All posts tagged Advertising

Who’s guilty? Advertising, Paris Hilton or me?

In yesterday’s post about Dr. Pepper Ten, I explored the need to rise above calling for the removal of sexist ads and instead, vote with our wallets. Today, I watched a trailer for the documentary “Miss Representation” which, I think, further proves the need to do this.

Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, this film calls out the media and advertising for re-enforcing negative stereotypes of women. On one hand, I agree. On the other, I don’t.

Does advertising (and the content it pays for) illustrate women in ways that prevent women from rising above the past? Absolutely. Is it their fault? Maybe and maybe not. It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. Let me explain.

While advertising certainly has done its fair share to contribute to the problem, the only thing that drives the use of negative imagery is success. Advertisers do it because it works. Trust me, if a “sexy” ad failed to drive sales, it would get yanked faster than Qwickster. So who’s guilty? The advertiser for doing it or the general public who reward the advertiser’s behaviour with sales and brand loyalty?

There was a time when corporations didn’t even think about greening their products. Only when the general public started rewarding those who went green did everyone else join in.
The answer is easy then, right?
Maybe not.

As the trailer points out, many men respond to such images because that’s what we’ve been taught our entire lives. By the media. And by advertising. When we buy magazines or watch TV or check out movies, we’re fed images that define what we should like and what we shouldn’t. So when we see Paris Hilton in a Carl’s Jr. spot, we’re immediately conditioned to think, “Blonde? Check. Thin? Check. Not intellectually sound? Check. Oh, right! I like this!! (or at least I’m supposed to).”

Is it my fault for responding or someone else’s fault because they taught me that that’s how I should respond? Or.. and here’s where it gets interesting.. Is it Paris’ fault for contributing to the problem simply for financial gain? Shouldn’t she be held at least partially accountable?

Many of you will point to the brilliant work done by Ogilvy Toronto for Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign to say that clearly progressive forms of advertising work. Well, ya but don’t forget that the campaign targeted people who supported that type of brand communication much in the same way that parent company Unilever stands behind its work for Axe Body Spray. They work because their target connects with them.

Like or not, money drives decisions but it also represents a democracy. I absolutely hate Jersey Shore but man, there are a LOT of people who like it which proves it should exist. Who am I to impose my cultural beliefs on others? Instead of yanking it, wouldn’t it be better if there simply wasn’t a market for it?

I know I’m rambling. I guess this is my point: If we want to make advertising better, we have to rethink what we’re responding to and support those products (and the ads that represent them) regardless of price. And whether we’re Kim Kardashian or US Weekly or a Creative Director at a big agency, we need to make decisions based on our values, not on our bank accounts.

My good friend, Bill Sharpe, once told me, “A principle is only a principle if it costs you money.” I couldn’t agree more.

As a consumer and as a brand guy, I know I’m not perfect.
I’m just trying to do the right thing.

What do you think?

Advertising award shows are stupid. Or are they?

It’s not the promise of sunshine, warm weather and flip-flops that has the advertising industry excited about the arrival of spring. It’s Award Show Season, silly.

Yup, creatives and production partners will soon start gathering in ballrooms across the globe for some good old-fashioned drinking, back patting and ego stroking.

The pursuit of advertising awards certainly has its detractors. Some think they’re a waste of time, energy and money while others are even harsher in their criticism claiming that they undermine the credibility of the industry and individual relationships between agencies and their clients.

Well, to all those who say that the pursuit of awards is wrong, I disagree.

Advertising awards show are a good thing. Here’s why:

Wake up and smell the employee of the month.
Have you ever picked up a newspaper and seen a full-page ad for the top selling real estate agents in your area? How about an Employee of the Month Glamour Shot at your local McDonalds? Of course you have.

Simply put, every industry and most companies on the planet congratulate themselves. Actors, plumbers, pharma reps, and yes, even clients. I find it funny that those who speak out against advertising award shows usually do so between an afternoon of “personal time” and an awards gala hosted by Jann Arden at a week long sales retreat in Vegas. Like it or not, recognition is something we all crave and we’re no different.

Defining success.
We all know that true success in this industry is helping our clients sell more products. Every respected professional I know truly believes this. Seriously. We do. Still, there are too many variables to isolate the sound design of a pre-roll Internet spot and know the effect it had on results. And while I’m comfortable that clients have their own tools for analysis (I really am), I’d prefer my work not be judged by the quality of a storyboard and Millward Brown Link Score. Award show definitions are easy and precise: This is great. This is not.

They work. Usually.
Does every award winner contribute to positive sales? Of course not. But they usually do. Nothing can guarantee success. Hell, if there was a magic pill that did, I would sell it out of my trunk and recommend every client take it by the bucket full. But there’s not. So, until one is created, we’ll have to be confident that most award winning ads perform better than expected. And pursuing work that is award show worthy is usually better for the brand.

Regardless, It doesn’t take Lee Clow’s Beard to know that an original idea with an insightful strategy and flawless execution SHOULD work better. There’s certainly enough data to prove that. And when a team of people (client included) is able to pull off that holy trinity, they should be acknowledged, awarded and admired because they’ll make the rest of us better and help us help our clients sell more.

Justifying bad ads.
To quote my old North America Creative boss Jeff Kling, “Saying ‘the ad isn’t great but it worked’ is just an excuse for a shitty ad.” Put another way, people used to love talking about Guy Lafleur smoking a pack of butts a day. “He wasn’t healthy but he was successful.” My first thought was always, “Can you imagine what he would have accomplished if he didn’t smoke?” If a crappy idea worked, can you imagine the results if the brand lead with a compelling piece of communication?

Our work is supposed to sell. The real challenge is to make something brilliantly unique and brilliantly successful. Awards shows remind that us that they’re not mutually exclusive.

Pro hockey players are paid millions to simply play the game and that should be enough to motivate them. As we all know, even they need more. So do we. Should we stay past midnight to get it right for our clients? Of course we should. And we often do. But we’re human. So when there’s a remote possibility of recognition, acknowledgement, and career advancement, staying past midnight becomes a little easier. The possibility of an award is why some can stay to perfect an idea at 2am when the client would have been happy with the one at 8pm.

Are award shows perfect? Definitely not.

There’s too many of them, they’re too focused on the creative teams opposed to the advertising teams, and I certainly could do without some of the egos that are generated because of them. While I have won my fair share of awards, I’m not even close to being in the league of some top Canadians who consistently walk home with hardware. But I still respect award shows. They motivate me to do better and in the end, my career and my clients are better off because of them.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing more frustrating and motivating than seeing something and thinking, “I wish I’d done that.” But you have to see it to get it.

Has Sid Lee sold out?

Image representing Dell as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I was fortunate enough to work on the Dell account for a few years. It’s a tough business. Or at least it was back then. The clients were really nice and respectful and I thoroughly enjoyed working and collaborating with them. But it was tough. With a culture that examines advertising performance almost hourly, Dell’s approach to advertising has historically been transactional in nature.

Remember the headline, “Double your memory. Double your hard drive.”? I wrote that. And about 400 more just like it. There was direct response print, FSIs, catalogues, and a little bit of radio. Not really glamourous, trips to the podium kind of stuff but we certainly added a ton of value to their business and I’m kinda proud that I played a miniscule role in their ascension. While we can all debate whether their approach is best, it certainly is a valid one given their success.

When I heard that Sid Lee won a piece of the worldwide Dell business, my first reaction was “Good for them.” I’m always happy when Canadian agencies do well on the global stage and I think it makes the rest of us better. But the more I thought about it, well… the more I had to think about it.

Sid Lee’s win wasn’t an obvious one.

Sid Lee has been taking a unique approach to advertising for the past few years by integrating architecture, retail design, urban planning, and experiential activities into brand communications. They were recently named Agency of the Year by Marketing Magazine and they’re about to launch the one of the largest global advertising campaigns that Adidas has ever done. Impressive.

But Dell?

Normally, creative hot shops avoid accounts like Dell, afraid that the agency reputation will suffer when the work falls well below the creative bar they’ve established. They continue to fight the good fight, focus on awards, maintain their standards and take on a “Call us, we won’t call you.” approach to new business. Meanwhile, the rest of us sit back and wait for the “jump the shark” moment when they take on a client that is more about the financial rewards than the industry awards.

Well, at the height of their creative reputation, Sid Lee has done the exact opposite of what most of us expected them to.
And hear me now: Sid Lee has NOT sold out. They’ve matured.

Whenever an award winning creative’s ego gets too big, I want to point to Dell and say, “Oh, you think you’re good, huh? Trying making THAT advertising brilliant.”

Well, Instead of whining about the work, Sid Lee put up their hand to try and make it better. And I’m curious to see what they’ll do with it. Congrats to Dell for going beyond the usual suspects to choose Sid Lee and Arnold (another shop with a great creative reputation) for its two new assignments as well.

With offices in Amsterdam, Paris, Toronto and Montreal, Sid Lee isn’t content to do edgy work for a small set of clients. I think they want to play with the big kids. They want to make money. They want to grow.

Some may call that selling out. I call it success and wish them luck as they strive for it.