True connection

The biggest challenge every brand faces, is connecting with people. But despite global advertising spend in 2018 being a gargantuan $543.71 billion dollars, very few get it right. For context, 543 billion dollars is roughly the same as the entire GDP of Switzerland as ranked by the IMF. It’s why the majority of advertising, as Dave Trott expressed so eloquently is nothing more than wallpaper.

Ever since I started my career in planning, everywhere I’ve worked, there has been an obsession over ‘the insight’. There’s been so much written about insights by the likes of Rob Campbell, Martin Weigel and Mark Pollard in far better ways than I could ever aspire to. As such, I won’t go into detail, other than to say that the longer I’ve worked in the industry, the more I’ve come to realise that almost every insight isn’t really that insightful, and instead, merely an observation about a group of people.

(I’m getting to the point of this article I promise)

Recently, I’ve had to go through a period of my life of fairly intense self-reflection, and recognise that it’s OK to not be OK all of the time. I think that the nature of the industry I work in has meant that I’ve simply tried to pretend I’m fine, when sometimes I’m not.

My natural reaction is to go online and seek out information and advice – of which, there is plenty. But rarely does it give me the answer I want. Not because it doesn’t say the right things, but because it’s dry, and cold, and only connects with me on a rational level.

Actually, I can probably count on both hands, the number of times something I’ve read has connected with me on a genuinely emotional level, but recently this has changed – a few of the articles I’ve read have smacked me round the face like a ton of bricks. They’ve connected with me on a deep, emotional level. Made me look inwardly. Made me stop, think and reflect.

Triggering that sort of response is nirvana for any brand’s advertising, but if any brand’s survival is predicated on their ability to connect with people, then why does so much of all advertising fail to do this:

Martin Weigel – Escape from Fantasy

As you can see, it’s getting worse. People don’t favour advertising in the same way they used to. Despite having more channels and mediums that we know what to do with, the drive seems to be on creating more and more wallpaper, and that simply doesn’t feel right.

There are however, a few brands who do get it right, almost every single time:

Nike is the brand synonymous for one that gets culture. A brand that has a view on the world, and the eyes and ears of its audience. A brand that understands that to connect with people you need to really understand and empathise with them. You’ll notice that in much of Nike’s above the line advertising, products are rarely featured. They don’t need to be. People get what Nike is about and who they are for.

Perhaps it’s time for more brands to escape the confines of their own echo chambers, and start really focusing on people, see how they can be more relevant in people’s lives, how they can communicate with people in ways that are authentic, and believable – not patronising.

Perhaps it’s time for brands to start seeing the true potential of connecting with people.

The power of imagination

When I was young, like most children I loved playing with Lego.

I had two enormous tubs of it, every type of brick you could imagine – all different shapes, colours and sizes.

To this day, playing with Lego is one of of my most vivid memories, because I can associate moments in time with the different things I made.

Over time, the types of thing I used to make changed – much of it was based on what I’d seen on TV, or in a magazine – submarines from James Bond, and a huge X-Wing fighter after watching Star Wars (the original one).

This was back in the 80’s, a time when we had one television in the house, with four channels, about an hour of children’s TV a day, and where, the channels used to shut down and stop broadcasting overnight.

Everything I used to do with my Lego, from building things, to playing with them afterwards, was down to my imagination – and a lot of patience/frustration in working out how to create my next masterpiece made of plastic bricks.

I love Lego, because it is truly one of those things where your imagination is the only limit as to what you can create – that and how many bricks you have.

Today, on Instagram, I saw an advert for an augmented reality Lego app. The idea is, you build something, then point a phone, or a tablet at it the thing you’ve made, and it turns what you’ve created into a game on the screen.

At first I thought “that’s cool”, but after a few minutes it felt at-odds with what Lego is all about. Lego is about unleashing your creativity and building something awesome, then letting your imagination take over when you play with it.

Playing some sort of pre-defined game based on what you’ve made, feels completely removed from what Lego is all about – certainly from my perspective. Actually, I felt a bit sad to see it… Does Lego feel like its core product is no-longer satisfying its core user-base? Does Lego feel like it needs to diversify to stay relevant in this technology-obsessed world in which we live?

I’m sure many who see it won’t agree with me, but I’ll leave you with this one additional thing…

Tonight, Jake, my three year old son, came and joined me in the kitchen whilst I was cooking dinner. He doesn’t really know it but he’s got so many things I could only dream about as a child. I’ve worked hard my whole life to give him and my family everything I didn’t have growing up – every toy you could imagine. But tonight, he didn’t want to play with his toys, instead, he wanted to stand on his much-loved IKEA stool, and make shapes with the seeds from a pepper I’d just chopped up. Something he did for half an hour.

So I say to Lego, please don’t feel like you have to embrace every bit of technology going, because deep down, a child’s imagination is so amazing, so incredible, that all you need to give them are a few seeds (or bricks) and they’ll do the rest.

Interestingly, I also saw this ad, done by Ogilvy Canada, so I like to hold out hope. Because this is the Lego that I know and love:

This is not a strategy

Graham Kenny provides his thoughts on the subject on HBR here

One of the best bits of advice I ever received is that, when scrutinised, most strategies aren’t really strategic in the slightest. In fact, they’re most-likely to be objectives, or actions, or activities. 

A strategy is not:

  • A presentation
  • A chart
  • A metric
  • A percentage
  • A goal
  • A sales target
  • A model
  • A diagram
  • An aspiration
  • An objective
  • A survey

A strategy is the best possible way to achieve a desired outcome, and you should be able to articulate it in a simple sentence. Everything else is either the means (to help deliver on the strategy), or the end (the result, the outcome).

If you can’t articulate your strategy simply and clearly, it probably isn’t a strategy.

When a survey really isn’t needed…

I’m often amazed with some of the reasons given to justify running surveys. More often than not, they happen either to reinforce a point of view, or simply because people don’t know what they’re doing, or where to look for the right answer. Or, they simply don’t want to accept the truth staring them in the face.

This is one of those surveys. Walk into any agency and have a look around. Have a look at the management team, the MD, the CEO. You’ll see that the survey is correct, but again, I’m not sure it was even needed in the first place.

The good thing is, the industry is going through a massive period of change, and that can only be a good thing, right?