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A life less clichéd

April 20, 2017
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BY JABU SIGEGE, CREATIVE DIRECTOR, M&C SAATCHI ABEL

Financial Mail – 05 April 2017

In an agency environment homogeneity means stagnation and lack of evolution. If a different language is a different view of life, imagine how a different religion, different cultural background and different upbringing can change how you see the world, and therefore how you see other people. Especially the people you want to talk to, the people who buy your products or use your services.

But lack of diversity of thought in agencies has contributed to the creation of stereotypes and tropes we see or hear daily in SA advertising: black people dancing for chicken, burgers, banking products, washing powder, airtime and cars. Every other word in a sentence by a black person is punctuated by an “eish”, a “hawu” or a “yoh”. It’s shallow and superficial thinking at its most patronising. With social media platforms giving a voice to the previously voiceless, this lack of true insights by brands into their consumers’ lives is being mercilessly exposed and analysed.

Diversity of thought isn’t important only for agencies, however – clients need to have it on their side as well. Too often, senior clients have no context for those they’re supposed to be selling their products or services to. Their knowledge about the consumer is based purely on research and focus groups, which can be a useful tool, but can never replace insight and experience gained from being part of the target audience. This insight gained from lived experiences is called cultural capital, and is what allows truly resonant and relevant work to be made – work that touches the hearts of consumers and stays in their minds.

We have seen glimpses and flashes of truly SA stories in advertising – stories that could have been created only by people tapping into their cultural capital. Think SABC’s “Take Another Look at Mzansi” TV ad, Axe’s “Knock” (aka as “Stevovo”) or KFC’s “Skop”. But these have been rare occurrences, compared with what most South Africans are subjected to daily on their TV or radio.

Only once both agencies and clients have ensured sufficient diversity of thought at all levels will SA consumers feel that brands really do know who they are, how they live and how they are portrayed, instead of just caring about consumers’ spending power. Diversity of thought will also allow for the creation of work that is rooted in a human truth that is universally recognised but has rich SA cultural nuances at the same time.

There are a number of quick-fix, albeit temporary, suggestions on how to improve lack of diversity of thought: encourage your staff to make friends with people who don’t look or talk like them, people who might actually be in tune with those you want to speak to. They’re not a focus group – they are human beings who know what they’re talking about because they live a certain way.

Encourage your staff to take an interest in other cultures – and by that I mean SA ones. You’re an expert on Spanish culture without having set foot in Spain, but you don’t understand why your neighbour has to slaughter a sheep on his property? It’s 2017 – get with the programme.

Learn SA languages. French and Italian aren’t going to help you in SA, much less connect you to the majority of South Africans. You can’t police and mock how people say “croissant” and then not be able to pronounce your colleague’s name properly. It’s Xolani, not Co-larney.

The big take-out: A lack of diversity of thought results in subconscious and conscious biases, which then spill out in the form of sub-par and clichéd work. The solution? Companies need to do more to create opportunities for diversity of thought, rather than excuses.

When less is indeed more : the profound benefits of sharing 🇿🇦

March 7, 2017
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Developing a true culture of sharing lies at the core of our country’s potential turnaround and success:

It’s as simple as this: for South Africa to thrive more people need to have more. More opportunity to own things of importance, like homes and businesses, in order to educate their families and to grow a viable and achievable future worth striving for.

To get us here, we need a radical paradigm shift that takes people out of a current protectionist and dare I say, greed mentality, into one of sharing and possibly even having less, whilst still doing well – but taking others on the journey of success with you.

Too few people have far too much because they don’t believe in sharing and vast wealth accumulation becomes the game versus actually using that profound ability to create wealth for a wider group of people.

I’m not remotely referring to socialism here but a better view on responsible capitalism.

I am, unashamedly, a capitalist, but I believe we have a responsibility to redress the past in this country and wherever possible, to help create opportunities which create more jobs and for other people to be taken along the journey with ones’ own success.

I’ve always believed there is a huge difference between can and should. One can potentially make a fortune out of a particular deal/s but the question is should one – or should many.

Our country is currently on its knees because of both greed and corruption.

There are people in South Africa with hundreds of millions, even billions who don’t truly believe in sharing their wealth to the betterment of society and thinking beyond their immediate family. To those people, this observation of a sharing culture would appear as naïve, lefty, idealistic mumbo-jumbo.

I am not a lefty and as I said before, I’m an ambitious capitalist who believes in doing well and living well. But imagine if more people believed they could still live well (with just a little bit less) and to directly funnel those funds and equity into the hands of others who too, could do well.

Of course wide-scale corruption is a massive problem for South Africa with over R40 billion of our country’s money being lost to “wasteful and fruitless expenditure” according to the latest Auditor General report.

Many of us pay over 40% tax and then need to buy in a whole lot of services that the tax money should cover, so we get stretched even further. Until those holes in the bucket are fixed, there will rightfully be huge resistance to contributing more of one’s personal ability to generate wealth to help others.

So I’m just planting a seed with others out there, that instead of owning 100% of your company, you could own a half of that – or even a quarter and still do brilliantly – and then to allocate those funds/equity to take a whole lot more people directly or indirectly on the journey of success with you and thereby to create a more balanced society – and a better and sustainable future for not only our kids, but for others too.

Some of the wealthiest people I know, are also the unhappiest. The root cause could be the insight found in a Kabalistic belief “in life you get because of what you give, not because of what you take”. A life of purpose, is often found in giving.

Over the years I’ve come across many successful men and women who are miseries. Loaded, but unhappy. They remind me of that old Jamie Uys movie “Beautiful People” where he shows us how to catch a monkey. You fill a small hole in a tree with peanuts, the monkey puts his hand into the hole and grabs the nuts, but his fist now closed around the nuts is too big to pull out the small hole. Even when approached by danger, the monkey wont let go of the nuts – and gets caught.

A lot of people and companies are like that with “wealth”. They worship the accumulation thereof versus the profound “wealth” of opportunities it creates for them to lead meaningful lives through “giving” versus just cossetted ones. There is a also massive difference between charity and sharing. The one doesn’t offset the other. It’s both – not either or.

I have chosen this journey for myself in business and the reward I get from watching many people do well as a result, is infinitely more rewarding than simply having a larger number on a balance sheet.

Unpacking myths surrounding black middle class

January 11, 2017
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blogs.scientificamerica.com

BY MAKOSHA MAJA, HEAD OF INSIGHT, M&C SAATCHI ABEL

Business Report The (Star) – 24 Nov 2016

M&C Saatchi Abel recently hosted Roger Southall, Professor Emeritus in Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand. The Professor unpacked some of the prevailing marketing myths relating to the Black middle class, and provided insight into how marketers can better engage with this audience.

Below I’ve shared some of the key highlights that came out of this talk. (You’ll find more data and detail in The New Black Middle Class in South Africa.)

So, who is this target consumer?

The UCT Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing defines South Africa’s Black middle class as those living in households with a monthly income of R16,000-R50,000 (averaged at R22,000). Alternatively, they may have a tertiary education, have their own transport, work in a ‘white-collar’ position, and/or own their own home (or spend R4,000+ on monthly rental).

Because this is a broad definition we look at three sub-groups in this class:

  1. The emergent middle class (first generation; LSM 5-7) is usually composed of technicians, teachers, nurses, clerks, shop assistants and associate professionals. They aspire to better jobs, want good education for their children, strive to escape the debt trap, remain brand-conscious yet price-sensitive, and want to live in good neighbourhoods. They are challenged by fitting their responsibilities into tight monthly budgets.
  1. The ‘true’ or ‘realised’ middle class and the more affluent upper-middle class are typically legislators, senior officials, politicians, professional managers, and managers of parastatals. Both sub-groups aspire to more seniority at work, better education for their children, a better quality of life, and to live in safe neighbourhoods. Their challenges are personal and professional security, and economic stability.

What are marketers getting wrong?

 Prof. Southall points out that the image presented by the media has been of ‘black diamonds’; that is, as consumers of the products of advanced industrial society, and of corrupt ‘tenderpreneurs’ who use their political connections to obtain contracts they would otherwise be denied. But these are two of several unhelpful stereotypes, and are symptomatic of the tendency to over-simplify.

First, it’s unwise to view the Black middle class as a homogenous group, because this leads to generalisations about lifestyle. In fact, like any other consumer group, the Black middle class contains plenty of subcultures whose lifestyles are very different .

Second, there is a propensity to exoticise the Black middle class, observing them in a way that ‘others’ them. Prof. Southall warns that the Black middle class has similar aspirations to any other consumer group in South Africa: getting by each month, creating a better future for their children, and ensuring the safety of their families. In this, they are not particularly exotic or unusual.

Third, there is a sense that the Black middle class is peopled by conspicuous consumers who are completely obsessed with brands – but this is probably true of South Africa’s middle and affluent classes regardless of race.

What should marketers remember?

Marketers should go beyond using Living Standards Measures and income brackets/home appliances to understand their target audiences, because this provides a superficial view. Instead, it is wise to target mindsets: the feelings, attitudes and perspectives that actually turn consumers on.

In addition, marketers should try to be sensitive in depicting the aspirations of the Black middle class, so as not to turn its individuals into caricatures.

The solution? Well, if you’re a marketer catering to the Black middle class:

  1. Get out of the office and step onto the streets to properly immerse yourself in your audience’s world.
  2. Consume the same media (radio, TV, print, digital) your audience does, to understand their vibe, prevailing trends and what excites them.
  3. Ask the usual questions, but have a bit of courage to go beyond these as well, in order to gauge nuance.
  4. Remember that sometimes you’ll need to talk to who your audience wants to be, instead of who they
  5. Strive to be braver and more authentic when depicting your audience. Move away from ‘Black’ accents (yes, we have them, but so what?) and depicting township culture negatively. For instance, there’s more to the ‘hood than car washes, shebeens and shisa nyama. Do what you can to dig deeper than surface-level stereotypes.

In closing, my instinct is that, like Prof. Southall suggests, we would do well to find a new way of looking at the Black middle class; one that seeks not to simplify it, but instead to complicate the picture, for better meaning.

How to sell goods to shoppers primed for the rush of a bargain

January 10, 2017
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utabby.com

BY DIANA SPRINGER – PARTNER: HEAD OF STRATEGY (GAUTENG)

Business Day (Late Final) – 12 Dec 2016

As SA catches up with the promotions trend, retailers may be setting a dangerous precedent ecause of retail promotions an area in which SA is catching up to the US and Europe there’s a growing sentiment among value conscious consumers that there is no need to buy fullprice merchandise because it will be on sale next week.

Retailers are “training” shoppers, creating an apparent consumer monster. But is there a happy middle ground?

Recession or no recession, South African consumers love to shop. SA has the sixth highest number of malls in the world. And one in three South Africans 11.5million in total agrees with the statement, “shopping makes me feel that my life is worthwhile” (AMPS, 2014).

Granted, bigticket items such as homes, cars and furniture aren’t selling as quickly or as much as they once were, but many retailers are still performing well.

“Clicks’ results are excellent: says Mike Schtissler of economists.co.za. “Cosmetics are going through the roof.”

Woolworths’s clothing and general merchandise sales increased 8.2% over the 52 weeks ending June 2016.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has proved that the brain experiences pleasure in pursuit of a bargain, and this “deal addiction” could be part of the reason for increased promotional pressure in SA over the past three years.

This comes at a time when consumers are feeling the financial pinch, so there is huge.competition for share of wallet, and “fast fashion” and online retailers are cashing in. As a result, shoppers who are value conscious anyway have learnt to recognise a good deal when they see one and to look for one when they don’t.

In addition to the emergence of fast fashion retailers with strong value propositions, and the rise in online retail and its “alwayson” promotions, the quest for a good deal can also be attributed to exposure to highly promotional global brands such as Amazon.

Going so far as to adopt Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, South African retailers have begun to test a range of different promotional techniques, many of which also appear as “alwayson” or nonseasonal.

Makro, Clicks and Woolworths, for instance, have run successful “two for three” promotions on key items, as well as promotional pricing programmes in which cardholders qualify for discounts on bulk or multi buys.

What’s worrying is the growing sentiment among shoppers, regardless of their disposable income, that there is no need to buy fullprice fashion merchandise because it’s likely to go on sale soon. Consumers are waiting for promotions.

This could turn out to be dangerous for the market.

Why? Because if retailers rely on sales to drive traffic and increase spend at a time when retail sales are under pressure, there is a growing sentiment among shoppers that there’s no need to buy fullprice merchandise because it will be on sale next week there might be a dangerous race to the bottom. It is even more worrying when promotions fail to attract new shoppers or to motivate an additional, or bigger, shop from existing shoppers.

In these cases, all retailers have achieved with the sale or promotion is the discounting of existing behaviour.

So how can retailers get consumers to pay full price for merchandise, or even fork out a premium for exclusive and upmarket goods?

First, offer something new. SA’s market is hungry for fun, fresh experiences.

There may be something to learn from US chain TJMaxx, whose success has been partly attributed to selling “new, not sale” items.

Consumers have a chronic fear of missing out and love new stuff even more than last month’s stuff discounted.

Retailers should have clarity of purpose.

As McKinsey & Company highlighted in a July report on South African consumers, retailers must give them.compelling reasons to shop, but they shouldn’t “… try to differentiate themselves in every possible dimension … rather only one or two.” H&M, for instance, offers the latest fashion at.competitive prices a – winning formula.

Shopping is an emotional experience, often dominated by emotional choices and behaviour. Lots of conversation takes place before, during and after a purchase with.compliments shared, tips given and moments created that shoppers will forever associate with their favourite items and brands.

Retailers that offer a sense of social currency stand out the success of John Lewis’s penguin Monty, an advertising campaign for Christmas 2014, is well documented.

Design credentials and collaborations also enjoy success, earning brands the right to demand a premium due to implied value.

This also applies to exclusives consider Nike’s limited edition Quick Strike ranges, which sell out in days.

South Africans 32% of whom shop for pleasure at least once a month, says the 2014 AMPS survey appreciate great shopping experiences that are not only easy but also enriching and exciting. It is great to see the reintroduction of coffee and cafes into department stores, once again making them a destination shop.

To convince indebted shoppers to pay full price for products, retailers should keep the newness.coming, present very clear value, offer social currency to build an emotional connection, and ensure the shopping experience is uplifting.

After all, the search for the deal isn’t going anywhere.

How to appoint an agency

November 24, 2016
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anonhq.com

BY JACQUES BURGER – FOUNDING PARTNER: GROUP EXECUTIVE

With more than 15 years’ experience in the industry, Jacques Burger (@1jacquesburger) has lead some of the most-prestigious accounts in SA, such as VW and SABMiller. As Ogilvy Cape Group MD, he successfully lead an integrated team which included digital, direct, design and PR. As The Campaign Palace Group CEO in Australia, he oversaw internationally recognised and awarded communications for brands such as Target, Panasonic and Westpac (Australia’s biggest banking group) and was named one of the Top 40 young marketers in the region. Since October 2010, when he founded the M&C Saatchi Abel JHB group, Jacques has lead the growth of the office from startup to over 100 staff members today, handling blue chip accounts such as Edgars, Nedbank and Simba Pepsico.

I was once told the story of an agency that had to fly on a Friday from New York City to some industrial city in the Midwest of the US to go and pitch on a piece of business. On the way back to NYC from the pitch meeting, the client called the agency to ask if they could set up a conference call to discuss next steps in the pitch process for the Monday morning — and the client asked that the full agency team be present for the call. On the Monday morning, with the pitch team huddled in an agency boardroom waiting for the call, the receptionist called to announce that the client was in fact in the reception area of the agency; they had arrived unannounced with a case of champagne, having flown in earlier that morning, to come and surprise the agency at their offices with the good news that they had won the account.

In stark contrast to this are the many stories overheard this year, where news of a pitch win comes in the form of an email from the procurement department. Not that I have anything against procurement departments — they have an important role to play in business — I just think these two stories talk powerfully to what has gone wrong in many of the modern day agency/client relationships.

Three key tenets

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think great business relationships are always about partnership and long evenings swaying side to side next to each other around a campfire. As an industry, we need to become more comfortable with a relationship structured around that of a professional, trusted supplier — such as a doctor/patient or lawyer/client relationship — and free ourselves up from a sometimes unnecessary burden of what it really means to be partners. But, whether you are looking for a partner or trusted supplier, I do believe that there are three key tenets in building powerful business relationships that are often undervalued or ignored in some of the pitch processes of today.

Honesty

The first tenet is honesty. We all know that the truth may be uncomfortable, that it may challenge, that it may reveal hidden agendas, but both parties have to be bold enough to embrace honesty as part of the process: why are we looking for a new agency? Why is the current agency not working? Have we tried to make it work — really tried? Is what we want in an agency, and the reality of what the daily requirements of our business demand, different? Is it just about saving money? Why are we inviting the incumbent to pitch when we have no intention of awarding them the account again – and, in fact, if that were an option, why are we pitching at all?

Why do we want this client? Is it just for the money? Can we deliver brilliantly on what this client is asking for? Do we want to work with this client — can we feel the chemistry? Why are they looking for a new agency and how can we make it work when the previous agency couldn’t? What are they looking for but, also, what are we looking for?

These are all important questions that both parties need to be able to honestly answer, which, no doubt, will lead to fewer pitches and less opportunity, but many more long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. Butm in the rush of pitch fever and the many mixed agendas, the opportunity to honestly assess fit is missed.

Agency vs idea

The second tenet to consider when looking for a perfect agency/client match has to be distinguishing between looking for an agency vs just looking for an idea. Many pitches today rely heavily upon the principle that the agency with the best idea on the day wins. Of course, these ideas are developed in isolation of the client debate and collaboration that usually accompany the birth of so many brilliant ideas, but one could argue that all agencies in the pitch are subjected to this same flaw.

Much more significant, though, is that one idea on the day, by one agency, has the power to overshadow a lifetime of brilliant creative solutions delivered to happy clients by another agency. In the end, the chemistry, the track record, the proven ability to solve business challenges can surely not be made less important than one idea, off one brief, on the day? If one is looking for a great idea, then sure, ask five agencies to show you what they could do but, if you are looking for a great agency, then consider an approach that perhaps better balances the allure of a great idea on the day with a proven track record and deep expertise (do you even need that idea on the day, I might dare ask?).

Chemistry

The third tenet is about chemistry. Scorecards and spreadsheets cannot tell you whether a relationship will last, or bring enjoyment. As the world becomes more transactional and cut-throat, there seems to be less and less time allocated to finding inspiration, like-mindedness, shared values, great energy and trust. The clients who are adored by their agencies are the ones that benefit most from their brilliance; these are the clients who enjoy ideas and smarts beyond the transactional requirements of the relationship. Actually liking the person whom you do business with means that you will do more for them, more often; it also means that you take your commitment to them much more seriously. I can only imagine how positively the agency orientated around that Midwestern US client who flew all the way to their offices to tell them that they had won the pitch.

Pitches are about the start of the relationship but, with many of them not having great endings (as proven by the number of pitches we’ve seen this year), perhaps it’s time that we look at how we start a little bit differently. Who knows? We might just all like how it ends a whole lot more!

:-) vs LOL

November 23, 2016
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dyi.org

BY GORDON RAY – FOUNDING PARTNER AND EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT M&C SAATCHI ABEL CAPE TOWN

There’s only one thing I enjoy more than having a laugh, and that’s making others laugh. So it’s probably a good thing then that I landed up as a copywriter in an advertising agency and not as an undertaker or an air traffic controller. What I love about our industry is that we have the power to make consumers feel things. We get to use our toolbox of tricks; words, pictures & music to elicit a range of different emotions. From goosebumps and lumps in the throat, to my personal favourite, the teary-eyed laugh. As creatives, we have an obligation to emotionally move our audience in some direction. If we don’t deliver our message while making them feel something, then we quite simply haven’t done our job, and we risk being like that annoying guest at a dinner table who constantly interrupts the conversation to say something no one really wants to hear.

 

In a recent interview on humour in advertising for Canadian TV, I was asked, ‘what makes South Africans laugh?’ At first I thought it quite a pointed question. Was the interviewer suggesting, for a second, that as South Africans there was something third world or second rate about our sense of humour? Was he suggesting we don’t find the universal greats like Seinfeld, South Park or Little Britain funny? I did a quick mental rewind through SA’s ‘best of’ reel – pausing momentarily at some of our country’s most iconic ads: Nando’s ‘last dictator’, which playfully ridiculed an ensemble cast of Africa’s most deplorable leaders. Vodacom’s ‘we’ve been having it’ ads, a hilarious take on government’s abuse of power. Doom’s ‘cockroach’ commercial which showed a house-proud black family pretending to tap dance in front of a priest, when actually they were trying to kill a rogue cockroach. Chicken Licken’s ‘Bunker’ ad, where a pre ‘94 family hides underground waiting for the revolution to pass, and then pops up 10 years later to discover the world is actually a much better place. And then, right at the end of my memory’s reel – Castrol’s brilliantly funny ‘Boet & Swaar’ characters. Two, then three typically local characters, who voiced our unspoken thoughts and exposed our nation’s suppressed prejudices.

 

What made these ads so memorable, so unforgettably funny, is that they weren’t afraid to show us the uncomfortable facets of our uniquely South African idiosyncrasies. I’ve always believed that most genuine laughs are often preceded by a mouth covering gasp. Those, ‘I can’t believe they went there’ laughs are generally the most heartfelt and enjoyable.

Humour that works, that’s remembered and shared generally pushes boundaries. It’s brave and takes people past their self-imposed lines of correctness, and gives them permission to laugh at taboos.

 

Trevor Noah does this superbly. He knows South Africans so well and he manages to reveal the ridiculousness behind our tightly-held prejudices. No one is safe from his laser-sharp spotlight, every colour and culture is explored. He’s spent his life observing us from every angle, he’s grown up on both sides of the colour spectrum, he gets our world, and that’s what gets us laughing. I would argue that the reason he hasn’t quite connected with the Americans, is that he doesn’t know them as well as he should. He is still the same brilliantly talented comedian we know and love, it’s just that he doesn’t know his new market – and it shows.

 

We recently produced a commercial for Hollard insurance, it challenged so many cultural conventions, and broke so many rules that had it been researched, it probably wouldn’t have been made. The ad shows a well-dressed black woman pulling up outside a clairvoyant’s caravan in her 4×4. The widow asks the mystic to summon the spirit of her departed husband. When she feels confident that he is in the room, she removes her dark glasses, and instead of telling him how much she loves and misses him, she begins to berate him for leaving them uninsured, and destitute. It works, because it’s unexpected, and in a traditionally patriarchal society, where women only speak well of the dead, it stood out. It was spoofed by ZA news, and importantly made the point about the product: Insure your loved ones with Hollard and ensure they love you when you’re gone.

 

There’s a simple, but profound truth that says, ‘If your focus is solely on your product, it’s easy to miss your audience. But when your focus is on your audience, you’re more likely to connect with them.’

 

As a kid, I was known for imitating people. I would watch people for hours. I would study their accents, their facial expressions and their tiniest quirks. When I eventually impersonated them publicly, rather than getting a clout, surprisingly, I was rewarded with laughs and encouragement. Today, at the agency I insist on the same. Observe your market keenly. Watch them. Watch what they watch. Try and see beyond the stereotypes that everyone knows, and find those behavioural gems in the madness of everyday life.

 

There’s so much funny out there in our country. It’s why we love it here and why I wouldn’t want to be in advertising anywhere else. We just need to go out and find it and then be brave enough to make it.

 

Recently, a young creative reminded me just how important it is to judge creative work with your gut, and not your head. He presented a script to me, I smiled and said, ‘cool, that’s funny’. ‘Well obviously not,’ he said, ‘If it was funny, you would have laughed’

 

How true. Less J, more LOL.

 

In a world of less, how do you create more?

November 22, 2016

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BY JASON HARRISON, FOUNDING PARTNER: GROUP MANAGING DIRECTOR (CAPE TOWN & AFRICA)

NOVEMBER 01 2016 – Published in the Financial Mail

The world seems to have gone mad. A potent mix of politics, war and terrorism has left many economies in free fall, with disposable income tight for both consumers and the companies that want to sell them things. Even the global golden child of shareholder value, Apple, experienced a plateau in its results recently. CEOs are being forced to focus on the extreme near term when it comes to the decisions they make; a myopic view that has meant a macro focus on every business expense, especially marketing. So: in a world of less, how do you create more?

M&C Saatchi Abel’s Brutal Simplicity of Thought has a liberating purpose because it’s more than a discipline. It’s a test that forces exactitude or it annihilates. It accelerates failure when a cause is weak, and clarifies and strengthens a cause that is strong. If you want to create significant impact, here are three brutally simple focus areas to consider:

1.  Creativity is a decision

As our world trends towards a zero-sum game, with unlimited information at our disposal, strategies, tactics and thinking are becoming homogenous. We are comfortable dealing in increments. True innovation is rare. For this reason, great CEOs and marketers are those who recognise the power of creativity to make unprecedented leaps in solving complex problems. They’ve decided that creativity is a business advantage, to be relentlessly pursued.

One of our clients, Heidi Brauer, the CMO of Hollard, calls it “sprinkles”. It’s what allowed us to make a life insurance ad that made fun of a dead husband and garner disproportionate market share in the serious world of financial services.

Heineken, another of our clients, was given the Global Marketer of the Year award at Cannes for its belief in standout creativity and for its ability to change brand fortunes globally. Heineken talks about “squinting for greatness” when it comes to ideas and innovations, as a way to ensure the brand does not get lost along the way. Creativity is its stated advantage, even in a category in which global giants – like AB InBev – outspend everyone else 5 to 1.

These approaches, while differently nuanced, are paying off for both brands if you look at the most recent Sunday Times Top Brands Survey. Heineken is consistently challenging for the number one position and Hollard has moved from ninth to second in the short-term insurance category (though they’re not even in the Top 10 when it comes to media spend!).

Decide that creativity is powerful. Decide that creativity can solve things in unexpected ways.

2.  Big insights; not Big Data

Everyone is talking about “Big Data”. We’re positively swimming in the stuff. But, somehow, big data doesn’t seem to be getting anyone anywhere. So, while the boffins figure out what to do, let’s focus our attention on unlocking big insights, which boil down to two simple things:

1. Tapping into a deep and motivating understanding of the consumer’s cultural context. This comes from leaving the confines of the one-way-glass focus groups, packing away the Google-sourced desktop reports, and getting into the real world – like normal human beings.

2. A nice, juicy tension that you need (in other words your brand needs) to resolve with purpose and flair. How many “insights” have you seen that are just simple observations? If the insight is not making you excited about the possibility your brand can have in the consumer’s life, it’s not going to excite anyone else either. Abraham Lincoln said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Distilling your unique big insight and getting excited by it is the modern-day equivalent of sharpening Lincoln’s axe.

A brilliant example of a big insight in action comes from the outdoor and adventure gear brand REI. On Black Friday, the biggest retail day in the USA, every company and brand gears up for the big sales. But the clever folks at REI understood that their consumers actually want to be outdoors, not indoors. In nature; not in malls. So REI decided to close all 143 of its national stores and encourage its consumers to #optoutside. When everyone was zigging, they zagged.

3.  Moments of impact, not integration

With so much media proliferation and consumer fragmentation it’s becoming almost impossible to get bang for a buck, so everyone chases the holy grail of “integration”.

The problem is that integration has fooled us into doing lots more, very superficially. It has made customer acquisition expensive and the results variable. The truth is we are ticking a lot of boxes, out of guilt and fear and to appease a diverse set of internal stakeholders. The time has come to be brave. To actively decide what we are NOT going to do.

There is an old fable about a lady travelling across India. She came across a man carving the most beautiful wooden elephants. Stopping to watch his work, she asked him how he created such beauty out of pieces of wood. He replied, “I take this sharp knife, and I take this block of wood, and I simply carve away everything that is NOT an elephant.”

Bottom line? It’s not about all of the available options. It’s about the three that are going to exert the most significant impact on a tight consumer journey – while (or perhaps by) surprising and delighting those taking it. Then, it’s about doing unexpected and world-class work in those few clearly defined spaces. I believe the effect will be disproportionate.

So, let’s agree to stop talking about integrated touchpoints and to start talking about moments of impact. Let’s change something fundamentally, rather than superficially. Instead of doing more, let’s do less.

The big take-out: To create significant impact remember that: creativity is a decision; Big Insights, not Big Data, are the Holy Grail; and moments of impact, not integration, should be the goal.