Creative Conversation: Who dares wins
Think of your favourite campaign. Now ask yourself, why is it your favourite?
More often than not it will be because it’s something you’ve never seen before. It’s novel. It’s bold. It’s innovative. It’s different. Or perhaps it’s just outright bizarre or provocative.
Making an emotional connection like this is what every client wants. They’re looking for the campaign that brings memorability and virality to the brand. Or the campaign that brings home the Cannes Lion and Effies for agencies. However, far too often, the ideas that would lead to brilliant, original campaigns either end up in the bin or are watered down to the point of being unrecognisable – all due to a lack of confidence on the part of the client.
This conversation revolves around the adventurous and daring ideas that we help foster, and how we can persuade clients to buy-in to standing out.
Because only by being bold, will we get noticed.
Alice: Presenting audacious ideas to clients can be a hard sell. Even more so with established brands, as their aversion to risk is sky high.
So, how do we, as an agency, get brands to let go of their apprehension and get them to embrace these ideas?
Jess: In the B2B world, our job isn’t just to ‘sell’. Our job is to open that door to the salespeople. The client brief might say ‘sell this, sell that’ but to do that, we need to ‘excite, engage, entertain’. We live in a world where we are bombarded with thousands of messages every day. So, our job is to get an emotional connection with our audience, without people just seeing yet another message. How do you get people to stop and look? It needs to be interesting, it needs to have that impactful, emotional connection. At times, that’s why the message is nonsense – because it makes you stop and think, and ultimately, you want to engage with it.
James: Sometimes things don’t have to have any real link back to the brand or the product, it can be just visual or messaging noise that has no real purpose other than to catch someone’s eye and create that moment of engagement. A bit nonsensical, irrelevant and irrational, but it makes you stop and listen.
Brent: It’s an interesting topic, because a lot of what we do at Coley Porter Bell is based on neuroscience. In our brain, we have two systems. We have a system one which is fast, automatic and sort of irrational. Whereas System two is more logical, slow and composed. A lot of ads that we watch or campaigns we see that we like and think they’re a bit weird is our system one navigating you straight into somewhere you’re not necessarily aware of. Ultimately, you are liking that advert, even though your system two mindset is telling you that you shouldn’t. It’s sort of a cognitive dissonance kicking in, two things fighting against each other. It’s interesting though, because working on smaller more independent brands, it’s easier to sell in ‘nonsense’, because they are all after the idea of fame and want to be noticed for something different. But, with the bigger global brands it’s a bit more difficult to get them to do something that doesn’t make sense. Often, they push back and try to put it through research internally, such as “does it work with consumers?”. But does it have to? I don’t know.
Dave: Sometimes with established clients, if they’re stuck in an outdated way of doing things, the best way to get around it is to get the branding, get the logo and completely deconstruct it, rip it apart into a hundred different pieces and then rebuild it one hundred different ways and see where you end up.
James: But if you look at large corporate brands, they’ve set maybe 100 years of precedence with their communications. Whereas a start-up is coming in fresh and they have a blank slate to define themselves and what their brand stands for. All too often we see established brands petrified of creating inconsistencies across their markets; they fear losing control and this makes them rein everything back in centrally to follow clearly defined brand guidelines that really give us very little room for creativity and experimentation.
Jess: The thing is with established brands, 20-30 years ago the rules of marketing were so different. Now, a new brand comes into the market knowing ‘Right, we live in a digital world and this is how things work now’ and suddenly these brand guidelines that were developed 10/20 years ago are completely irrelevant. Really, it all boils down to personality. Brand personality is that little thing that you want to buy from a brand that reflects who you are. This even works in B2B. If I’m a technology client, I want to buy from a technology brand that’s forward thinking and modern and if that’s not showing in their marketing and communications then I will probably look elsewhere.
Dave: Well, to bring up a recent event, it’s a bit like Thomas Cook. It had its set way of doing things for the last 130 years and it didn’t really update in the last 10-20 years and now look at them.
Brent: It’s true. I used to work on Nestlé for a long time, a business that has been around for 150-200 years or so and changing their perception was difficult. Look at a product like Nesquik. We were tasked with creating a global TV ad for them and the traditional Nesquik moment for them was a Mum in the kitchen mixing the drink for the kid sat down at the table. You can probably picture it now, but as we started working through it, we realised this isn’t really an accurate description of how life is anymore. They were showing such a traditional, safe environment of a family but, times have changed, and society has moved forward. Where’s the Dad? Where’s the kid making it themselves? We kept trying to push Nestlé away from the vision they had in their mind, but it was kind of a comfort for them that they didn’t want to step out of. So, we created a separate workstream for Nestlé where we would come up with just crazy ideas and sell them in, based off the strategy, but just completely different to anything they had ever done, and it was a way of pulling them out of their comfort zone and it worked.
Jess: It’s hard because, introspectively, to the brand and to the people that work there, they are completely invested in it. They believe in it and its personal to them, but sometimes, that’s not good enough and that’s how your brand can become irrelevant.
James: I think with brands like that, they’re never going to buy an idea that is just pure nonsense. Communication needs to have a specific role, whether it’s changing perceptions, selling something or building a brand.
Dave: It’s quite hard to do a bizarre brand B2B ad, whereas B2C we get these briefs all the time. For example, with Cadburys I went to speak to the guys at Fallon just after they had done the Gorilla ad and I asked them, how on earth did you sell that into global clients? How did you sell a guy in a gorilla suit playing the drums to Phil Collins, it was absolute nonsense. And they said, we just didn’t present anything else, they knew it was an award-winning script and it turned out to be a really nice brand ad that did really well.
Brent: Well, this goes back to that same old story. Sometimes brands have been doing something a certain way for so long, that you need something like a gorilla playing the drums to get people’s attention again and change the perception of what people think of you. At the time you think ‘why would Cadbury’s have done that?’ But in hindsight, their traditional way of advertising was probably becoming a bit stale and by totally reinventing the brand and how they sell chocolate they created something spectacular and we’re still sat here talking about it 12 years later.
Why do you think this worked then – and why did it resonate so well with consumers?
Jess: It made Cadburys a talking point. Yes, it’s totally irrational, but pre-Gorilla days I probably wouldn’t have ever paid attention to a Cadbury’s ad. After that, it was front of mind for consumers.
Brent: Exactly, think back to the oldest Cadbury’s ad you can remember and it’s probably the Gorilla ad.
Dave: I remember everyone being like ‘Wow, what’s the next one they’re going to do?’ Trying to second guess it and you just couldn’t. They followed it with the boy and girl eyebrow dancing and again, it’s pure nonsense.
Brent: Nonsense can work if it links back to what the brand stands for. Cadburys was all about bringing joy, and these adverts bought that to people and it helped restore an emotional and fun connection to their brand.
“Sometimes brands have been doing something a certain way for so long, that you need something like a gorilla playing the drums to get people’s attention again and change the perception of what people think of you.”
Brent Morris – Senior Planner, Coley Porter Bell
So, how do you think agencies help foster theses wacky ideas?
Brent: Well, when I was at McCann they had this vision of being the most creatively awarded agency in the world and they started this process called ‘Road to Cannes’. It was basically a proactive creative initiative where you briefed teams once a week with the wall of problems. On the wall there were loads of challenges, issues and insights that our brands faced and a lot of the stuff that came out of these sessions were nonsense ideas that just worked. I think agencies help foster these ideas as they simply put these processes and brainstorming sessions into place to begin with.
Jess: I think the client relationship is also instrumental. If you have a client that you’ve built up trust with over time, you can say “We’ve read the brief, we know where you want to be and now you have to trust us to get you there”. If you have the relationship, that goes a long way towards fostering brave ideas.
Dave: It’s also down to us as a creative department. We need to be conscious that we’re diverse and confident enough to deliver these ideas and that we have enough experience to deliver extraordinary campaigns.
But, how do we advocate bravery for our clients when, at times, the risk can be all one-sided?
James: Personally, I don’t think the risk is all one-sided. So many times, an agency has persuaded a client to do something brave or disruptive and it’s backfired massively and that could be the end of the client-agency relationship, or at least the beginning of the end. Ultimately, that’s something that we need to think about when we’re selling in these ideas. To your point earlier though Jess, having that partnership with your clients and making sure that you’re all invested in an idea at the start is key to fostering client bravery.
Jess: Confidence also plays a massive part. More often than not, we lay three creative ideas on the table. One that’s very creative and we’re very excited about, but we know the client won’t want to go with. A middle ground one and then there’s the ‘safe’ one that they’ll probably buy. I guess moving forward, is there a way that we can keep that safe one in our back pocket if needs be? Do we just go in with the one bold idea and see if they will trust us to execute it in a way that works for them?
James: To persuade clients to buy ideas like that, if you can link it back to measurement and really make sure that there’s a robust projection of the impact it can have to brand equity, ROI, or the bottom line, or whatever it may be, it goes a long way in persuading a client to get on board.
“Personally, I don’t think the risk is all one-sided. So many times, an agency has persuaded a client to do something brave or disruptive and it’s backfired massively and that could be the end of the client-agency relationship, or at least the beginning of the end.”
James Corlett – Account Director, Ogilvy
I know at Coley Porter Bell, you get senior management in at the start and do an activity called visual planning. Can you explain visual planning a bit to those who don’t know what it is?
Brent: Of course. So, at CPB we do an exercise called visual planning. The reason we do this is because often, words can be misunderstood and misconstrued. A lot of our business and what we do is words, right? We write propositions, we write copy, we write end lines and so on, and words can mean lots of different things to lots of different people. This is particularly true when you think about what your brand stands for or your brand’s purpose. So, what we try to do at Coley’s, is work with very senior clients, from the CEO to the CMO and we bring them into a room and we say ‘Right, this is what you say your brand stands for, let’s start to bring this to life visually through pictures and images’ and we put together almost a visual brand essence, which is quite a nice way of doing it because, ultimately, you get everyone on to the same page quite early on in the process. Brands are so open to interpretation. So, doing visual planning is a really great way of getting people to align early on, within the agency and with the client and it makes it more of a team effort.
Jess: Alice and I did this recently for one of our clients as well, and what comes to light is the idea of your actual self and your perceived self. Brands can often say “we’re this, we’re that and the other” and actually their images and the words they use are saying something entirely different to who they think they are. Ultimately, there ends up being a real discrepancy between the two. So, if you’re saying your technology is the most innovative, you’re the market leader and you have these solutions that other people haven’t got, but then you’re talking in a way that’s archaic and you’re using images off Shutterstock libraries that are years old, it just doesn’t add up. If you want to be that person, you have to act like that person.
Alice: Also, all too often we see brands only focused on what they’re doing and what they’re saying, without looking at what everyone else in the market is doing. Sometimes brands just need to stop and take an outside-in view of their world, their market and their stakeholders and think about what their brand really stands for and how they can differentiate.
To finish up then, can you tell me your favourite ‘nonsense’ campaigns?
Dave: Words don’t really do it justice but there’s a trout and you get this beautiful close-up macro shot of this fish going down a slide and then glide across the floor to this repetitive plonky music, and that’s the ad. Then the end line is ‘That was smooth’ and it’s for Klarna’s smooth payments. It’s just nonsense, but a beautiful idea. You watch it and there’s something emotionally quite nice about watching it. In the back of your head you’re like ‘I like what I’m watching, but I don’t know what it is’ and then the magic happens in that final moment when you finally get it.
Brent: Again, this goes back to neuroscience and your system. It doesn’t really need to make any sense for you to like it, it’s an impulsive reaction to what you’re seeing.
Jess: My favourite has to be the Old Spice adverts. You have a handsome man, on a horse, on a boat, in random places and in random situations. It’s all bizarre, but I absolutely love it.
Brent: I quite liked the Tide ad from the Super Bowl last year. They used famous Super Bowl ads and remade them all into Tide Ads, because they had super white and clean clothes. It’s a beautiful idea and it just worked perfectly.
James: A classic B2B ad that I like is ‘Mr Wind’. They personify the wind as this really odd-looking man and he walks around smashing windows shut, ruffling up people’s hair, blowing peoples skirts up and the end line is ‘let’s give wind a purpose’. So, they invite the man in, sit him down and talk about wind farms with him. Again, you watch the whole two minutes or so and you don’t understand what’s going on, it’s ridiculous. Then the end line comes up and it all makes sense.
Alice: I guess, really, it’s hard to find a purely nonsense campaign. There’s always something strategic behind the idea, no matter how tenuous it may be.
No idea is truly nonsense – we just need to help clients see that.