As far as problems-solutions matrices go, I believe that every problem has one solution to neutralise it. A notable anti-problem. Have a vampire and werewolf infestation? Get Van Helsing. Need to live forever? Sip from the Fountain of Youth. Tom slipping into a sedentary existence? Get Jerry.
A roach. A boot. Problem solved.
Obviously, you can use a boot to squash a roach, but you can’t use the self-same boot to beat off a vampire or prolong your life. Yet companies tend to view and use advertising this way; a silver bullet that can slay all sort of beasts, or an elixir that can magically turn ugly amphibians into charming princes.
Losing market share? Create a new campaign. Competition has a superior product? Get the agency on the phone. Company reputation shot to bits? How about new comms?
This is an unreasonable and impractical burden to load on advertising. There are problems advertising can fix. But there are several that it can’t. It can’t fix a brand that is intrinsically broken. It can’t fix a mediocre product – if it seemed that it did, it just papered over the cracks. It can’t fix poor staff morale and motivation. And it sure can’t blind the eye to an offering that meets a need and is superior.
If you have hatched a brilliant positioning for your brand or company, by all means demand brilliance from your advertising to get a larger share of heart. If you have a breakthrough product, never relent until you have an idea that matches the genius of the product. The job for advertising becomes a bit easier.
However, imagine a campaign that sets out to convince consumers that Guinness stout is as sweet as Coke. Good luck with that. Seems like a stupid thing to do, but a lot of companies set unreasonable demand for their advertising.
In the Mac vs PC campaign, a breakthrough product met a brilliant idea and execution. Growth happened. Iconic happened.
Mac vs PC
An ad campaign is only as note-worthy as the brand it represents. It can’t walk without a leg to stand on any more than a fire can dance in a vacuum. The horse pulls the cart.
It has been argued that when there’s product parity – when two or more brands cancel themselves out on functional attributes – brilliant advertising can be the difference between who gets off the shelf quicker. This is particularly the case in categories like beer, banking or telecommunications.
Emotional benefits are just as important as physical attributes. Maybe even more important.
Is there a place for the odd and one-off genius campaign that becomes a shot in the arm for the brand? Most certainly. The I AM CANADIAN! TV spot by Molson’s Canadian is a good example.
I AM CANADIAN!
But strong brands are not built by one brilliant campaign. And quite frankly neither the ad agency nor the client can predict what campaign will be epic. Gut, balls and resilience are often necessary qualities to get an ‘unpopular’ idea over the line. But there are no guarantees. Only probabilities.
If you want advertising to do all the dirty work for the brand, it goes without saying that your agency must be able to crank out brilliant ideas every time for that strategy to work. I know tonnes of brilliant agencies and creatives. But I don’t know one agency that can crank out winners one hundred percent of the time.
I’ll leave you with these brilliant spots from P&G and John Lewis. Brought tears to me eyes, these two (Oh yea, I’m that sort of guy!)
Thank You, Mom
John Lewis – Always a Woman