Issue 5 | December 2007
Ideas sometimes seem to travel in packs. The same concept pops up in different parts of the globe at almost exactly the same time.
A couple of years ago it was boxes of ice. A Norwegian fish company delivered a block of ice to a number of its key customers with a letter frozen inside. Then IBM in Brazil sent out a block of ice too. And a domestic oil producer in Spain did the same.
This quarter it has been playing cards. We had at least four campaign ideas featuring decks of cards submitted to us for this issue. Sadly none of them made it into the magazine, although one of them caught our eye.
Coming up with an idea that is new and fresh is not easy. It usually takes a team of people, starting with a great brief written around a real insight by a planner or an account person. Then it takes a creative team with both the talent and the time to come up with a brilliant execution. And, lastly, it takes a client with the imagination to see what the idea will look like when it is finished and is viewed by its intended target audience.
Out of time
According to the Oxford University Press, responsible for the Oxford Dictionary, the most frequently used word in the English language is 'time' – because there isn't enough of it.
That's certainly true of most creative departments in most DM agencies. Because margins are tight, jobs need to be turned around fast if you're to make decent money. And it shows. There's not always an appreciation of craft skills – how a beautifully turned piece of work can communicate as much through the way it looks and feels as it does through headline and promise. For examples of loving craftmanship in this issue, see Rehms Druck and Sainsbury's Retail.
Recently, a top advertising art director talked on film about how she takes three days to put a layout together. Three days!
By contrast, most art directors in direct marketing have, what? Three hours?
Writing in the UK’s Campaign magazine (26 October 2007), George Bryant, executive planning director of above-the-line AMV BBDO, damned with faint praise a DM pack by saying words to the effect of, 'Soon there will be a new breed of DM agency that ties targeting together with outstanding creative delivery'.
Out of money
It isn't only time that's in short supply in direct marketing agencies but money. Production budgets range from the meagre to the miserable with photography invariably supplied by stock libraries or as hand-me-downs from the advertising agency.
In digital comms it's the same story. Perhaps because as punters they are used to getting so much material free off the internet, clients object to paying top dollar to get good production values. Yet, when the budgets are there – as is the case with the Royal Navy 'Get The Message' campaign from glue London – the ideas become more rewarding, in every sense. (See also Tourism Australia for a good example of money well-spent.)
With care and with investment, good ideas can become great.
A three-card trick
For instance, we were taken with the thinking behind one of the card pieces submitted. DMN3 in the USA sent in an integrated campaign that they have recently done for Kraton Polymers. This didn't look as if it was the easiest brief in the world.
'Guys, we want you to whip up interest in our polymers at the Dusseldorf Rubber & Plastics Fair.'
'Hey, no worries. Our creatives are constantly pestering us for an opportunity to get stuck into polymers.'
As if. Anyway, the agency came up with the notion of playing cards. On the surface, it looked a bit like cliché. Remember, we had seen at least three other playing cards ideas already. However, looking at the idea more closely, the cards were an invitation to an evening at which a top poker player would talk about risk – before an opportunity to take part in a poker tournament. Dinner provided – in a castle.
The parallels between risk in business and risk in poker were inferred rather than broadcast and the message that you reduce risk through knowledge (and Kraton) came through subtly but strongly.
In short, the idea wasn’t playing cards at all – that was merely the delivery mechanism – but managing risk.
Now, this piece is unlikely to win many big creative awards because its production values are not top drawer. While lamenting that fact, because it’s always good to see 'difficult' products win Lions at Cannes rather than the stock-in-trade charities, banks and cars pieces, this is exactly the sort of piece we are interested in at Directory. Targeted ideas that are relevant, branded and memorable.
Directory and a living legend
It would be fascinating to see how a master craftsman like Steve Harrison would take the strategic foundations of an idea like this and push the creative execution further in the direction of excellence. A lot further.
Steve is one of the legends of direct marketing. Executive creative director of OgilvyOne in the early 1990s before starting his own agency, which morphed into Harrison Troughton Wunderman, Steve has always valued the idea before the idea – the strategy that underpins the creative treatment – as well as the creative treatment of it.
He has won countless creative awards and has sat on just about every creative jury you can think of at one stage or another of his career, being president of the direct jury at Cannes last year.
So, we are thrilled that Steve has agreed to edit Issue 6 of Directory. He wants you to shelve the gong-gathering work you've created for those bijou accounts that allow you to run pretty much anything you do for them. Instead, he's asking you to show us the best work you've done for more 'difficult', bigger clients worth at least $50,000 a month. They are the true test of your creative mettle and he wants to see how you've measured up.
Big doesn’t have to be boring.
So, this is our plea: Send us your recent campaigns. The bigger and uglier the client the better. And allow the gimlet eye of Dr. Harrison (he has a Ph.D) to assess your work. If he gives it the nod, that will be high praise indeed.
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