Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Forbidden Strategies


If you've worked in advertising for any amount of time, you will almost certainly have encountered what I've come to refer to as "the usual strategic suspects." These are the handful of propositions can be - and too ofter are - trotted out for nearly any client in any category. They're comfy and familiar sentiments, and so are probably that much easier to sell in. But to the people tasked with writing the ads they're little more than a hospital pass.

Plopped into the creative department with much enthusiasm and PowerPoint, they're met with the wry smile of a team who've heard that song before. But to be fair, these smiles are rooted more in a sense of kinship that condescension. For when the deadline looms and the traffic man takes up residence in your office, it's awfully tempting to reach for the usual creative suspects. Here are just a few:

- Person uses a poor alternative to our client, hilarity ensues. "Looking for a better way?"
- Dopey dad is saved from disaster by the clever mom (or better yet, clever kids)
- White-coated lab technicians carry out comedy experiments.
- Talking animals. Talking babies. Talking baby animals.
- A game of football spontaneously breaks out someplace surprising.

So both planners and creatives know what it's like to aim low. And whether creative or strategic, the usual suspects see the light of day for the same reasons: laziness, ineptitude or poor time management. But clich├ęd strategies aren't euthanized as quickly as their creative kennel-mates. "It's been done before" is the most common, most lethal criticism that can be leveled at an execution. But strategies seem immune to this criticism. So for the common good, here's a run-down of what I consider the most shopworn, knackered old propositions that have ever wheezed their way into my office. Feel free to add your own.

1. Reject Conformity
This is the grandaddy of all the usual suspects. I've seen it in every agency I've ever worked for. Sometimes it's written as "Break the rules!" Other times "people who buy brand x are highly individualistic" But whether you're extolling PC buyers to think different, convincing teenagers that by living unzipped they're shocking all the prudes at dad's country club, or even just crapping on about how "the rules have changed" in your ad for a mid-sized american car, you're operating in a very, very crowded space -rebellion is the new orthodoxy. As I write this an ad for the Ford Kuga is asking me "Why keep following the same design rules?" To have this strategy driven from your mind forever, read Thomas Frank's painfully astute "Why Johnny Can't Dissent."

2. The Ritual
It seems you can't be an FMCG brand these days without having a "Ritual" associated with how people buy or consume your product. Piffle. So I happen to like to twist off the top of an Oreo cookie before I eat it. And I squeeze my toothpaste from the bottom of the tube. It's not something I dwell on. But because brands tend to take themselves a bit too seriously, habits and preferences like these are puffed up into "rituals." It's an adorable conceit. But not very useful. Religions have rituals. Cults have rituals. Brands just wish they did. Get over it.

3. The World is Now... (insert your product's benefit here)
This one is probably rooted in the same impulses that allow agencies to see habits as rituals. But brands aren't so important to ordinary people that a flexible mobile tariff makes their "world more flexible."

I could go on but I'm stopping with three. Mainly because dinner is on the table. And while I'm not so naive as to think that the usual suspects are going away anytime soon, maybe they'll be easier to kill.

What strategies would you add to this list?

1 comment:

golublog said...

These are so true. The sad thing is the client wants the usual suspects alot of the time and just gets confused when you present them with something else.