4 Ways To Not Let Democracy Kill Great Advertising

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A fortnight ago I wrote about how the Brand Manager could be the biggest enemy of the brand due to his temptation to do new things and veering away from consistency of proposition and execution. There is yet another enemy of great advertising that is linked to process rather than individuals – democracy.

Advertising is part science and part business acumen, but most of all it is about a winning creative idea. Even more than that, it is about razor sharp execution of the winning idea. Generating a great creative idea and its execution both depend on individual brilliance. These require a lot of right-brain function which is more creative, intuitive and subjective. The best creative ideas and their execution this world has seen, whether art, cinema, music, writing, even scientific inventions, have come from individuals who dream, conceptualize and execute them to perfection.

On the other hand business and brand management in companies are more left-brained functions – analytical, objective and logical. Hence, you need to work in teams of peers, with defined hierarchies and cross-functional co-dependence. The processes, therefore, lean toward taking multiple inputs and approvals, clear cut division of work profiles and above all obtaining consensus. In such an environment when new ideas or problem solving are required, either individuals or smaller groups of workers are designated to do focused thinking and come up with solutions different from what large groups may be able to achieve.

As one can appreciate, the above two are very different in approach and purpose, yet the challenge is to make them work together when it comes to designing ad campaigns. Too often we find that companies end up marrying the two by taking a consensus approach to evaluating advertising. The results then are at best imperfect message delivery, and at worst creative hara-kiri.

Democracy by nature functions by taking all constituents into account and more often than not works through creating compromises. This leaves little room for individual brilliance to shine and deliver. How then should the company and its brand management approach this sticky issue? Here are my two bits.

1. Agree on a single-minded brand proposition and key messages before briefing the agency.
This is internal and has nothing to do with the agency to begin with. The brand manager must get all important stakeholders aligned – sales, product, marketing director, CEO – to the core message/s before the agency is briefed. While briefing, agree with the agency the broad creative strategy, brand personality, tone, etc. and update leaders of stake-holding teams about these aspects. Once the agency starts coming with creative ideas on campaign, there must be no new debates about these basics.

2. Don’t subject creative ideas to a committee.
It is a fact that more than 75% of the people in a company fancy themselves as marketers. And when it comes to advertising, 100% of the people believe that they are geniuses! So, if you’re going to have fifteen people sit and discuss a storyboard where everyone gets a say, that’s akin to throwing a cow into a river full of piranhas. It is one thing to show an idea to many people to quickly assess whether it works in the desired way or not; it’s altogether another thing to give multiple people the power to vote and ask for changes by right. The brand manager and his boss need to take inputs but decide for themselves what tweaks to make. And they must be empowered to work this way.

3. Get consumer response, but don’t follow them blindly.
The key word is response, and not opinion. At any of the stages of creative development, the consumer should respond to the stimulus so that the brand manager and agency know what’s working and what’s not. He does not know your strategy, or the objectives, or the insight that you started with, and hence, is never going to give you a thought-through input. That’s not his role. Democracy is an even greater sin when you start expecting decisions from consumers instead of their rational and emotional reactions.

On a related note, do not fall into the trap of expecting your research agency to take your decisions for you. Their role is to give you insights on how consumers think and behave and react, with some recommendations. It is for the brand manager to synthesise all this and take the final decision.

4. Finally, err on the side of risk.
If you started off with wanting great cut-through and an insightful piece of advertising that’ll shake the market, you will have to take the risk of accepting that which is not necessarily approved by the majority. As long as you’re certain that the intended message and brand personality is being communicated the best way, take that risk and go against what your committee is saying.

It is true that all the above is easier said than done. The process of decision making is determined largely by company culture, established internal practices and maturity level of stakeholders. Because of the relatively subjective nature, marketing and advertising will always have more input givers than you care to have. But think of it this way – Sales works in the way sales objectives are met; Finance works in the way that financial objectives are achieved; then why shouldn’t the brand manager work in the way that brand objectives are best met?

By  Lk Gupta    lk-gupta

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