It was a Tuesday morning and as I walked into the creative department, three or four creatives were huddled around a Mac. You know straight away if you have worked in a creative department that there are only two reasons for this. They have found something very funny or they have seen a piece of work they really like.
I walked over. They were watching believe it or not a television commercial. It was Nike’s new piece of work from Wieden + Kennedy where they celebrate a woman that finishes last in a Marathon. It is beautifully shot. The music is great and the voiceover makes the ad. It is a simple idea well executed. It is also 60 seconds long. You could tell it was a great piece of communication by one simple fact. The creatives were jealous.
Later that day, I read yet again that advertising was dead. This seems to be the blog everybody is writing these days. Invariably, there will be commentary about programmatic buying and the need to make communication no longer than 15 seconds. There is this demand for a new model of advertising. We have to find innovative solutions.
Here is my question. Will innovative tech and digital solutions work for brands and products that are not that innovative and perhaps have no need to be? Does what works for Airbnb work for every other brand?
Intention and vision are just as important as innovation.
I have a lot of conversations with creative directors around the globe and many feel that their job is just to fill holes with content. Nobody seems that interested in the quality, just the quantity. You know 4,000 pieces of content at $20,000 dollars a pop that will be perfectly curated by already overworked marketing departments.
There is also one comment that has stuck with me. A friend of mine who is a creative director said his clients often feel that because something works for a cool tech brand it will work for their brand no matter what it is. It made me start to think about this new structure.
I started to think about these ideas that are being thrown around. I also started to think about why advertising even exists. Its purpose has always been to persuade. Another reason it exists is to either magnify or often create a point of difference between a brand and its competitors. The Nike commercial is a good example of this. It connects with the consumer. The tone of the commercial is actually the main difference. You like that brand because it gets you. So, why is that important?
It’s important because there are many brands out there that are not very different from their competitors. In fact, many are identical. So, how does that fact stack up against innovative and digital solutions that are being sold at the moment to these marketers as a panacea for all their brands challenges? In my opinion, not very well.
If you're a company like Uber or Airbnb this current environment works well because they are differentiated from their competitors. The truth is those products sell themselves. The new solutions in our brave new digital world rely not on persuasion but the brilliance of the product. If you don’t have a brilliant product these digital solutions will simply magnify that fact. The truth is there are about a billion products and services that will never be as sexy, different or new as Uber.
So, what happens to them?
Some are probably going to die. Some can innovate to a point, perhaps some can re-invent themselves but these are very expensive and risky undertakings. And, some might need to use the art of persuasion.
Here is another thought. There is this idea that you have to be everywhere in small 15 second bursts. As a creative, I can tell you a 15-second piece of communication in a crowded world essentially becomes the digital equivalent of a billboard on the side of a fast moving highway.
And, if you think that’s not that bad, let’s do an experiment. What billboards do you remember on the way to work this morning?
In fact, this kind of communication reminds me of advertising in the '50s where you had a slogan and a pack shot. So, on the one hand there are many not really supporting their brands but at the same time hoping it does the job for them. Dangerous. '50s advertising was never designed for 2015.
A brand as tech savvy as Nike understands that you have to tell stories that set you apart. They understand they have to connect as well as serve. They created Nike Fuel Band almost five years ago but they are still making beautiful persuasive stories today. Why? I think the answer is simple. In a cluttered digital world full of brands shouting at you very quickly, this might be still what gets you noticed. And that doesn’t have to ever be a television commercial. But it does have to be something of value as opposed to just a fast moving logo. Red Bull is a good example.
My belief is that in a world that has become very fractured don’t try and be everywhere badly, try and be somewhere persuasively. If you do, you become the destination people look for, rather than the billboards they drive past without a second glance.
Four young creatives huddled around a laptop on a Tuesday morning watching a simple, insightful and very long Nike television commercial taught me this.
- Damon Stapleton is the chief creative officer at DDB.
- This post was previously published on his blog, Damon's Brain.