Recently, I had a good example of what’s wrong with how we do what we do.
I was talking to a production company about how could we get the cost of our ads down.
Their producer told us one of the biggest costs was approvals.
She said “We have to send you pantone references for every little detail and wait ages for approval.
Multiply that by everything that has to get approved and, while we’re waiting, we’ve got animators, designers, model-makers, all standing around.
We’re paying them the same rate as if they were working.

If we could cut the cost of approval time, we could trim a lot of money off the overall production costs.”
And I thought that’s true.
Because we’re asking people about things we don’t need to ask about.
We’re asking about details and not the big picture.
The consumer doesn’t freeze-frame the TV and inspect each detail in turn.
So why are we doing that?

Inspecting each of the details separately, in turn.
And that’s what’s wrong with our business.
Too many people worrying about too many details.
I was talking to the CEO of a large food company recently.
I said, I’ve found the further up an organisation I go the better they understand advertising.
She asked why that was.
I said, the person at the top of the company doesn’t have time to spend all day thinking about advertising.
It takes up a small part of their day.
So they have to judge quickly, does this ad cut through, does it say what we want powerfully and simply, will it work in a crowded environment?
That’s how the consumer thinks.
They haven’t got all day to spend thinking about advertising, either.
So it has to cut through, powerfully and simply, in a crowded environment.
But the lower down the company you go, the more time they spend thinking about details.
In fact they spend all day thinking about the advertising.
Does it deliver the brand values, has it mentioned what the consumer research requires, has it got all the attributes necessary for the sector, does it have sufficient appetite appeal, will it impact on conventions in category management, does it adhere to marketing strategy, will it deliver high likeability scores, does it have potential for social media extension?
All of these are the wrong questions.
Because we’re just getting bogged down in the details.
We are judging every pixel instead of the big picture.
That’s why CEOs react to advertising more like consumers.
Because they haven’t got time for every little detail.
They’ve only got time for the big picture.
If we look for approval for every little detail where do we stop?
It’s just like reading this blog.
Does it work or not?
That’s the right question.
But supposing we went through this blog the way we go through advertising.
Word by word.
Let’s take the first word of this particular blog: ‘Recently’.
What do we think of that word: ‘Recently’?
Is it too vague, should it be more specific?
Would ‘Last week’ be a better opening?
But perhaps ‘last week’ is too specific.
Will it date too quickly, is it better to keep it general?
And would we also need to know what was happening last week?
Was it winter or autumn, was it breakfast or lunch, was it a casual or formal meeting, was it at the agency or at a restaurant?
All of those things can affect the choice of the opening word.
We can spend ages discussing if ‘Recently’ is the best word to open with, or if there’s a better word.
And that’s only the first word.
And we can do that with every single word here.
In fact that’s exactly what we do with advertising.
But we don’t notice every single individual word when we read it.
Which, coincidentally, is exactly how consumers are with ads.
And yet we’re spending most of our time concentrating on details that they don’t even notice.

Which, coincidentally, is why 90% of our advertising is invisible, and goes unnoticed.

  • iain Maclean

    When I first entered advertising in 1971, the title CEO didn’t exist.  And most companies didn’t have marketing departments. The CIM didn’t exist.

    And yet, many regard the late 60s and 70s as the heyday of advertising, not only in the UK, but around the world.

    How come?

    It probably came down to one word, trust. This was epitomised by the relationship between VW and DDB. According to Bill Bernbach VW agreed to stick to what they knew best; making cars and trusted the agency to make great ads.

    It was a small world. People like David Ogilvy knew the founders, chairmen and managing directors (not CEOs) of major companies on a first name basis.

    Over time, possibly as a result of growth, increased expenditure on advertising and then globalisation, clients set up marketing departments. Initially, I remember, many were, by today’s standards, very small.

    By the late 70s and 80s, marketing departments mushroomed. Suddenly there were: marketing directors (no CMOs yet), marketing managers, brand mangers, product managers and marketing assistants.

    Nowadays, CEOs trust their own CMOs, not their agency (or agencies), to do do the marketing.

    And marketing empires have got even bigger. Teetering upon a vast pyramid sits the snr. vice-president of marketing/CMO and beneath him or her, are hordes of people bearing wondrous titles such as: marketing strategy director, director of marketing, marketing director, category director, director of brands, communications director, digital director… the list goes on and on.

    Even the greatest idea would have a problem surviving unscathed when negotiating its way through all these vitally important people.

    Ads like “It’s ugly but gets you there” and “Lemon” wouldn’t get past the first hurdle – probably a super-accelerated twenty-something, know-nothing product or brand manager. I can hear the reaction, “It’s too negative.  No, I know that my boss won’t go for it.” “I’m not comfortable.”

    You’ve been there. I’ve been there. And what’s sad, is that it ain’t gonna change. In fact it’s getting worse.

    Ahhh.  Much as I love the business, I’m glad I’ve started painting again. I’m the client and I’m the agency. The only problem is  galleries are filled with, yep, more marketing gurus.


    • Dave Trott

      Absolutely Iain.

  • michael rowland

    “90% of what we call ‘management’ consists of making it difficult for people to get things done” – Peter Drucker (1909-2005), American management consultant

  • Dave Trott

    Great quote Michael.
    It’s like we’re trying to build a race winning car.
    And all the engineers are working on the brakes, no one’s working on the engine.

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