How to Buy a Gorilla

Procurement is back on the agenda in agencies (not that it ever went away).  Saw a review today (in the trade mag Campaign) for a new book by David Meikle.  It’s (among other broader themes) about how to make procurement work as a force for good, not just to drive down price.

meikle

Procurement is killing advertising, but not for the reasons most people think.

There are four problems with the way procurement has influenced the way clients commissioned marketing communications:

  1. The increasing emphasis on price competition – this has had both upside and downside.  On the upside, it’s good to make agencies aware that they are in a competitive market.  On the downside, quality sometimes does command a higher price and procurement is not necessarily well equipped to evaluate that trade-off.  Moreover, agencies often have to pitch for projects without knowing the budgets involved, so it’s impossible to make realistic judgements around allocating resources and consequently how to cost the project.
  2. Pitching is often driven by procurement.  Again there are two sides to this.  On one hand, the process has become more professional – sometimes.  On the other, the pitching process itself has become a lowest-common-denominator exercise which misses many of the less obvious opportunities to solve the problem better.  There is often no clarity on the budget, there is minimal chemistry or collaboration, time is shortened to the point where quality is compromised.  And another thing…. the whole thing happens in a vacuum. And breath.All these points are either well-rehearsed or at least, fairly obvious.
  3. Less obvious is the way a relationship driven by or through procurement misses the traditional opportunities for agencies to add value.  Years ago, big agencies were challenged to have initiatives – things the clients wouldn’t have thought of (and therefore procurement won’t have commissioned).  Some of these (perhaps many, perhaps too many) don’t see the light of day. Others would occasionally bring a refreshing new perspective to a staid category or a rejuvenation to a stale brand.It’s the antidote to the risk aversion which is inevitable in a modern marketing department.  You can’t do this where every project is briefed separately and scoped within an inch of its life.
  4. Finally, the project-by-project scoped approach militates against the development of  client ‘experts’ within the agency.  The old fashioned idea of brand stewardship is no longer deliverable where everyone’s time is budgeted and accountable.  In ages gone by, new agency staff would spend days out with the sales reps or observing focus groups, not as part of a (chargeable) project but as part of a broader ‘immersion’ into the business.  Sadly that’s unlikely to be feasible now that every penny is under scrutiny.

So, if you want to know how best to buy a gorilla, the answer is probably to avoid or sidestep procurement.  If you’re an agency, I’m afraid you’re probably buggered.

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Well what do you know?

When I was a child, I thought my Dad literally knew everything.  “I know everything” he said, on countless occasions.  Others have proposed that the naturalist, Alexander Von Humboldt, was the last man actually to know everything, and he died in 1859.  The ‘last man to know everything’ mantle has also been attributed to a number of others, from Aristotle to Francis Bacon.

Humboldt

Needless to say, in the modern world it’s impossible for any one of us to know everything, nor even a large part of the body of human knowledge.  We can’t even know everything about the many things that affect us directly on a daily basis.  And that’s a problem.

Even the things we do know, we don’t really know.  We believe them, but what’s the basis of that? Without going all epistemological, sometimes it’s through empirical evidence, but mostly it’s because we learned it from a source which we trust.

It’s increasingly a problem, because trusting others has become a risky business.  Well, actually it always was.  Take any piece of supposed knowledge you have and really interrogate it.  Take the laws of physics.  Some of the sub-atomic particles I learned about in school have been superseded by new, sexier ones which are even less easy to grasp and even more likely to be replaced. And those are the very foundations of matter.

When it comes to more mundane stuff, we’re on even dodgier ground.  I worked for many years in the energy business and everything I saw reinforced my belief that climate change is happening, it’s partly induced by man’s activities and that it will likely lead to the end of civilisation.  How long that doomsday scenario will take is uncertain, but probably within a few dozen generations.  However, some people genuinely doubt this.  In response, I commonly cite the fact that all the reputable scientists in the area agree with me.  But, if I’m honest, that’s only hearsay.  I’ve only actually spoken to a handful of scientists.  Anyway, scientific theories evolve and scientists change their prevailing wisdom over time.  That’s the nature of science.

And now, the rest of the world has cottoned on to this Cartesian doubt.  Encouraged by idiots people like Michael Gove (“People in this country has had enough of experts“) it seems anything goes, and authority is history.  Anyone can claim any old nonsense and there’s no requirement for evidence.  And consequently we’re right in the shit.  Because all this plays into the hands of the demagogues and the hate preachers.  Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and The Daily Mail.  And Brexit.

arseholes

This has implications for brands and businesses too.  Corporate reputation is fundamentally based on trust.  Historically, that trust was built on the behaviour and ‘body language’ of a brand over time.  I think it still is, but the pillars of trust seem to be in flux.  Transparency is the vogue, but that means different things to different people.  One man’s transparency is another man’s clever manipulation.

Indeed the idea of trust itself can become a subject for a new brand promise.  I like the recent campaign for fruit drink Oasis, which takes this and plays games with it.

 

So there you have it.  Politics, philosophy, climate change and advertising.  Everything I love, all in one place.  We’re completely buggered, but there’s a neat insight for some ironic advertising.

It’s a real Brahma mate

There’s a theory emerging that we’re beginning to see a backlash against the tech that’s coming to dominate our lives.  There are a few ads floating around that poke fun at our obsession with gadgets or with streaming.  Not sure I agree, after all, any kind of excessive behaviour is up for a bit of debunking, and there’s plenty of tech-driven madness to pick from.  However, I do like this ad for Ozzie beer brand Brahma.

I believe the expression “a real Brahma” means something like “The Daddy” or “The dog’s b**ll**cks”. Not entirely inappropriate.

Brilliant or complete coincidence?

This is the new advertisement for the VW hybrid (yes, well done, but that’s something Toyota have been doing for twenty years, so let’s not get over-excited about the news value here).

We all love a good villain, but the question is this: are VW acknowledging that, after the emissions scandal, they are (or were) Public Enemy no.1 and playing a delightfully mischievous game around that?  Or is it just a coincidence?  I like to think it’s a wonderful piece of self-deprecation.  And if that’s the case, I’ll forgive them for being so close to the idea Jaguar used recently.

Brands with purpose; the story do far

‘Brands with purpose’ were all the rage for about twenty minutes or so.  Unilever said it was the right thing to do.  So obviously it was the right thing to do.

Then came Pepsigate.  An overzealous attempt to appropriate a world of virtuous resistance against all the evil in the world, while simultaneously calling for world peace, racial harmony and please can we all just start being nice to each other again.  Remember the anti-Vietnam war poster with the girl putting the flower in the barrel of the soldier’s gun?  Except Pepsi misjudged the popular mood and was ridiculed.

My own view is that, while Pepsi’s attempt to tap into this ‘purpose’ was pretty woeful, it wasn’t so much worse than a lot of other work from other brands who just about got away with it.  Pepsi didn’t have any credits in the bank here (as opposed to Coke for example who do) so once social media turned against them, the hole just got deeper and deeper.  Before they knew it, they were a laughing stock and had to withdraw the advertisement in question.  This in turn made them headline news and so doubly a laughing stock.

Harsh but fair.

This debacle has spawned a host of ‘told you so’ coverage.  Most of it is simply accountable to people wanting to score points by dancing on Pepsi’s grave (who wouldn’t?)  I’ve seen lots of other corporate pap which is equally risible, but escaped with barely a word of censure (special mention here for Hewlett Packard’s corporate video).

But I did quite enjoy this:

Moving on, in the wake of Pepsigate, brands should be getting very wary of doing the vision thing.  This idea for Heineken was, presumably, too far advanced to pull out.  In a worlds where Pepsi is ridiculed, this shouldn’t work either.  But it does.  Why?

Two reasons:

  1. Heineken is a brand we like.  It has a history of entertaining us and being witty.  It’s not explicitly a crusading brand (like say, Dove whose influence is very evident here) but it’s well-meaning enough to be credible.
  2. The craft.  It’s very nicely done.

That’s my opinion today.  If it gets lambasted and withdrawn tomorrow, I will of course disown all of this and claim I was being ironic.

And you fell for it right?

Food Dancing

This feels like an important new development in the world of advertising.  After a billion years settled at the home of all things grown up and civilised – AMV – Sainsbury recently moved its advertising to the home of all things yoof -Wieden & Kennedy.

The result is ‘Food Dancing’.  On first viewing, it feels a bit like a student’s speculative reel for his first proper advertising job interview.  One or two visual cliches have sneaked in when no-one was looking.  Overall though, it does just what the nice but mundane supermarket needed – it gives it an injection of fun energy.  On reflection, I think I’m a fan.

 

All swap clothes for Christmas

Christmas is coming and that means one thing.  Lots of new retail advertising.  Here’s the newest entrant – it’s House of Fraser, brought to you by an agency I much admire – 18 Feet and Rising:

I have to admit I rather like it.  But here’s my misgiving.  It’s a Marks & Spencer ad.  Everything about it screams M&S except the logo.  Which is a bit tricky.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the new M&S Christmas commercial:

It’s also quite nice (though I’m not overwhelmed).  Except for one thing.  Like many advertisers, the client appears to have gone to their agency and said: “Please give me a John Lewis ad”.  And unlike most agencies, they have done exactly that.

So House of Fraser is now morphing into M&S who are, for their part, impersonating John Lewis.

So it’s like a weird version of retail clothes swapping.  Or one of those bizarre questions that crop up in philosophy tutorials about how much of your brain you can merge into another entity before you become them or they become you.

Maybe that’s what they mean by Shwopping.