Posts Tagged ‘Creative Development


Hotel Web Sites: Too Checked Out for Branded Messaging.

As travellers know, hotel Web sites are among the most functional e-commerce sites around. Yes, most of them feature the ubiquitous marquee, but that’s as close to any kind of high-level messaging you’re liable to see. And that messaging is itself ultimately offer-driven.

Can anyone tell the difference between Sheraton and Ramada? Not online. Between the input boxes and those tidy little retouched jpegs of the rooms, the only thing you have to go on is the logo. Yes, they use different color schemes and, yes, different fonts. But this ladies and gentlemen, is not branding.

A brand, after all, is a promise. Yet the only contract any of the hospitality giants makes with consumers is:

“We’re a hotel. With rooms. Which you can stay in. For a fee. Pick a date and enter your credit card number. Don’t keep us waiting.”

Keeping in mind that many business travelers stay at hotels prescribed by their companies, some differentiated attributes ought to be selling these hotels to whomever’s in charge of hotel bookings at XYZ Corp. And, of course, you might reasonably expect that leisure travellers would like to feel they’ve chosen a hotel chain for a reason.

Especially, that is, if they’re planning a stay in a major US city where the options are all over the map in terms of price, features, location, etc., etc. But by remaining so blank, these Web sites are not only tarnishing their brand’s image, they’re damaging the image of the entire industry.

“Who cares where I stay?” is the question anyone would be tempted to ask after visiting these sites. “All hotels are the same. Same disappointing “Continental Breakfast,” same stodgy furniture, same prohibitive minibar. Same iffy cable service.

Offline, on it. Online, off it.
Ironically, one of the few travel-related brands to have an advertising concept is Yet, as memorable as the Captain Obvious campaign is, it has nothing to do with the service the Web site provides. Even if I stretch my imagination and conclude that the message is, “ is the obvious choice for travel reservations,” the concept spoils itself by simultaneously making the obvious look ridiculous., at least in TV spots, is much more convincing, even if their Amy Schumerish play on their name’s phonetic similarity to an indelicate word is a bit limiting. More successful is their other play on their name, “Booking.Yeah,” which effectively uses something approaching millennial diction to hippify a boring topic.

Offline, these two brands have done something to transmit a message, a promise, a statement of purpose. But there’s no trace of that messaging on the Web site, which might as well be a site for Orbitz or Travelocity for all anyone would notice—logos aside.

Where, I can’t stop wondering, did anyone get the idea that “Buy Now” is a brand identity? On the other hand, you may wonder why I find this so irritating.

Schlock and loaded with clichés.
Despite having survived for over a century in one form or another, through many ups and downs, advertising and marketing are fragile things, whose immortality you cannot take for granted. Mail boxes, airwaves and screens crammed edge-to-edge with schlock are as deadly to the psychological ecosystem of sales as CO2 is to the lungs. Every year that we crank out crap is another year we erode our audience.

Meanwhile, gloom and doom analysts continue to have a field day at the supposed demise of the traditional :30 TV spot. But the real reason people click away is that TV spots and all of traditional advertising went into an accelerating decline after the ’60s. A TV spot today is, with few exceptions, a dreary landscape of tedious clichés. No wonder people reach for the zapper.

Let no one think, however, that digital advertising is “inherently” better. Sites like these from the travel industry, which are only the tip of the iceberg in the schlockification of the Web, will inevitably have the same effect on digital space.

The issue is not the medium, but every bit the message. Remember: the bad work you post today is the baseline you’ll struggle to rise above tomorrow. Because if this trend continues, the much-vaunted “impact of digital media” will be the fond memory of a few archeologists, only a couple of dozen years from now.


The Dysconfusitorial Process of Tidy Marketing

Of all the ways a great creative concept can be watered down, debased or, often enough, eviscerated, there’s nothing more deadly than the threat of Tidy Marketing.

Tidy Marketing is the coming together of two things: an unrequited lust for mechanical consistency and the firm belief that no member of the human species is capable of rational thought. Or at most, if Tidy Marketers concede that if we do sometimes think, they believe it tends to give us a headache.

The products of Tidy Marketing are everywhere, but nowhere more evidently as when promotional headlines flatten both levels of the communication into one of which:

Your [LIFE_ACTIVITY] is complicated. Your [PRODUCT_OR_SERVICE] shouldn’t be.

…is a prime example. It’s tidy! That fact that it says absolutely nothing beyond “complicated,” is beside the point to a Tidy Marketer. After all, no one got confused.

Metaphor? Whatever for?
What image accompanies a Tidy headline? One, of course, that makes a tidy match between the action implied and the action seen. But wait, what about metaphors, with their ancient and venerable tradition of making things memorable?

You must be joking. Metaphors introduce ambiguity. That’s not tidy at all. What if someone thinks your metaphor about “your dreams taking flight” makes a consumer think a home improvement loan program also handles air travel? Yikes! Better to make things match. I know, how about this:

Get a great rate and celebrate your new gate!

…accompanied, of course by a homeowner smiling at a contractor over the newly installed front door. The homeowner lives in a gated community, so it’s OK to say “gate.” Phew.

Come on, Guys, everything has to match. We need a bullet-proof rationale for everything we do because what in the name of Best Practice would we do if the client didn’t like it?

Now, according to the hype spread everywhere in modern agency life, a good idea can come from anywhere. Anywhere, that is, except the creative department. To prove my point, try talking a gaggle Tidy Marketers down from their anxiety-drenched ledge.

Needing the guarantee of a guaranteed guarantee.
“How can you guarantee the consumer will [open the envelope, click the button, call the number]? Look, the call to action doesn’t even have a call to action to read the call to action. We’ll also need a call to action to alert consumers that there’s an action they’ll be called to and a call to action to call if they don’t understand the call to action. We also need this list of mandatory bullets. Otherwise, have fun with it!”

It’s an impenetrable wall of emotion that the entire U.S. pharmaceutical industry can’t make a dent in. And I have a sinking feeling I know why:

“What if we sold so many really great anti-anxiety drugs that we actually cured anxiety forever and then who would buy our anti-anxiety drugs? You have to look at this holistically. Sorry. Here’s a link to look up holistically. You may have to scroll, so I hope that’s OK.”

The pervasiveness of this particular form of insanity is so vast, I’m surprised I haven’t already seen more extreme manifestations.

This is a computer:


You will soon read a list of its benefits to you, the consumer. Below this sentence is the list. Read it now.

• Fast
• Easy
• Convenient
• Sends e-mails
• Gets e-mails
• Has a screen for reading
• Has a keyboard for typing and entering keyboard commands, which you enter with the keyboard

If you are now convinced, call 1-800-MORINFO for more information about buying it with your credit card. A credit card is that shiny plastic thing you have in your wallet with your name on it that’s not your driver’s license.

If you have questions, call 1-800-MORINFO to have them answered. Calling is that thing you do with your phone, where you tap numbers on the phone’s keypad and then a friendly voice comes out of the part next to your ear. Then you talk.

It’s that simple.

Computer Computers. Simply the best computers, period.

See? No confusing metaphors, no “concept” to make people wonder if you’re really talking about computers. And no people, so no one will think the computer is either only for men, only for women, only for children, only for more than one person at a time, or only for one person at a time.

It’s tidier this way. Otherwise, it gets confusing. Confusing is a word for something that makes you confused, like when you don’t understand something.


Holding a Mirror to the Great Creative Idea

Across every advertising discipline, the quest for a Great Creative Idea (GCI) takes on epic proportions. The ultimate prize—to be known as the author of a GCI—is the dream of every gutsy intern, every plucky staffer and every macchiato-sipping, iPhone-wielding, 505-creasing creative director in the business.

Trouble is, no one has the slightest idea what a GCI is.

It is, apparently, something you stumble over in your Nike Air Maxes on your way to Starbucks. At least I assume so, in the absence of a universal definition—of either “great” or “creative” or “idea.”

As I see it, this lack of unanimity is endemic to a general decline in our fortunes. From the creative consultants of the ’60s, we’ve devolved to a hoary clan of 21st century ad-mechanics, a trend as despicable as it is reversible.

If you’re with me so far, let’s have a look at what GCI might mean to someone who still believes an ad agency can be more than a Jiffy-Lube station for obsolete response drivers.

Wrong end of the telescope.
Part of the problem of identifying a true GCI stems from the gnarled thicket of confusion about advertising structure. As I see it, a GCI operates only at the highest level of your imagination. It’s a thought process, lying in the deep background of whatever your audience eventually sees or hears.

As such, it doesn’t necessarily “sound cool” or “look amazing”—for the same reason you’d never think to wear your pancreas on your shirt sleeve. The function of a GCI is to build structure, not surface appeal. By the same token, a GCI isn’t a toy box of tactics. Your great idea for a video game that guides consumers to an appreciation of product benefits? That, amigo, is a tactic—and a tired one at that.

The same can be said for ideas with a more generic descriptor. Proposing, for example, an e-mail marketing campaign as a GCI is flat-out misrepresentation. A campaign of any kind can only be an execution of a GCI.

Chasing a mirage.
Equally wide of the mark are creative concepts that masquerade as GCIs by being alluringly ambiguous, or neurotically naughty. Let’s be clear: If your idea rises or falls on the use of a single gimmicky image or pun-infested headline, it’s not a GCI. As infatuated as you are with your comp, you’re chasing a mirage—a delicious illusion of greatness that’s just out of reach.

That’s when it’s time to recalibrate your vision. Realize that the only valid measure of your “totally sick idea for a viral video” is the thinking behind it. And until you can parse out a clear articulation of the message your proto-idea conveys, your GCI still needs a few more hours in the oven.

The over (and under) view.
None of this talk about background structure, however, implies that surface features are unimportant. Some of the most painful moments you’ll ever spend in a conference room are those watching a colleague roll out an idea that has no chance of practical realization. There’s no budget large enough or advancement in particle physics sophisticated enough to pull it off.

So while the main characteristic of a GCI is its ability to provide a creative framework for a series of communications, that framework must have its roots in the real world. And its most important real-world root is sustainability. A true GCI creates the means to roll out branded messaging over the long term. That’s because it grows directly out of a simple congruency: the intersection of a brand’s core value and consumer needs.

CGI process in perspective.
Now if coming up with a GCI sounds time-consuming, that’s only because today’s tight timelines, fast turn-arounds and found-efficiencies cut the creative process off at the knees.

Hence the familiar spectacle of a frantic call-to-brainstorm for a Monday morning presentation that arrives on your desk at 4:55 on Friday. It’s the surest sign that advertising has run aground on its ill-fated voyage from its homeland. What was once a culture of observation about modern society and the drivers of human motivation, has devolved into a dreary check list of “what works.”

So the next time it’s your turn to walk the presentation plank in the conference room ask yourself this: Is your Great Creative Idea a sustainable framework for delivering brand value—or a ghostly imitation of something you saw on Vimeo at 1:00 am last Tuesday?

Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY



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