A long time ago an Italian colleague of mine once said he found people like to use ‘sorry’ so much in advertising in the UK. It was true; every now and then you come across with campaigns that ride on this sentiment. I am sure everyone still remembers the ‘sorry’ campaign run by the Evening Standard early this year.

To coincide with the Copenhagen summit, Greenpeace has created a campaign featuring ten images of world leaders, including Barack Obama and Nicholas Sarkozy saying ‘sorry’ for failing to prevent climate change.

I fear this campaign not only did not try to understand the expectation of the ‘audience’, it also has very little insight into the issue in question. The ten posters have been placed in Arrivals at Copenhagen airport. May be what it had served is simply to give the arriving world leaders a kind of cue-card on what to express in the conference.

Advertising or any form of communication is useless if it does not ‘move products’ or in this case does not have any positive whatsoever on the issue.

It had been widely reported that while delivering the opening keynote session at ad:tech New York on Nov 4, Sir Martin Sorrell claimed “The people who run agencies tend to be of an older vintage – to put it politely,” and that “They tend to be resistant to change…”  (revolutionmagazine.com 04-Nov-09)

I remember back in 1998, when I was Executive Creative Director of an agency, I did a house ad about the changing landscape of the business. The ad featured a new born baby with the headline “When I grow up, I don’t want to be in advertising.” Back then I already realised the many changes in what advertising is and will be. Today, the thinking is no longer just a theory. With the tremendous impact of technology in the advertising business, what’s becoming more and more evident in the past year is that the “advertising business” has changed dramatically, both physically (downsizing, restructuring or emerging new models) and philosophically (the notion of consumers and engagement in particularly).

Here are some of the changes currently happening and ‘evolving’…

You don’t create ‘campaign’ anymore, you construct ‘platforms’. A talk by Bob Greenburg and Barry Wacksman of R/GA had elaborated this idea that a platform is built to last and can facilitate ongoing activities. It also lead me to think that it’s passé to talk about ‘campaign burst’ now since the advertising activities are spreading and being sustained strategically throughout the year.

Media ‘buying’ is now more about ‘connections’ suggesting nowadays brands connects to the ‘always on’ multichannel audience through a mix of paid-for and free mediums. On a practical level, this of course impact on managing remuneration – commission base vs. fee base.

The ‘always on’ multichannel audience also means ‘prime time’ is no longer applicable. Some also advocates that the term ‘target audience’ is misleading since it seems to imply that they are ‘an enemy’ (may be we should start calling them ‘friends’).

Forrester’s new report entitled ‘Adaptive Brand Marketing: Rethinking Your Approach to Branding in the Digital Age’ which calls for a change in the function and role of the brand manager, they propose renaming the function to ‘brand advocate’ who thinks ‘collectively’ in order to cope with the increasingly media fragmentation and consumer power.

A lot of these ideas of course are not new. We talked about creative platforms in the 80’s when integrated marketing and campaign was the hot topic with the infiltration of direct marketing and sales promotion activities. But the overt change of vocabulary often can help to shift mindset in a totally refreshing way. The change should not be just symbolically in the way we call it – but fundamentally how we approach it and it has to be relevant to each brand.

Back to Sir Sorrell’s remark, I think it is slightly unfair to say the agencies leaders are ‘an older vintage’, there are many respectable and equally open-minded ‘old vintage’ out there.  Experience often brings about the unbeatable insight that cannot be under-estimated. Technology is crucial in the advertising business but it’s the idea behind it that often truly makes the difference.

Guinness_still

A new Guinness TVC from AMV BBDO London introduces a new tag line for the brand – Bring It To Life.

Love the spot in many ways. An epic production that depicts a group of strapping men physically bringing life to barren places. We see them cracking open the earth, bringing fishes, birds to life. It captures optimism and energy that is so needed in a world which is so full of doom and gloom these days. It’s a joy to watch. The campaign had ditched the well-known Guinness tag line ‘Good Things Come to Those Who Wait’ which has been in use for the past decade.

The original idea behind the slogan was to turn around the negative consumer opinion of the length of time required to correctly pour a pint of Guinness from the tap (119.5 seconds), as well as to encourage bartenders to take the time to do so. However, in this day and age, ‘waiting’ probably does not resonate with the consumers anymore. With advertising campaign performing more and more as an integrated platform, the proposition has to work well across different medium. Imagine when you are surfing on the net and a Guinness banner pop up saying ‘Good Things Come to Those Who Wait’ – how ironic!

Peter Drucker once said ‘if leaders are unable to slough off yesterday, to abandon yesterday, they simply will not be able to create tomorrow.’ Thumbs up to the team who took the decision to reinvent the proposition. I like to see the Guinness brand getting even closer to the younger audience in the next step, that’s really what they need to think of in order to secure the future.

In an article on how the adland weights up the impact of the recession (Campaign, 19 September), several agency heads had shared their insights. One aspect which I think is certainly emerging from the impact of the recession is how agencies now really have to think of ways to make global campaigns work. In relation to this we can also see agency network streamlining their operation. Martin Sorrell commented that it was “ludicrous” that his company didn’t have a common back-office but that each company operates independently (Campaignlive.co.uk, 11 September). As someone who had been working on global and cross cultural campaigns for the past decade, I cannot help but stress the fact that organisation restructuring had to be accompanied with a rethink on how global campaign is created, adapted and implemented. The traditional concept of simply translating the work just from a language point of view will never work anymore and will certainly not be able to survive with the test of the time, especially in a climate where consumers think twice before they spend and will reject message that does not engage with them culturally.

It is relevant not only to creatives but everyone in the strategic team. Claire Beale already pointed out that during this year’s APG judging planners had emerged as ‘translators of global ideas into local culture’. The ‘Keep Walking’ campaign by BBH for Johnny Walker culturally adapted for the Chinese market is a perfect example.

In fact, transcreation of global campaign should not be regarded as an after thought but should be considered right from the beginning when the creative brief is written. Creative teams who are tasked in creating a campaign that will potentially go regional or global has to open up their mind and exercise their strategic thinking, not only from an execution point of view but also from a messaging point of view.

Using the much celebrated “carousel” TV campaign by Tribal DDB who has won the Cannes Film Grand Prix in 2009 as an analogy, all the technical aspects and the meticulously planned post production work had become the centre of attention; ‘special effects’ in this case is not purely a ‘post production procedure’, but has become an integral part of the big idea and was considered right from the very beginning. And that’s how the process of transcreation should be handled.

See the commercial here:

HTC Channel_you  Yahoo it's You

Putting consumers as the focus in advertising message is not new. What had become increasingly a ‘fashion’ is due to some of the changes in the form of personal communication these days. We all have answered these questions on social networking sites on a day to day basis – “What are you doing?” (Twitter) “What are you doing right now?” (MySpace) “What’s on your mind?” (Facebook) “What are you working on?” (Linkedin). We also have to personalise our Google or Yahoo homepage to reflect our mood…all these have made self-absorption almost obligatory.

It is not surprising that recently, advertisers seem to be obsessed with communicating how their brand relates to the consumer and how the product or services had personalised to suit the individual’s needs and aspirations. However, the similarities in their positioning and executions have created confusion among consumers.

In September this year, Yahoo! introduced a new slogan: “It’s Y!ou”, which incorporates the traditional Yahoo! logo and signature exclamation mark. The first set of ads for the brand carried straplines such as: “The Internet has a new personality: Yours”, and “The Internet is under new management: Yours”. The aim was to reflect how the internet now has been at the centre of people’s lives and how Yahoo, literally, is within ‘you’.

The new commercial featured slice of life of the people around the world…“where news travels faster, friends come closer, and you go further; where you can consumer, share, buzz, destroy, earn, flirt, watch, and wonder, in new ways, ‘you’ ways, place that will launch a billion viewers, place that shapes like you, brought to you, made by you, it starts with you, starting today. Yahoo. It’s you.”

All very upbeat, brilliant production value and with a fanfare in multiple markets all over the world…

Enter HTC…

In October, HTC, the Taiwanese smartphone launched their first image advertising. The new campaign focuses on, who else, “You” the consumer. Sounds familiar? The commercials portray individuals from various walks of life using their phones for work, life and play: “It’s the first thing you see in the morning, and the last thing you see at night, it stresses you out, it calms you down, it helps you remember, it helps you forget, it keeps you connected, it’s the only thing you own that’s always within arm’s reach, which is why you don’t need to get a phone, you need a phone that gets you, and you, and you, and we are HTC.”

Consumers must be so flattered in this day and age, when brands claim to focus so much on them by offering products and services that complements them “just the way they are”. The problem is a message being told too often, will end up to be a cliché. In terms of creative execution, anthem style multiple vignettes execution seems to be a bit over used, and at the end losing the look and feel, and the unique personality of the brand.

With products such as Youtube, Myspace, and tagline such as ‘My City My Metro’ (Dubai Metro), ‘Your Move’ (Reebok), ‘It’s on Me’ (adidas), just to name a few. The ‘you’ phenomenon could soon become a generic proposition.

CCTV TVC

A few campaigns that had been launched recently had caught my attention. Not only because of its brilliant idea or execution but coincidently they all seem to have been inspired by visual arts.

Sony’s ‘Soundville’ brilliantly turned Seydisfjordur, a small village in Iceland, with a ‘sound installation’ for a week by putting up speakers playing music from the likes of Death In Vegas and Bob Dylan. The clever thing about this campaign is that they have chosen such an unusual setting to convey the message, there is a poetic effect to it. The result had encouraged the audience to focus on the message rather than influenced by the familiarity. Alienation all of a sudden becomes so approachable in this case.

Volkswagen’s ‘Theory of fun’ outdoor stunt had converted a set of steps at the Odenplan subway station in Stockholm into working piano keys. The campaign built on the VW’s brand personality of the joy of driving and encourages people to take the staircase instead of the escalator. It has often been said that commercials riding on emotions rarely transcend cultures, but in this case I think they have absolutely nailed it. It can be understood and appreciated across cultures and can also be easily adapted creatively using local site specific executions. 

The recent CCTV commercial advocating ‘The power of the brand’ had used ‘ink animation’ to illustrate the progress of modern Chinese culture. It is a brilliant video art on its own. Not only it is visually stunning, it also demonstrates that traditional cultural elements can be translated in contemporary context too.

With the impact of visual arts globally and the consumers’ growing interests in the appreciation of artistic projects, visual arts could be one of the powerful tool in creating globally effective communication.