Learnings From a Strategist in Advertising and Marketing (so far)

I have been working in strategy and planning for the majority of my career, and it has been a learning experience every day. I guess that’s one reason I love working in this field, I’m constantly learning. Strategy and planning wasn’t my first career, I was a designer, a creative thinker to start, then pivoted into strategy. 

This is my effort to encapsulate what I have learned. My hope is that someone finds these observations valuable and if not, that’s cool; just want to share my learnings with others as others have shared theirs with me.

In no particular order, here we go: 

  • Find Simplicity in Complexity: There’s a lot of information out there, and that’s an understatement. The role of a strategist or planner is to sort through that complexity to achieve simplicity. That’s it. 
  • Briefs Are Not Commandments: More often than not, we perceive briefs as the end-all-be-all roadmap for the project. This is not the case. Briefs are not infallible nor are they concrete, they are fluid documents that are meant to direct not dictate the journey. 
  • Briefs Require Action: This may be a no brainer, but every brief needs to direct some sort of action. If briefs become a compilation of observations, a translation of what clients said and or pithy statements, they do nothing other than showcase “how much you know” – briefs need to illicit or inspire action. 
  • Cleverness Versus Understanding: A strategist can be clever, their words can be clever, but a really good strategist or planner understands what truly needs to be done, what the target cares about, how the category is evolving, etc. and convey that understanding to others in a clear way. Save the cleverness for poetry. 
  • Find The Jewel: A jewel is a valuable piece of information, shiny and precious. The hunt for precious knowledge, an observation you need to nurture, something someone has overlooked, or something so pure and right for the moment is what our strategic search is all about; the hunt for the purity of thought in the chaos of information. 
  • Aha Is Not An Insight: Aha is surprising and new. An insight is an observation based on data, mixed with a human behavior or truth, that has some significant tension built in or wrapped around. Simply, insights take time to craft and hone unlike “aha” which is just something new. 
  • Also, Observations Are Not Insights: This is one that we have to try every day to fix. An observation is just something that has been discovered, an insight is crafted. To call observations insights is to confuse what you see with what uniquely needs to be done. 
  • Everyone Wants To Make Their Own insights: I’m just going to say it, I don’t know where or when creatives were told, trained or taught to make up an insight to set up ideas. it’s a relatively new endeavor, but one that confuses strategists and planners as we have long been told, by creatives, to provide them insights. But, as you will read later, everything is iterative. 
  • There Is No Ownership, Only Partnership: Long have I thought that deliverables or briefs that I write are “mine,” and that is most definitely not the case. Work, all work, is developed in partnership. The idea of ownership only manifests in what is assigned to you – and those two ideas are different. 
  • Who, What And Why Are Your Most Important Questions: As a strategist, you must always ask “who…”, “what…” and “why…”. If you don’t ask those questions on every assignment, in every meeting, you have extreme difficulty understanding the “how”. 
  • Strategists And Planners Are Business Development: Planners and strategists, by their nature, are generators of new business through the discovery of new avenues, new ways of thinking, or new problems (or the right problems). Since they’re unafraid to ask questions, dare I say need to ask questions, the answers lead to new discoveries. 
  • Time Is Your Best Friend And Worst Enemy: There is no perfect amount of time to write a brief. Each brief or project is under some sort of constraint and a planner or strategist must be accommodating to each scenario; you can’t rubber stamp insights. Pressure is the necessity of strategic thought. The same thing holds true to the notion of too much time; if you have too much time, it’s the absolute worst. 
  • Challenge And Concede: It’s within everyone’s right to challenge preconceived notions, directions or agendas; even more so as strategists or planners. However, know your boundaries, conceding is just as important – you may be wrong. 
  • Humility: You’re not always right; there’s always someone who knows more than you.
  • Creative and Account Leads Are Your Best Friends: You need to make a partnership with creative and account; the relationship turns out the best in all. It’s like the Avenger’s, each has a unique superpower and together you can take down the worst of the universe. 
  • Don’t Be Afraid Of Excel; There Are Jewels In The Data: It’s a tricky platform and feels daunting if not intimidating, but in most Excel documents there is a nugget of information that is incredibly valuable.  It’s okay, I’m not an expert in Excel either.
  • Ask For Help: This is agnostic of any particular role or discipline, but ask for help when needed – you can’t solve the world. 
  • Anthropology And Psychology Are Essential: The understanding of the human condition, where we’re from, the why we act the way we do and the reasons why is what we do; you must have at least a basic understanding of both. 
  • Find The Problem, Solve The Problem: Sometimes the problems we are provided are not the correct ones or sometimes we don’t even get a problem to solve. Finding the problem is just as essential as solving it; if we don’t have a problem, then there’s no need to write a brief. 
  • Never Stop Reading, Learning, Questioning: This seems to be another no-brainer, but seriously, don’t stop reading, learning, or questioning… it has to be in your nature. Offer a fresh and new perspective. (Note: It doesn’t always have to be about work either.)
  • Keep Writing Briefs, Even If They’re Not Used: Get in the habit of starting off all your assignments with even the most basic brief, it keeps your skills honed. 
  • Frameworks Matter Less Than What’s In Them: Every agency has their own “proprietary framework” but the irony is they’re all similar if not the same. What matters most is what is IN the framework then the framework itself. 

Last one…
Get Shit Done

Notable Advertising and Marketing Quotes – Part 2

Previously, I wrote a blog post with some of my thoughts about advertising and marketing that I had posted to Twitter. With anyone in the industry, we all have opinions and best practices or even mantras about the world of advertising. That being said, here is round two of that thinking, or more to the point, my thinking, thoughts and learnings about the industry and creativity.

What are your thoughts?

The #KingJames #HardWorkTogether Nike Spot Needs a Better Insight

Nike Basketball, in partnership with Wieden+Kennedy, released a LeBron James comeback spot titled, “Together”. It is an “emotional” spot depicting King James’ return to the city of Cleveland. It has been getting a lot of PR and positive reviews lately, especially in the creative industry. Where it is an emotion-provoking spot, beautifully crafted, I began to wonder if the insight was correct.

Let’s take a step back in time. Back in 2010, LeBron “announced” to the world that he was leaving Cleveland to join the Heat in Miami. LeBron’s ego-driven press conference was not well received, to stay the least, in Cleveland. You even had the owner of the Cavs, Dan Gilbert, say that LeBron’s actions were a “cowardly betrayal” and went on to say, “the good news is that the ownership team and the rest of the hard-working, loyal, and driven staff over here at your hometown Cavaliers have not betrayed you nor NEVER will betray you.” These are pretty heated words born out of a lot of negativity, disappointment, disgrace and betrayal. We all began to wonder if Cleveland would ever want a part of LeBron again.

Now, without going too far into LeBron’s resigning with the Cavs, I think it’s more important to note the negative sensitivity that existed in Cleveland only four years ago. Now, in 2014, all of a sudden it is the “return.” LeBron is welcomed back with open arms by the city he put behind him in the most publicly and somewhat humiliating way? That being said, let’s look at the spot.

Hard work, together. It’s an inspiring and hopeful phrase. The film depicts the entire city coming together and building themselves to a hopeful epoch. It’s the Hope campaign all over again. As I watched this and I remember the past, and as a strategist who prides himself on human truths, I wonder if “Hope” and “Togetherness” was the right idea for the insight. Or, more specifically, I wonder if the insight was correct.

LeBron Together Spot - Nike - Arena

To me, this whole “return” is more dramatic than simply positivity and hope. It’s more than holding our hands and singing kumbaya. It’s more than just the gritty black and white film, it’s more than just giving back to a city that was once destroyed by an ego. And it’s way more than just showing people coming together. To me, the insight is more about the prodigal son returning.

The age old story about a son who disavowed everything and everyone who helped raise him. It’s a story about not being mature and only realizing that once he is out in the world. It’s more about coming home and being humble. It’s about being more than just a star, it’s about giving back, making amends and more so, it’s not about playing a game of basketball to ask for forgiveness.

Together also reminds me of another spot, “Made in New York featuring Derek Jeter. This was a film right on message. It conveyed the true feeling New Yorkers and all those who love baseball had about Jeter. It summarized his character and how the city, how the world truly felt about the man, then the sport. It wasn’t about ego, it was about thanking people.

Just as much as the Gatorade ad, the Together spot is beautifully crafted, it does have the “goose bump inducing” feeling. The ad has a grit to it, it has a feeling of truth and it has an emotive undertone. But the message of Hard Work, Together is about a city rising from the ashes, not about an NBA star telling them how to do so.

#Burberry’s Global Christmas Campaign is Beautiful, But Needs Some Refinement

Burberry has just launched their first global Christmas campaign. The campaign launched with a four-minute spot featuring Romeo Beckham, yes, the son of David and Victoria. Additionally, it features a new audio track from Ed Harcourt which will be released in December. As far as we know so far, since this is just the launch of the campaign, “the campaign will include outdoor, cinema, and social media advertising to generate interest in Burberry.”

Now, you assumed that Burberry typically does Christmas campaigns and they do, but what is different is this one is global. Yes, that was a bit redundant for me to say, however, coming from my experience working on global accounts, I want to talk about how global campaigns are somewhat difficult to undertake. Firstly, when creating global campaigns, relevancy in all markets (or a select few primary focus markets) is essential. Music choice, voice-overs, time and more importantly message is important as well. Global campaigns are extremely complex, expensive, highly criticized and difficult to produce.

It’s not my place to tell Burberry what to do with their first global campaign, nor is it my place to assume what their global objectives are. However, what I can do is review the creative from the lens of my experience on global accounts and my experience working in advertising.

Burberry Christmas

It’s beautiful, but needs some refinement.

  • The Idea: Let’s start with what I assume the idea is, “Christmas is the time for love and giving.” Christmas is also the time for the enjoyment of idealism and merriment which can be transcribed into song and dance. Christmas is tough, it’s tough to differentiate yourself within the Christmas season, especially if you are a clothing retailer. The campaign does feel a bit scripted and predictable, however, the song and dance is a nuance that not all brands can leverage or, furthermore, own.
  • Music: The new track by Ed Harcourt is brilliant. It captures the essence of the Christmas season and the feeling of idealism and love. However, it doesn’t feel as though it “fits” with visuals. There are some relevant cuts and timing with the dance and the storyline, but all in all, the track feels a bit forced to be a part of the story. At times, the music with the spot feels as though they are two disparate pieces of creative jammed together; less of a solution and more like a suspension. Additionally, I’m not sure why the track is not available until December. It would make sense to release the track at the same time of the campaign launch.
  • Choreography: “Burberry used 50 dancers who perform a dance inspired by classic musical films in front of theatrical London street background.” The choreography is beautifully done and expertly timed. Along with stubble cinematic undertones and perfectly timed cuts and pans (timed according to the dance, not the music), it almost appears that it’s out of a Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly film, or better yet, an early 20th Century stage performance.
  • Art Direction: First off, Burberry did not disappoint with the art direction. They have always been at the top of their game when it comes to finely crafted spots, beautiful tones and color, and the perfect balance of product and lifestyle. This spot almost feels as though it’s a print ad, Burberry print ad come to life. The look and feel of Christmas does come out, however subtly. Christmas is a magical time of celebration and merriment, regardless of which religion you are apart of. The snow showers and the dancing in the snow whilst wearing Burberry coats and scarves perfectly encapsulates Christmas from a Burberry point of view. All in all, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciate the art direction in this film.
  • Four Minutes: I’ve experienced this time and time again, the four-minute “film” on YouTube. I understand that this is more of a music video, more of a campaign launch film than a TVC. However, as marketers, we do have to understand the consumer and determine whether or not one has the time to sit through at four minute film on YouTube. According to Google, after the first 15 seconds of every video on YouTube, that’s when viewers are most likely to drop off. That being said, there’s something to be said about crafting great pieces of art and content. Just as much as we talk about viewership, we also need to keep in mind the types of devices consumers use to watch YouTube videos; there are certain markets in the world where consumers are more likely to watch YouTube on a mobile device than on a laptop. So, who actually watches four minutes on a mobile device when walking around? In the end, let’s keep time in mind when creating spots.
  • Celebrity Casting: Don’t even get me started about celebrity casting. Yes, I see the buzz value in casting a celebrity for a campaign and leveraging their influence to generate buzz and excitement. However, as we have seen in multiple examples including Honda’s latest “Type R” campaign, it’s not entirely necessary. I believe the Burberry Christmas campaign would have the same influence whether or not they casted Romeo Beckham; especially since I just found out he existed. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a cute kid and a “cute kid” works for this execution; just not sure if it was necessary to cast Romeo.
  • Global Relevancy: This is a big one! Now, we haven’t seen a lot of the secondary executions to the spot just yet. They do have some images being leveraged on their Instagram account, but global relevancy is more than just platform activations; especially for a Christmas spot. The subtitle to the campaign is “From London with Love” and that’s all well and good, but London is not the globe; it is a global city, but not necessarily global. How would a market, let’s say, Brazil react to a spot like this? (Especially since during Christmas it’s Summer in Rio). Additionally, we need to look at ethnicity too. This spot is very heavy up on caucasians and doesn’t address the complexity of a diverse set of ethnicities in the world. The campaign is scalable, but not necessarily regionally relevant.

 

Burberry Romeo Beckham

Overall, it is a great spot, but it is lacking alignment with audio and visual; it really needs some refinement. Perhaps, the fix would be as easy as choose a different audio track to complement astounding visuals? It will be very interesting to see how Burberry runs with this idea in their longer-form campaign. Will there be further owned nuances to the idealism? Will there be more song and dance? Will they focus on giving rather than buying? One thing I do know, Burberry are excellent marketers and I can’t wait to see how they make this a case study that we all will use in the coming year.

Notable Advertising and Marketing Quotes

As with most people in the industry, we all have our opinions about advertising and marketing. That being said, I’ve been posting my thoughts about advertising and marketing on Twitter and other social platforms, but I realize I haven’t provided a central repository for all of my learnings, thoughts or observations.

So, here we go, here are some of the musing from the year to date. And of course, I’m interested in your feedback and thoughts. Do you agree or disagree with these ideas?