The definition of an idea is ‘connecting the unconnected’ in a way that yields ‘something of value’. In advertising, this is called a ‘creative idea’ that communicates a brand's proposition in a way that ‘sticks’ with the consumer. The works of Stephen King (the pioneer of modern day strategic planning and J. Walter Thompson’s first ever planning director) were compiled and edited after his death by Judie Lannon and Merry Baskin in their book, A Master Class in Brand Planning: The Timeless Works of Stephen King. According to King, a creative idea in advertising will, more often than not, take one of the following two forms.
A brand proposition is demonstrated by communicating in a vivid (clear and powerful) way one or more seemingly unrelated thing/s, so that they register in the audience’s mind. For example, Samsonite’s TVC featuring elephants kicking, playing with and sitting on a Samsonite suitcase, vividly demonstrates that it is “strong.” (https://bit.ly/2X6XePc)
A brand proposition is brought to life by featuring something unrelated but which has the same characteristic as the brand proposition but displays it a lot more clearly and loudly (it acts as a metaphor for the brand’s promise). For example, Epuron’s big man who upends clothes, overturns umbrellas and blows litter away is a metaphor for what the wind does and so communicates the message about putting the power of the wind’s energy to better use (https://bit.ly/1ilmMYw).
It is pertinent to note that a creative idea is not the message itself as it is generally believed to be, nor is it a slogan or a tagline. Rather, it is a vehicle that carries the message. We need this vehicle to carry our messages in a larger-than-life way to ensure they register with the target audience. Told differently, the message is likely to get lost in the noise; the creative idea is what ensures the message is noticed and grasped. Vivid demonstration or vivid metaphors are just two of the ways widely used to communicate a message effectively. What is common in the above two and in countless other examples of effective advertising executions is a single-minded proposition. However, this does not mean that a single-minded proposition entails a single attribute or aspect of a brand, but rather, a single thought (for example Epuron creating awareness about ‘putting the power of wind energy to better use').
Taking the case of Samsonite, if the agency brief was: “We want to tell middle-class, frequent travellers who regularly watch TV that Samsonite suitcases are strong, stylishly designed, available in a variety of colours, last long and are reasonably priced, the creative execution would most likely be a woman is climbing up the stairs carrying a Samsonite. It slips from her grasp and tumbles down. Worried, she goes down the steps, picks up the suitcase and is pleasantly surprised to find it undamaged. Cut to a man walking out of the arrivals lounge at Jinnah International Airport while people look admiringly at his Samsonite. Cut to a young woman choosing a Samsonite from a range of colours. Each one looks good and she finds it difficult to pick one. Cut to a man bargaining with a shopkeeper over the price of a suitcase. The shopkeeper tells him that only Samsonite falls within his budget. The customer buys it. The TVC ends with the words ‘Samsonite: All that you wanted’. Sounds familiar? Examples abound: Hamdard Pakistan Corporate TVC 2018, Sooper Biscuits TVC 2017 and Bata Pakistan TVC 2017.
An alternative scenario would be: A celebrity is at the airport check-in counter with a Samsonite. She turns to the camera and says: “For long haul travel, I always rely on my Samsonite. It is unbreakable; it is beautifully designed and comes in elegant colours. You may think it is very expensive, but on the contrary, it is very affordable. The TVC ends with “Samsonite: All that you wanted.” Haven’t you seen similar executions a thousand times in our market? Examples: Orient’s new DC Inverter Air Conditioner, EcoStar LED TVC featuring Fahad Mustafa and PTCL's Smart TV launch campaign.
If the above two scripts don’t work with the client, then the creative director has a foolproof formula that hardly ever fails; a jingle with rhyming lines that describe the product features and ends with: “Samsonite: All that you wanted." Very common. Examples: Telenor Talkshawk’s TVC featuring Ali Zafar, Tarang #DilDanceMaray campaign and Chaika ‘Chaska Chai Ka’ TVC.
When a brief lacks a single-minded proposition, creatives find it hard, if not impossible, to powerfully bring the message(s) to life. In the words of Gary Tranter, former ECD, Ogilvy Pakistan and now Chief Creative Officer at Digitas and Arcade in Singapore: “Give me the freedom of a tight brief,” by which he means a single-minded brief. It is established that the narrower the task, the more creative the solution usually is because the mind has a single starting point and is free to look around for things it can connect with to help drive a solution. Imagine if you had multiple starting points. Where could they lead you to?
Let us not forget that when consumers watch TV or read magazines, they are not attentively learning what the advertisers are communicating, they are ‘rote learning’ – i.e. learning by repetition. If they are bombarded with the same message over and over again, they will tend to remember it, which is why, the frequency at which an ad is aired becomes important. The job of the creative idea is to communicate that one proposition in an extraordinary way so that it does not need to be aired so many times to be remembered.
Here are some of the reasons why our creative briefs lack single-minded propositions.
1 They involve a risk for brand managers in terms of “what if we focus on the thing about the brand that the majority are not interested in? Sales might decline and my job might be at risk. So let me tell my consumers everything they want to hear about.” This, however, is conventional thinking, not astute marketing which advocates focus.
2 Clients’ trust in market research is declining. When research pinpoints that attribute X, (for example reliability) most clearly differentiates a brand and is ranked third on the importance scale, the client still hesitates to try this.
3 The prevalence of conventional wisdom over marketing wisdom that the more product attributes of interest to customers, the more likely they are to buy the product. Marketing wisdom says that if you focus on the needs of fewer people, the likelihood of them buying your product increases many times over compared to trying to sell them everything.
4 Agency planners don’t challenge the client’s brief as often as they should when it lacks a single-minded proposition.
The best way to achieve single-mindedness is to recognise that the job of marketing communications is to solve a business problem for a brand; for example, the fact that consumers who buy the brand for the first time are not repeating the purchase. The way forward is to investigate why this is not happening. What are the beliefs or concerns that cause consumers to shy away from a repeat purchase? Which of the brand’s strengths can address that? Chances are that such thinking will lead to a single-minded proposition. Of course the brand’s essence, personality traits and values are important in evolving the brand story. However, when a single-minded proposition is identified, the result is more likely to be a compelling creative idea that will be more effective and deliver results.
Khalid Naseem is Head of Strategy, Firebolt63.firstname.lastname@example.org