31
Jan
15

Writing the Big Bold Blah

No matter what branch of advertising a creative settles into, at various times the call will go out for a “big campaign theme.”

Always ready to oblige! For what creative doesn’t relish a real challenge, as opposed, say, to the unending iterative stream of “corrections” they receive from clients who A.) have no idea what they want and B.) have no idea what advertising can and cannot achieve.

Trouble is, in most instances, the basic ingredients for baking up that big theme are missing. That is, the creative team is faced with a brand or product line that:

• Has no unique attributes
• Delivers only highly qualified benefits
• Is heavily burdened by legal or regulatory requirements

And yet, in the back of most brand managers’ minds is the model of the iconic, freewheeling, fun-loving campaigns of the early 1960s. Not that any of them has the courage to get behind a message like “We’re No. 2, so we have to try harder.” Even something as generic as “Frosted Flakes are Grrreat” is way too audacious for our litigious times. And it’s easy to see why. Use a line like that and you’d actually be asserting that your brand consistently delivered a measurable result.

Naturally, a classic line like “Come up. Come all the way up to Kool,” would evoke such a flurry of air quotes, you’d have half the advertising strategists in the country in the ER with advanced carpal tunnel syndrome within five minutes of proposing it.

Of course, the real secret behind the success of the classic campaigns that a typical client likes to shame us with, is that they had nothing to do with taglines, photographic styles or celebrity endorsements. On the contrary, they succeeded because the brand delivered something of value—directly, effortlessly and with none of those niggling qualifications that are the buzz-kill of today’s marketing.

Real reasons to believe
More to the point, they got people to believe, simply because their products “kept it real” as we say now, in an era when so little is what it’s cut out to be. The Avis people, initially, not only claimed to try harder, they actually brought a new level of service to car-rental—that is, until the bean-counting revolution of the 80s ensured the only thing an American corporation would ever deliver was money to its shareholders.

Customer value? Quality? They survive only as mechanical claims or, just as bad, as the exclusive purview of brands charging outrageously inflated prices for services that used to be taken for granted.
Now to get the kind of service everyone used to get from the travel industry, for example, you have to be a Super Black Onyx Titanium Elite Plus Member with annual billings in the seven figures. Everyone else gets wait-listed for the cattle car.

And it’s within this environment of decidedly lowered expectations that a creative team is routinely asked to conceive a Big Idea campaign that will open the flood gates and storm the barricades. Sometimes they even succeed—and sometimes, with unexpected consequences.

As long as I live, I’ll never forget the day a brand manager for a major national brand told me he couldn’t use the campaign idea we’d come up with because it would be too successful and they wouldn’t be able to handle the call volume.

Pause for a moment and let that sink in.

Auto-mat marketing
The fact that we were asked to go back and deliver something less effective is beside the point, as poignantly absurd as it sounds. For my purposes, what it illustrates is the futility of so much best-practice saber-rattling, including that infinite series of top ten lists purporting to guarantee success.

For in a marketing/advertising environment governed by ignorance, anxiety and petty whims, why should anyone attempt to raise the bar, move the needle, push the envelope or use any other quaint metaphor for creative achievement? My message to clients? If you want a great campaign, become a great company. Then we’ll have something to say that grows naturally out of real brand attributes. If not, there’s a wealth of automated headline-generating software available online for a reasonable fee.

You just plug in your brand attributes and in a few moments, your campaign theme is ready. No squelchy conference call phones, no pesky creative presentations, and no perky account people asking about your personal life. Best of all, you’ll have the campaign you deserve, which is all any brand can ask for.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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