Until September 2018, a railway bridge on the anti-clockwise section of the M25 between junctions 16 and 17 carried the graffitied slogan, ‘Give peas a chance’. This light-hearted message had not fallen foul of rules on obscene or offensive slogans and its disruptive nature enlivened the daily commute for many.
It was an example of creating work that was interesting, shareable and prompted an emotional response. It still has a Facebook group with more than 9,000 followers. Rumour has it the work featured only the word peas to begin with, which at least suggests some collaborative testing and learning took place before the slogan was complete.
Maybe the next time you are considering a new campaign, you might want to apply the ‘Give peas a chance’ test to see if it will fly. Try asking the questions: is it easy to like? Is it clever? Does it stand out? Is it inoffensive (or does it offend the right people)? And does it allow others to iterate and improve the work?
At Mondelēz, we got Oreo to “sponsor” the lunar eclipse in 2015 by cover wrapping The Sun newspaper. At the time, there were very strict global guidelines around how the brand was positioned and supported, and this idea didn’t really fit in that context.
The idea then evolved into actually showing the eclipse ‘live’ on digital screens. We got lucky, the weather was so bad the Oreo ‘exclipse’ may have got more coverage than the actual one. It was a great campaign that definitely passed the give peas a chance test.
If you believe the naysayers, your chances of creating great work nowadays are pretty slim. Many voices in the creative industry have declared that we are all doomed. Advertising legend John Hegarty told Marketing Week in 2018 data was killing creativity, and that creativity was the most important factor in driving advertising success and response rates.
I don’t agree, data isn’t killing creativity but crap ads might be. It also doesn’t matter how amazing your ads are if no one sees them. Arguably, reach and brand size are therefore more important drivers. In an equal playing field creativity can be the biggest driver, but the field is rarely equal.
One of the most respected figures in publishing, Hearst’s Joanna Coles, went a step further recently, declaring that people hate advertising. What’s more,she said, it is all the fault of brands.
The truth is truly great work, like an artist’s masterpiece, is often not a repeatable success. How many great films, books and albums have not been bettered? Businesses are built on the need to grow and advertising, fortunately or unfortunately, can play a key role in this. This should be an opportunity for doing more great work and not just an excuse to harp on about why things are not like they used to be.
Marketing is a tough job and getting tougher. The power and even the point of brands is being challenged. There needs, therefore, to be a shift in thinking, attitude and approach on all sides to improve the industry.
Orlando Wood, chief innovation officer at System1 Group, has written an excellent book, Lemon, on the issues that I’ve highlighted and suggests that a renaissance could be on the way. At the end of the book he’s written a manifesto for agencies, which it would be great to see them sign up to.
Whether your agency signs up or not, here is what you need to challenge your partners with:
Always work to a written brief to hold everyone accountable
Possibly the least interesting or fun part of the process but so important. These are best put together collaboratively. Lean on your agencies for this and make sure you all agree that they pass the give peas a chance test.
Keep it simple and easy to explain by keeping it to just a few sentences, creating a lens through which any ideas and suggestions can easily be tested.
Only work with people who are as passionate about your brand as you are
Once a creative person has an idea or a view, they are way more experienced at defending their point of view than the humble client. In larger agencies, there are plenty of other decision makers for them to lean on than you.
There’s nothing wrong with awards but please don’t make them the reason for doing the work. You are in the business of selling products or services, any recognition on top of this is a bonus.
If someone leads you down the wrong creative path once then more fool them. If you work with them again on another campaign then more fool you. Remember, you will be left carrying the can if the campaign bombs.
Beware the illusion of choice
I remember this happened at Mondelēz on a largely forgettable campaign for a new product we were launching. We got into a position where faith in the output was gradually draining on all sides.
In order to try and build some enthusiasm for the campaign, we were asked to choose which music should back the ad. It was pretty obvious which was the preferred option. It was the process, however, that got the brand team back involved and enthusiastic about it to an extent.
Know how the work supports the brand so you can convince others
I mention this because quite often I’ve seen additional ideas and ‘opportunities’ pop up, often once a larger campaign has been agreed and signed off. Multiple channels with the right creative can help increase the reach and frequency of your message but sometimes the link between these is not clear.
On one occasion at Mondelēz we were a few months into a new campaign and someone suggested we could do a specific activation targeting a group of people who would be fasting. An interesting thought but there didn’t seem to be an obvious link with the wider work we were airing.
While this conversation was playing out, a voice somewhere in the background in agency land pointed out that this could be award-winning work. Whether this was what was actually said I don’t recall but it did rather help to explain our concerns over what the activation would do for the brand.
Nothing wrong with awards but please don’t make them the reason for doing the work. You are in the business of selling products or services, any recognition on top of this is a bonus.
If something really flies, keep it flying
Surely one of the ways of halting the surge in short-termism is for campaigns that are showing initial, measurable success to be continued. Views on measuring long- and short-term activity are evolving but one thing all econometric experts will tell you is that in order to have a long-term impact, your campaign has to have a good short-term return.
In other words, if your campaign is crap to begin with, it probably isn’t going to become less crap if you keep on airing it.
I recall one time when we had copy that was performing well but had second copy lined up that we were doubting. In the end, we decided to just air the same copy three times. In campaigns I have worked on, ROI tends to improve over time.
You can help this by shortening the copy length to focus on distinctive parts of the copy. Once we did the full econometric testing of all of the airings, it turned out the third burst was the best performing.
How does the latest campaign build on the previous one and open the door to the next one?
This has become a drum I’ve ended up beating a lot. To be fair to those in agency land, this is something clients need to take better ownership of. Yes businesses work on quarterly and year end reporting but advertising needs to get out of thinking in these cycles.
I can count on the fingers of no hands how many media plans I’ve seen that run for more than 12 months. This is not helped by the constant change in personnel. In my time at Mondelēz I had nine bosses in 10 years. Organisations with a matrix structure rarely promote from within and will therefore always struggle with continuity. A new brand manager arrives at least every 18 months or so and, of course, will want to do something new, different and better than before to stand out.
Look at most people’s LinkedIn profiles and you’ll see that they collect brands like Panini stickers. We see value in breadth rather than depth.
Revolution is often preferred over evolution and is often passed off as being disruptive. The sensible brand building lessons preached by Byron Sharpe et al suggest the need for continuity and leveraging distinctive assets to grow brands. This is also supported by findings in the aforementioned Lemon.
There doesn’t seem to be any value in being the guardian of a brand for a long period of time regardless of which side of the fence you sit. Look at most people’s LinkedIn profiles and you’ll see that they collect brands like Panini stickers. We see value in breadth rather than depth.
With all this churn driving so little consistency, is it any wonder trust and love for advertising is waning? There has to be a better way of providing variety and interest to keep things fresh while rewarding those who are willing to commit to a brand for more than just a few months.
Don’t disappear up your rear
You’ve aired the work, you’ve won the awards, you’ve reinvented advertising, created a new platform or some other version of alchemy. Congratulations to you, go and have a biscuit.
Once you’ve polished your awards and adjusted the LinkedIn profile to include your new entry in to the industry’s latest most influential, up and coming, hot list, the work really starts.
Nothing wrong with such plaudits at all. The problem is that you might be enjoying a time you might look back on as the good old days.
You can cement this by writing a book or doing endless conferences about it or maybe even set up your own business. As time passes, you can then moan about the fact everything is rubbish now and share details of the great campaign you did back in the day.
As Tennyson said: “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” But surely marketers want a better legacy than that?
The reasons something becomes great is a combination of many factors. This is part of the magic. Once you’ve had some success, don’t over analyse and don’t post-rationalise. Just move on and get some perspective.
Remember, it’s only an advert for chocolate, frozen peas, an energy provider or a betting company.
Matt Stockbridge is a consultant and former growth analytics manager at Mondelēz.