesn't mean (050), it means Etisalat.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The language of a copywriter

Do you have to write in correct English to be an English copywriter? Does a brand that speaks incorrect English devalue itself? I don't know, but it's worth thinking about. There was a time when copywriting was all about flawless English. There was also a time when English was about flawless English. English, today, is not about flawless English; it's communicative English. Can a copywriter afford to get by without knowing the Queen's English? Judging by how irrelevant the Queen is, I suspect the answer is yes. The question then is, what kind of copywriter does the state of advertising today demand? With audiences so fragmented, languages so mixed up and clutter so contiguous, why bother with a copywriter who uses words like contiguous?

Don't get me wrong, it's not simple being a copywriter. Just get this right: A copywriter has to be simple. Unfortunately you can't be simple unless you know what's difficult. I guess you do need a copywriter who knows his English. Like I said, it's a tough one to call.

Campaign to end 'advertising campaigns'

Day in and day out I get briefs asking for advertising campaigns. Day in and day out I see people churning out double-spread ads, single page ads, television commercials, radio spots. What I don't see much of is out of the box thinking. So here's my question for the day: Does an advertising campaign have to be about conventional advertising? And here's my answer forever: No. Good advertising must cease to be about ads. Which reminds me, I have a request for a corporate campaign. Everyone on the team is thinking of doing lovely double-spread ads. I'm thinking of doing nothing of that sort. I'm going to suggest ambient advertising as the advertising campaign.

Note to myself: Don't expect it to go down the throat easily. Good. Path-breaking ideas are not supposed to.

Advertising for people

Our agency needs people. We need a recruitment ad. Naturally, people have been falling over each other to do these ads. I've seen a lot of ads. They're all very creative. And very dishonest. When it comes to recruitment ads, the one thing I never see is honesty. I think an honest recruitment ad would a most refreshing recruitment ad. An honest recruitment ad would also be a most creative ad. It takes a lot of balls to be honest. Just like it takes a lot of balls to be creative.

My one line ask to recruitment ads for self would be, how about some honesty? It could make for some very path-breaking communication. Honestly.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Reading the brief

I often hear people from client servicing say what's the point in writing a brief when creative people don't read them? To which I say creative people don't read briefs because we people rarely writes briefs. Most of the time what Client Servicing does is compile briefs. Okay, let's assume for a moment that creative people don't have the decency to read a good brief and instead spend their time thinking up ideas that are way off-brief. Here's how you can use the creative instinct to serve the needs of the brand:

a. Don't, always, give written briefs.

b. Think of more interesting ways to communicate the brief.

c. Try experiential briefing.

d. Work with the creative team when you're trying to come up with the brief.

e. Ask the creative team to write the brief.

f. Think of other ways in which you can make the creative team part of the briefing process.

One more thing: Stop thinking of only 'creative' as creative and 'client servicing' as not creative. Gone are the days when you could get by in a career without being creative. We're in a time and age when everyone must to find a way to be creative. Just don't be 'creative' for the sake of being creative.

Briefly speaking: Primescapes from Sorouh

The brief was to sell blocks of land located in the heart of town. The brief was also to differentiate it from other Sorouh projects. All Sorouh projects talk about offering 'Life in Perfect balance'. The last thing we wanted was to come up with a central idea that talked about more 'Life in Perfect balance'. We realised what made this project special was that it was located in the heart of the city. The one line brief: Primescapes, find life in perfect balance without looking for it.