Sunday, September 29, 2013

My Dirty Little Secret About Advertising

So I was speaking with a client about a direction for an ad and PR campaign. 

Well, technically I was being paid to consult on an advertising campaign - i.e. lend my years of expertise to the challenge of selling the client's product/service (I don't want to get too specific).

But, as all too often happens, the conversation went from "consultant presenting (thought out and researched) ideas to client" to "client telling consultant (who is now merely a hired hand) what client's spouse, child, coworker, casual acquaintance (with no background in the field) etc., thought would be a GREAT idea for the project, and when can client see some samples based on THAT approach."

I've been doing this for a long, long time. (25+ years) There are a few ways to handle this situation.

How I USED to handle it when I was young and inexperienced.

Me: "Seriously? That's what you want me to work with. I have __ years of experience. I spent time coming up with some really creative and innovative concepts. If you'll just give me a few minutes, I can show you how they are clearly better than what you're 17 year-old kid thought up while watching a ball game."

Client: (If he's in a good mood) "I can appreciate that you spent some time on it already. But I am paying you for it. Right now, this is the direction I want to go in."
(If he's not in a good mood) "(****Unprintable****). If you want the (****Unprintable****) job, just do what I (****Unprintable****)told you."

I felt that was trying to give the client what he NEEDED and not what he WANTED, but no one was happy.

As time went on, I tried to wise up, and the exchange went something like this.

Me: "Well I did spend some time coming up with some really creative and innovative concepts. But if you really want, I can go back to the drawing board and work on new designs based on what you're 17 year-old kid thought up while watching a ball game."

And I would go back to my studio and do just that, spending tedious hours trying to make something presentable out Junior's silly idea.

In this case, while I was trying to please the customer, I did it in a backhanded way while still trying to assert myself, and still, no one was happy.

The Dirty Little Secret

After years of frustrating encounters, here is a technique that I've finally found that works well.

Me: "What a creative idea. I happen to have something here which perfectly expresses its very essence, if you'll just let me snow you - er I mean SHOW you." 

Another method, closely related to the first. "Hmmm. Great idea. Let me run back to the office and work on this for a little while. I'll be back this afternoon with some fresh drafts (which just happen to be the same ones I already did)."

And so I give the client what he needs (good artwork) and what he wants (needing to feel that Junior's idea was included). Everybody's happy!

So what if he thinks it's his idea?

The Challenge of the Day

Putting graphics and words on a page has become so easy. 

What many business owners (and I'm sorry to say, even some ad agencies) don't understand is that creating effective advertising is not something that should be done easily or lightly. 

Did you know that, statistically, up to 80% of the power of an advertising or PR piece lays in the headline? I'm not making that up. Businesses that take advertising seriously will run multiple versions of their ads, making changes only to the headline, and measuring results until they get it just right. (Meaning to say they achieve maximum response.) 

And yet so many others simply print the first glib line that pops into their head, or the cute line that their teenage daughter came up with for color war, blithely ignoring the fact that they could be shutting the door on tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars in sales, simply by using a better researched and tweaked headline.

So for many advertisers, up to 80 cents of their advertising dollars are flushed down the loo, just to stroke their own ego, or to make a family member or coworker feel good. Well if your business can afford that then great! But for the rest of you, there really are proven (though not infallible) methods for successful advertising.

But that means letting trained professionals actually do the job we were hired to do - let us create and innovate! 

And I hate to say it, but some of us may even know more than your ___________ (spouse, kid, chauffeur, jogging buddy).

What do you think? I'd love to know!

Danny Kay is a marketing consultant, designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. His work has appeared on products sold at small little known establishments like Costco, PC Richards, Target, Toys R Us, BJs, Sams Club, A&P, and other national chains. He has also done some minor, insignificant work for small firms such as Glaxo SmithKline, Lilly, Novartis, Proctor & Gamble, J&B Scotch, DiSorono, The Miami Heat, The Anahaim Angels, and a number of other piddling professional sports teams and Fortune 500 companies. He can be contacted through his website,

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