The return of "authentic" communications


When I worked at McCann this was ALWAYS the first + last slide in every presentation deck.

In the olden days (the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s), before the internet, there were many local, national and international research houses that worked closely + ethically with ad agencies and their clients to identify the intersection between the consumer’s life and their product(s). They wanted to know what would make you stop, consider, try, buy, buy again and recommend one of their products. And how much the brand halo from one of their products might affect your attitude towards other products they have to sell.

While some research houses still exist, a lot of their work and insights were set aside when Google came along and told the new aspiring generation of ad agency folks that there was a faster + cheaper solution: make up a bunch of ads – not just one or two – run them all, and just pay a few cents for those that your prospects “clicked” on.

The rest is history.

Google got very, very rich.

Hundreds of thousands of stupid people around the world, that had taken a graphic arts course and the Google ad word course but couldn’t get a real ad or media agency job, went back to their basement and became Google’s retail PPC sales team.

While some of these people were bound to do well because they were smart, insightful and driven men + women caught in the millennial demographic + technology evolution squeeze, most did more harm to our industry than good.

There was a time when Media Directors, Creative Directors and Account Directors used research to “light the way” as Master D. Ogilvy used to say. They prepared for client meetings like defense lawyers prepare for a strong defense.

But Google convinced a generation that they should just throw anything and everything at the wall – and see what sticks - or clicks. 

Perhaps the tide is finally turning again.

Millennial teams appear to be re-learning the two cardinal rules of advertising (that were written by their great-grandfathers) given their rejection of superlative based "headline" copy (that does not work) and their new preoccupation with “authentic narratives”. A new term for what their parents and grandparents called positioning and U.S.P.

1.  You can’t shine shit (twice).

2.  The best story (or sales strategy) is still a simple Truth Well Told.       



Why give a shit?


Today anyone can download a bit of free software and use a wide selection of image editing tools to create credible looking communications; be it an ad, a post-card or a package design. Better yet digital print shops will print respectable looking copies of your work on a wide variety of substrates for a pittance.

But a lot of the stuff I see today – in papers, online, and in stores misses the mark for one reason. Bad copy. This is just one example.

Maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way.

Maybe X% of the people don’t care that there are spelling mistakes in the copy.

And maybe X% of the people don’t see them because they’re just learning English or French.

And maybe X% don’t see them because, while they speak either English or French fluently, they haven’t written more than a few sentences themselves since they graduated high-school.

As you pursue your "fast + cheap" marketing mandate, please consider this: about 40% of all Canadians have some higher education degree. These people need to be able to read + write well to do well in their chosen white-collar professions. They represent the people with the highest personal, house-hold and disposable incomes. They are the ones who shop for quality items rather than cheap ones. They can afford to be loyal to your brand and refer the brand to their friends + families. These people are your brand ambassadors and your opinion leaders. This is the group who, like me, will associate poor marketing + advertising with poor product quality + service. To these 40% the good copy matters.

When you don’t give a shit, a large percentage of those who can afford to be loyal to your product and buy your product (frequently) walk away. To them you’re not a brand anymore, you're just a product that will be bought as long as the price is right.

Small things, like giving a shit about copy, can lead to big, long lasting, sustainable advantages.  



Honesty leads to integrity + more business

Frequently the strategic + design recommendations I make worry those I support because they fear that my approach will prompt the client to fire their agency.

I tell them not to worry, to work through my strategic and creative thinking slowly and carefully with the client. I ask them to “help them see what I see. They’ll agree with me and thank you for your efforts.”

It’s not an easy sell – but it’s the right sell.

The other day I got this note from one of my clients who was presenting my thinking to her client:

“We presented your findings this week. Knowing the client, we left in a lot of your "frank" notes. They loved it and appreciated the direct nature of your review and feedback. The client actually said "I love Frank!" They are now considering having us do a complete overhaul of XXXXXXXXXXXX, which I am currently putting together the proposal for.” 

It’s been my experience over the last 40 years that professional + objective honesty contributes to a strong professional relationship foundation that enables the agency and the client to collaborate and do far better work. And when you help build their business you build yours as well.



The millennial vs. the baby boomer

A  self-important college freshman attending a football game took it upon himself to explain to a Baby Boomer sitting next to him why it was impossible for the older generation to understand his generation.

“You grew up in a different world - actually an almost primitive one,” the student said, loud enough for many other baby boomers sitting nearby to hear.

“Today people are much more advanced than people your age. We grew up with television, jet planes, space travel, men walking on the moon and the Internet. We have cell phones, nuclear energy, electric and hydrogen cars, computers, automated manufacturing, amazing technologies . . . and” pausing to take another drink of beer. The senior took advantage of the break in the student's litany and said, “You're right, son. We didn't have all those things when we were young + growing up. So we invented them you arrogant little prick! What are YOU doing for your and the next generation?”

And the crowd went wild . . . 





I just saw this copy on a Dyson display case and I really like it for a number of reasons.

  • It echoes the brand’s strategy – to do things differently than the competition.
  • It helps reinforce the brand’s positioning and sales strategy at the retail level (among those) who probably will never be exposed to the high level Mission, Vision and Values of the Dyson brand.
  • The short, well written, provocative copy encourages you to stop + think.

I’m posting this little gem because it’s a rare retail example of a clean, simple and practical (communication) alignment between what the brand claims to be, its market positioning, and its retail voice.