Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let's Bring Creative Back

When I was in college, I took an advertising class that delved into the history and evolution of advertising. The professor reviewed advertising creative - copy and design - through the decades. His theory was that every other decade, advertising and marketing experienced a highly strategic and creative burst of energy followed by a decade with less creative focus.

Take a trip through the decades with me...

My professor started with the 50s, when advertising began to take on new meaning in post war prosperity. Advertising in the 50s was basic and informative. In many cases, consumers didn't have many choices, so ads weren't much on competitiveness or differentiation.

The 60s began an era of the brand and creating a differentiating theme and message. Think of the Volkswagen Beetle print ads of the 60s. A simple image married to a poignant headline and personable text. They were humble and honest. And they got attention.

The 70s were sex. Advertisers delivered on the theory that "sex sells!" I'm not sure if it did, but it was an underlying theme that was experimented with during this decade.

Then came the 80s and another era of creative consciousness. Advertisers were driven by increased competition and the need to make statements that separated them from the competition. Anyone growing up in the 80s remembers the "Where's the Beef?" lady for Wendy's, Heinz and its slow pouring ketchup, the Energizer Bunny (yes, he's been going that long), and the Apple 1984 ad.

Next comes the 90s, and it's all about the development of the brand. It's not particularly creative, and message are quick. Consumers are being bombarded by advertising at every turn. Marketing messages are straightforward and conservative.

Okay, we're in the 2000s. Following the every other decade is creative theory, this is the decade when creative comes back full force, right? I'm not so sure. Maybe I'm just getting older, but I have been seeing a lot more raunchy, vulgar marketing efforts that get my attention, but may be portraying a less than stellar image. And there are commercials on TV right now that I just flat out don't understand. What will stand out in this decade? Is there great creative that you think will define the 2000s? I would love to hear from you.

I say let's bring the creative back. It's time for great offers and insightful creative developed from sound strategic planning and real benefits.

As direct marketers, here's what we need to do:

Clear strategy
I know this seems obvious, but I feel like clear, simple messaging has been lost. It's all glitz, glamor, and complicated concepts. If someone looks at your print ad, email, website, or direct mail package and says "I don't get it." then you need to simplify. For instance, Geico has a very clear positioning right now - you'll save money with Geico.

Focus on one thing
This ties in with the point above. What is the one thing that makes you different? What is the one thing you want people to associate with your product or service? It is difficult, if not impossible, to be all things to all people. Heinz Ketchup was "thick." It stayed where you put it. And this theme was conveyed with funny ads showing people waiting for their ketchup to pour. Today, Heinz Ketchup is "The World's Favorite Ketchup." Hmmm...

Be consistent
Just as important as focusing on one thing is sticking with it. If you have your one thing that makes you or your product or service unique, but then you change your messaging across different media, it defeats the purpose. Or, our agency has clients who get tired of the message or theme and just want to try something different. If it's working, don't fix it! The Energizer Bunny has been reminding consumers for 20 years that their batteries are long lasting. And it works!

Try honest and humble
Now is the time to build up consumers' trust and confidence in your company and your products or services. Be honest about features and benefits. Now more than ever consumers are skeptical. Make them feel good about your company. And be humble and straightforward in your messaging. Avoid flamboyance, extreme claims, and superiority. It's time to get back to basics and provide quality products and services that meet the needs and wants of hardworking consumers.

It's okay to be different. It's okay to set yourself apart from the competition with a clear strategy, consistent theme, and compelling message. Let's get back to creating good, simple direct marketing programs with clear strategy and that one thing that sets you apart. We have one year left in this decade. Let's make it memorable.

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