Archive for October, 2009

The agency rub-out!

You have to love the headline in today’s Ad Age Online: “LOWE LIKELY TO BE ERASED”

Advertising Agency Lowe Likely to be Erased in U.S. in Merger – Agency News – Advertising Age

It’s such an evocative metaphor.  Of course it raises the question: Outside of Mad Men, do people still use pencils and erasers?  Or is everything just a delete button away?

The ARF calls for “re-orientation in the creative briefing process”

The ARF, also known as The Advertising Research Foundation, has identified the creative brief as an area for improving the advertising process.

The following excerpt is from the conclusions and implications section of the report “On The Road To A New Effectiveness Model”.  You can get the full report from the ARF.

…rethinking the model for advertising might mean a re-orientation in the

creative briefing process.  That might include the following:

A more visual approach to briefing.  Adding key symbols, images, textures, colors that

would help the creative team in understanding and developing the non-verbal aspects of

the brand.

Providing more emotional insights into target audience descriptions by including two or

three example “life stories” of the customer.  These could be brief – 2 or 3 lines – that

give more specificity to the target audience.

Greater emphasis on brand personality.  Going far beyond the typical list of personality

characteristics and really creating more of a persona, using both images and words to

describe who the brand is and is not.  More of a brand biography, with creation story,

likes and dislikes, tastes and style.

A different emphasis on the proof points and rational benefits.  We would no longer

consider them as primary drivers of preference.  Proof points have a new role, which is to

give the consumer a plausible post-rationalization that supports their emotional choices.

Development of new tools that would help with developing “narrative lines” for the

brand. What happens when the consumer interacts with the brand?  What are some strong

storylines?  How do we articulate them in a brief that will be useful to the creative teams?

How does the brand story interact with the consumer’s life story or stories about the


To make a brand brief even more effective, it should be co-created by the client brand director or research director, a creative director and an account planner.

Agencies and clients agree on the need for a better brand brief

I was catching up on some old copies of Ad Age where I came across an interesting survey of agency executives.  The article reported that agency executives were frustrated with the briefs they get from clients.

According to Casey Jones’ study, at least 30% of agency time is wasted due to breakdowns in the briefing process.  75% of the agency executives say that they get at least 5 significant revisions of the creative brief after the assignment has begun.  Jones has put some real numbers around the anecdotal evidence that we hear all the time…or experience ourselves.


On the other side of the equation, clients have their own frustrations with the agency creative process.  We’ve done research among corporations and find that they are spending more time managing their agencies than before.  As Brandweek put it, “CMOs see agencies as a time suck”.  And only a small percentage — 21% —  believe they are getting the best work out of their agencies.

CMOs See Agencies asTime Suck

This blog is not about taking sides.  It is about discussing the problem everyone agrees on — clearly there is a gap between what the marketers want and what the agencies are delivering.  And both sides appear to have identified the same weak point:  the briefing process and documents for translating the marketers’ need into the creative executions.

Fixing that gap can help agencies sell better work.

Fixing that gap can improve the productivity of marketing.

Next blog — what the ARF has to say about the creative briefing process.

Consilience in branding

I had never heard of the word “consilience” until a couple of years ago.  It was introduced to me by a friend who saw tremendous opportunities for using the theory of consilience in marketing communications.

Consilience means taking ideas from one area of study and applying them to another.  For instance, if a person made a theory about an apple falling from a tree (Newton) and then applied it to the planets and stars (Galileo) they would be using “consilience”.

Another way of thinking about this is to consider universities.  Within a university are many departments and within each department are specialists and sub-specialists and sub-sub-specialists.  The discoveries made by these specialists tends to be incremental.  The big discoveries are made by people who look across specialities or who take ideas from one specialty (psychology) and apply it to another (economics).  The combination of psychology and economics has led to a growth in “behavioral economists” and the book “Freakonomics”.  It is a way of creating new ideas through cross-fertilization of disciplines. Interdisciplinary is a clunky word for this elegant idea.

The word  consilience was dusted off and put to good use by the Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson in a book titled “Consilience”.

It has also been used to describe the Narrative Branding approach.  For instance, neuropsychology has been unlocking more secrets into how we think, how we understand and how we communicate.  We have drawn on these insights into the human mind to come up with a breakthrough approach that will be more effective.  If we understand the mind better and use that understanding to come up with a better approach for branding, then the likelihood of success will be much higher.

As the Advertising Research Foundation has reported in the 2007 study “On the Road to More Effective Advertising”:

“Even though the new insights into the human mind are available, there are few techniques widely used today to take advantage of the knowledge to the benefit of advertisers.”

Attached is an article we wrote on this topic a year and a half ago for the Korean marketing journal, “Brand Forum”.  VerseGroup_brandforum_consilience bilingual

Shameless book plug

Bellevue is a mythic place in the collective memory of New York City.  The narratives about Bellevue have seeped into our culture.  It was the inspiration for the film, “The Lost Weekend.” It is mentioned in Alan Ginsburg’s poem “Howl”. At various times people such as Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsburg and Charles Mingus were committed there.  It is a brand, unique in America.  And as a brand owned and operated by NYU Medical School, NYU has been working hard to upgrade Bellevue’s reputation.

It is our version of Bedlam, London’s infamous hospital for the insane. (By the way, the location of the original Bedlam is now a hotel.  I stayed there one night a few years ago.  All night long I was haunted by strange dreams).

Now the head of the psychiatric Emergency Room has written a book about her experiences at Bellevue. I highly recommend it for anyone who lives or has ever lived in New York.

From a branding perspective, Bellevue is a perfect example of how the reputation is influenced by other people and not by the hospital itself.  Movies, stories, newspaper articles, tv reports have all shaped the reputation of Bellevue.  There is only a limited amount that the hospital itself, or NYU, can do.  That doesn’t mean that they should do nothing.  It is a conversation, a dialog, and NYU needs to actively participate in it — including social media — to help people co-create a more positive image.

Weekends at Bellevue

Weekends at Bellevue

One last fun fact, Bellevue has it’s own literary magazine!  It is fitting with so many famous writers having spent time there.  It brings to mind the title of a poem “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” by Delmore Schwartz, a former psychiatric patient.

So this my plug for the book.  You can also get it on a Kindle.  But the downside is that you can’t ask the author to autograph the Kindle.  Full disclose, I received no promotional considerations, nor payments, for this blog post.

This blog is sponsored by…

Remember those tv ads where the words “Paid Endorsement” showed up on the bottom of the screen while Ed McMahon was shilling insurance?  Or the game shows ending with a list of companies that provided prizes for “promotional consideration”?

Now it seems that the truth in advertising label is catching up with the internet age.  Here we are years into product reviews, blogs, tweets and facebook and finally, finally, the FTC is requiring disclosure when a company is providing payments or goods in exchange for “promotional consideration”.

Advertising – F.T.C. to Rule Blogs Must Disclose Gifts or Pay for Reviews –

Yes, this is a good thing for advertisers.  Transparency builds trust.  If an advertiser is upfront about their involvement, then consumers can make a more informed decision.  But if the role of the advertiser is hidden and later revealed, that will have a negative effect on the brand reputation.  The downside risk outweighs the benefits of implied independence.

This doesn’t mean that a blog can’t be objective even if they are given goods by an advertiser.  It just means that any unconscious bias will be out in the open for the consumer to judge themselves.

Full disclosure.  This blog is made possible by Verse Group, who is paying for the wordpress subscription.  In exchange for promotional consideration, I have promised to mention Verse Group and Narrative Branding (R) once in a while.  I wear my bias on my sleeve.

Is branding like the emperor with no clothes?

Is branding like the emperor with no clothes?

Michael Thibodeau and I wrote an article about that a few months ago for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).  In case you missed the piece in their online magazine, I’m posting it here.


Can one agency do it all?

The mantra of the past decade has been totally integrated marketing.  It’s a very smart move.  Corporations have recognized the advantages of having all their marketing efforts synchronized and harmonized.

Agencies have recognized this, too.  Because it represents an opportunity for them to get a large slice of the client’s marketing budget.  In theory, an agency that provides integrated marketing communications can benefit by capturing spending that would go to digital agencies, brand consulting firms, PR firms, packaging firms and so on.

The theory is one thing.  The practice is another.

Our research shows that only 16% of marketing decision makers want to have a single agency partner to handle all of their marketing challenges.  Instead of working with fewer agencies, corporations are working with more agencies.  The integration of marketing has to happen internally at the client side.  The client must own and control their branding.

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