“The simple fact of the matter is whether you or I like it or not, or whether the creative community likes it or not, our business has become more technologically related. The snottiness of believing that creativity just resides in the creative department of traditional agencies, that media people can’t be creative, or data people can’t be or people who do healthcare or promotion or CRM can’t be creative – it’s a nonsense and it’s insulting to the people who are in those areas.” – Sir Martin Sorrell
Earlier this year, the controversial CEO of WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell, uttered that incendiary statement about the current state of the advertising business. Many observers, including the often-brilliant blogger Ad Contrarian, pointed out how Sorrell’s statement was a strawman.
“He pretends that because we call a certain department the ‘creative department’ that we are disdainful or unappreciative of contributions from others. This is utter bulllshit. In the advertising business the word creative has two meanings. First, is its usual meaning — imaginative. Second, is the meaning that is specific to advertising, as in ‘the creative department.’ This means the department that makes the ads. Sorrell pretends he doesn’t know this.” – Bob Hoffman “Ad Contrarian”
Sorrell’s statement, and the reaction to it, calls to attention the age-old conflict in advertising between the creatives and the eggheads. Everyone agrees that advertising needs to attract attention, inform consumers about the brand, and sell. But is advertising best when it is creative-driven, or when it is driven by strategy and data? There are agencies that lean heavily on one side or another, but most agencies fall somewhere in between, often based on the tastes of particular clients. There are regular tiffs (and sometimes outright battles) between various disciplines over what might be the right move on a particular campaign.
Creative-Driven or Data-Driven: What’s Best?
Many of those who reside in the creative-driven camp have preferred to portray advertising as storytelling, and propose parallels to Hollywood. They say that consumers want to hear a story about the brands they buy, and it is the job of agencies to tell these stories. So, “brand stories” are grand interpretations based on a brand’s real or perceived attributes. Data and strategy map out what the “story” should be for a campaign to be most effective.
It’s understandable why the Hollywood storyteller persona is appealing. Many people are attracted to advertising because it is a creative business. And some of us get to make big-budget campaigns in glamorous surroundings. The results can be amazing. But the daily tasks at an advertising agency don’t look much like Hollywood. Nor does most of the output.
With the rise of social media, many agencies and advertisers decided that ads were about “having a conversation.” Broadcast, print, and display advertising would initiate and inspire “conversations” which consumers would then engage in on social media. Data and strategy get a big seat at the table with this approach, which is very much in vogue at the moment—especially among advertisers and agencies that focus on interactive and social media.
It is true that many people want to have conversations about brands. Among them, there are plenty who regard particular brands as an important part of their lifestyle. It is true that word of mouth is the best advertising, and one can certainly make a case that promoting conversations about brands facilitates word of mouth. However, the vast majority of products are bought and sold every day without the brand prompting conversations. And the reality is, people mostly want to have conversations with their family and their friends. Not brands.
Those who lean hard on data and strategy, and minimize creative techniques, tend to rely on promotions and straightforward sales messages. There can still be a high level of creativity in an ad that is a hard sell, from design or production. Hard-sell advertising can be effective. But many companies find it hard to compete if the appeal of their brand is only based on its price point and the volume and stridency of its message. Also, many products have valuable attributes that won’t come across to the consumer with a hard-sell marketing strategy. There is also a greater risk audiences will “tune out” an ad if it seems too loud and sales-oriented.
In the advertising industry, our focus should be on selling. That’s what it’s always been on, because making the sale is the alpha and omega of capitalism. We shouldn’t neglect data, strategy, or creativity. Perhaps there is a way to look at advertising where all disciplines can play well with each other and, ultimately, sell product. I believe the answer is clear: Advertising is persuasion.
A creative work may be an ideal creative piece without selling product. Selling is a form of persuasion, and effective advertising persuades consumers to act. Most often by buying the product.
With persuasion as a frame, we have a solid context through which to view all the tactics and techniques at work in the modern advertising industry. Whether it’s a TV ad, a promotion, a website, social media messaging, or even just an SEO campaign, it is a form of persuasion based on a defined strategy. The creatives, data people, and strategists can all feel like they have a seat at the table, as they all play a role in crafting a persuasive ad campaign.
Viewed through the frame of persuasion, strategy and data help creatives figure out what points to hit in their persuasive messaging. Not everyone in advertising is a researcher, a planner, a data-cruncher, a designer, or a writer. But everyone has a role in making persuasive advertising. Everyone has a duty to sell our clients’ brands.
We will help you persuade your customers and grow your brand…
At bfw, we make ideas rooted in solid strategic insight and the data that backs it up. After all, that’s where really good ideas come from. We will persuade your customers in a way that is true to your brand.
bfw is a tight knit collection of writers, artists, designers, technologists and thinkers who share a common passion for doing great work that makes things happen. For more information call (561) 962-3300 or visit www.gobfw.com.