Guest Blogger: Ross Buchanan
The Lincolnesque Ross Buchanan has been writing and creative directing for over two decades in Minneapolis and Chicago at shops big and small, from traditional to design to digital. At Campbell Mithun, Ogilvy, JWT, MC Brown, Bagby and his currently freelance gig at Tribal DDB, his thoughtful and comprehensive approach to problem solving and continuing self-education about every aspect of our constantly changing business lend his work a decidedly pointed relevance and impact. Of course, this flexibility can also generate some internal cognitive dissonance, like when he simultaneously juggled work for one client serving the poor and another selling luxury timepieces. Ross’ creativity extends far beyond copy to the carpentry and wiring required by his ongoing, six year restoration of the vintage prairie-style home he enjoys with his wife and two daughters. In an industry of far-flung creative talents, Ross is particularly rangy. And a damn fine fellow to boot.
Last Friday Dennis introduced you to “The Wicked Sick Project,” the brainchild of two creatives from George Patterson/Y&R in Australia. Hopefully you carved out four minutes and change from your busy day to view this simple reminder that creativity does, indeed, work. For those of you who missed this “Rad to the Power of Sick” effort, you have homework and can view your assignment here.
Lost in the sheer entertainment of the piece is the motive for the exercise. These two guys probably wouldn’t have made this video unless they felt like racehorses put in a pen. They are emblematic of creatives everywhere who feel hamstrung by client constraints. Sure, such constraints are an occupational hazard to anyone who works on the agency side of the business. However, the current recession intensified these constraints as clients are now extremely reluctant to put a foot wrong. In my freelance travels, I find more and more of my peers struggling to produce engaging work for increasingly safety-minded clients.
If anything is to be learned from “The Wicked Sick Project” it is that any client who still has the financial wherewithal to advertise in any media should make the most of it, not the least.
“The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign for Dos Equis beer is a fine example of a brand doing the former, not the latter. My guess is the folks who create their advertising are a having a pretty good time, too. How could they not with copy like, “He’s a lover, not a fighter. But he’s also a fighter, so don’t get any ideas”? One TV spot features a scene of our hero as he runs laughing through the woods clutching a red fox. In the distance, hunters on horseback with their hounds are in hot pursuit. Hilarious. And memorable. Meanwhile, the rest of the category is mired in a recitation of attributes and ingredients. The big domestics are having a tug o’ war between “triple hops brewed” and “drinkability” they actually expect us to watch. The result? Dos Equis sales are up. Way up. Double-digits up. AdAge.com reported that, through mid-June, a period when imported beer sales dropped 11%, sales of Dos Equis rose more than 17%, moving the brand into eighth place among imports. “There’s never really been an import brand that’s been built so clearly through advertising,” said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer’s Insights. Hmmm, could it be that “Rad to the Power of Sick” levels of creativity work beyond tired BMX bikes?
Of course, some brands still insist on playing it safe. But is safe really all that safe these days? Slashing advertising spending erodes brand equity. Not being interesting to people erodes brand equity. And brand equity is often all the packaged good manufacturers like the Procters, Krafts and Quakers of the world have to offer. They can farm out manufacturing, but they can’t farm out marketing their brands (although some have tried with those hideous “Brand Power” commercials). In the end, much like the US healthcare conundrum, there is a big opportunity cost to doing nothing or doing something poorly: the brand can erode to the point of irrelevance. Right now, the value of the brand is the only thing preventing a switch to private label. “Hey Kraft, see that red dot glowing on your forehead? Private label holds the gun and has an extremely itchy trigger finger.”
Since there is no longer true safety to be had, the safety-minded may as well go big or go home. Toward that end, an old boss of mine used to remind his charges of what he called the Three S’s. “Simplify, surprise and sell,” he used to say, “Not ‘simplify, sedate and sell’ or ‘simplify suck and sell.’”
In other words, be Rad to the Power of Sick.
By Ross Buchanan, Freelance CD/CW
BTW—that old boss was Dennis Ryan.