Tag Archives: publicis

Why Advertising Should Be More Like Politics.

(The Thinking in This Piece first Appeared in Admap, August 2009)

The many mediums we use, from the humblest in-store sampling to the most expensive Superbowl ad, are only important in so far as they are contagious (they make people talk about them) and they change the conversation.

How do you change a conversation?

First, let’s visualise that conversation. The conversation that is going on (right now) about your brand is rowdy, fast moving and unpredictable. It involves millions, even billions of people. It involves category experts and that loud guy from last week’s groups, who knew nothing and wouldn’t shut up, but is now blogging about the session on-line

The conversation is sparked off by TV last night, when you said ‘that wouldn’t happen in real life’: random news events, celebrities unconnected to the brand, a factory scandal in China. It involves the big things, which evolve over years as global trends, and where brands only appear incidentally: you can’t trust the banks anymore, really can’t afford brands these days, not with the way the economy’s going, and worries about how your children will live.

To change a conversation like this isn’t easy. It takes vision, time, discipline and money.

Some of the best lessons (in success and in failure) come from politics.

Politicians have been trying to influence such a boisterous, impassioned discussion for years, and we know the people who succeeded, and those who have pushed their words out there, never to be heard again. I’m assuming here that you want your brand to be the Barack Obama of brands, the Gandhi, the Tony Blair or the Margaret Thatcher. Not the tawdry back bencher, here today, gone tomorrow.

Contrary to popular opinion, the politicians who change the conversation in a whole country (or even worldwide) are not just those who use Facebook best. They are the people you would find compelling if you were talking to them in an airport lounge. They are the people who really understand the rules of conversation…

1)      They listen. The best politicians and the best brands are natural listeners. They are not silent waiting to talk; they are listening deeply. And they make sure that you know it. It was often said that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair could speak to a whole room and leave you feeling that you were the only person there.

2)      They have a point of view. When they enter a conversation, they stand for something. They know what they want to say, and it’s not to tell you why they are better. It’s to tell you why your life will be better.

Now, in the teeth of a recession, brands must stand for something. They need to be clear about how they will make a difference. How they will earn their keep and their premium.

A point somehow lost in the discussion about Barack Obama and Facebook is that he has a profoundly different vision for the future of America and the world.  He discusses different topics to his predecessor, and uses different words. He has changed the global conversation from isolation and pessimism to hope and inclusiveness.

3)      The best politicians choose the right moment to speak with greatest effect. They are aware of the symbolism of their choice of place and time. They find a central image that expresses their meaning simply, warmly. Can you remember what Barack Obama said in his Berlin speech? Probably not. Can you remember what he was symbolising by choosing to speak there? Yes.

4)      Their stories are peppered with talking points. At best, they say and do things that people find remarkable, in the true sense of the word. They relate to popular culture. Their stories are the oxygen for conversation. They are what gets passed on.

5)      They carry on a dialogue. A great politician tells and re –tells stories that illustrate a point of view, flexing them to reflect contemporary events, cultural notes and evolving concerns of their listeners. They listen, and respond.

How Does this Matter for the Industry?

If you believe this analogy, advertising in the future will be much more like PR. We’ll be run more like a daily TV show or an interactive newspaper than an advertising factory.  Faster, able to take in more information and respond to it. Sensing the stories.

We’ll be borderless; we may use teams from different places to speed up response times, and to increase cultural connections. Digital will be at the heart. Allowing us to listen better, to create faster, to track and understand more accurately.


Notes from a Paris Cafe

This is a shortened version of a column in AdMap May 2010, http://www.warc.com/admap

The AdMap round table on the Future of Planning  certainly made good reading. Comprising the thoughts of some of the most eminent planners in Anglo-Saxon advertising, how could it not?

But I started wondering if these are the people best placed to see where the answers lie.

Seen from France, there’s an obvious direction for planning to evolve: further along the road it is now. While UK planning started as a way of optimising communications, and has evolved to make creative planning a high art, planning in France has always been more about the brand. It was never about giving creatives the communications idea, more about giving them a differentiated brand idea.

French agencies think more like English brand consultants than English advertising planners. Our agency in Paris, the biggest in France, is called ‘Publicis Conseil’ i.e. Publicis Advice, not Publicis Advertising, and for many years, its positioning was ‘The Holistic Difference’. The big agencies in France have large corporate affairs units of ‘Consultants’ that do the high-level brand thinking that UK and American clients have often moved in-house. So it’s easy to see why Disruption came from TBWA Paris: it comes from a holistic brand approach that is typically French.

This space, which agencies have vacated in many countries, is going to become the high ground more than ever before. As the role of the agency mutates from producing content (chiefly advertising) to managing the conversation about brands, you cannot avoid managing the brand holistically.

There is an increasingly thin line between brand and advertising. As agencies, we like to think that the advertising is the brand. In fact, it’s the other way around: the brand is the advertising. What use is it, after all, producing advertising that tells people nice things about your bank brand, if the internet is awash with vitriol about its poor call-centres? Conversation analysis makes it evident that each thing you do is part of the brand, whether you think it’s marketing or not.

8 Rules for Surviving in the Era of Conversations

(The thinking in this piece first appeared in Contagious Magazine, Issue 16)

1 / You’re part of the conversation, whether you’re managing it or not. And the conversation is getting louder. Fred Reichheld of Bain Consulting says it best: ‘Today, negative word of mouth goes out over a global PA system. In the past, the accepted maxim was that every unhappy customer told ten friends. Now an unhappy customer can tell ten thousand ‘friends’ through the internet.
2 / Everything you do creates conversation, whether you think it’s marketing or not, and whether youknow it or not. Your pricing policy creates conversation. How your people answer the phone creates conversation. In the contagious age, the things that create conversation are not just viral ads. The single greatest driver of positive recommendation is ‘experience beyond expectation’. For advertising agencies, this means you can’t manage the conversation without having a point of view on every aspect of your client’s product experience. If they manage a bank, then most of the
negative conversation is likely to be driven by high fees, long queues or poor service. The advertising won’t fix that.
3 / Changing the conversation to your advantage is what grows your business. Brands with the most recommendation in their category grow four times faster than the category average (London School of Economics). Increasing recommendation by 12% doubles sales growth (Bain Consulting).
4 / Most of what is currently positioned as buzz or word of mouth is completely worthless. It’s transient and disconnected. It doesn’t change the conversation. Getting talked about is not, in itself, the driver of value. Changing the
conversation in the category is. Sometimes that difference isn’t visible until years afterwards. Some Grand Prix winners
have little long term impact. Wassup was certainly talked about, but Apple’s 1984 spot changed the conversation.
5 / You have to be talking about something that really matters to people to really change the conversation. Otherwise you’re just global small talk. Water cooler chit-chat. Suprisingly, even apparently dull categories can be important. Nobody talks about toothpaste, but people do talk about teeth, smiles, and feelings. Nobody talks about constipation, until they have it. But, when they do, you’d be surprised. (Check it out on-line).
6 / Great brands lead the conversation by having a point of view that transcends even the category. They have a vision and a set of beliefs that allow them to redefine the category they work in multiple times, often over decades. Renault, for example, has always beendriven by people-based innovation, not just engineering. This was most famously apparent in the Espace and its creation of the people-carrier segment, but has also allowed them to take leading roles in the low-cost car segment with the nofrills Logan brand, as well as in electric cars. Take a look at this statement of purpose to understand how they are as different from Peugeot as they were in the 1960s, or the 1980s – it’s just the concerns of the time that have changed.
7 / Broadcast marketing can also change the conversation too, but to do so you need to apply a higher standard. Even tooday, nothing gets people talking as much or changes the conversation as effectively as TV advertising. (Little known fact about Barack Obama: he started with Facebook, but he ended up by spending more TV dollars than any candidate in history; likewise, Susan Boyle didn’t get that virally famous by appearing on a small underground show. It was ten or twenty million people who saw her on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. But you do have to think about your ‘broadcast media’ differently. Don’t think about the ad, think about the conversation that starts when
the ad finishes. No conversation? Don’t do the ad.

8 / Symbolic actions have immense contagious power, if they crystallise a powerful vision. Consumers know that talk is cheap. And what you do for them is more likely to get them talking than what you say you believe. The recently awarded Speights Great Beer Delivery created by Publicis Mojo in Auckland was a fine example. The brand is about the importance of beer and mates; putting a pub on a boat and sending it to the other side of the world so that NewZealand ex-pats in England could enjoy their favourite beer was a powerful way of proving that.