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There has always been a tension in advertising between strategy and creative.  The best creative ideas, creative people will tell you, come from coloring outside the lines. Think Different, to quote TBWA Chiat Day and Apple. The creative mind flourishes without bounds.

Strategy people like lines and organization. We love creativity, but our day job is about lines. Flexing the tension is another of our day jobs.

Both groups know there are no absolutes. I often say “Campaigns come and go, a powerful brand strategy is indelible.” That shit flies in one ear and out the other of creative people. 

The best strategy, though, is tempered by great creative.  And the best creative is infused with great strategy. The two create maximum advertising effectiveness and must coexist.

Le Bernardin, the NYC seafood restaurant, garners 4 Stars because of Maguy Le Coze (a neat and order freak) and Eric Ripert, creative chef par excellence.




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Have you ever been to a bazaar or Souq? I have not but imagine it to be a barrage of sight, sound, aroma and cacophonous selling. I’d expect a souq to be somewhat organized. Food arrayed in one area, household goods in another, spice and carpets sellers bunched elsewhere. But maybe not. Maybe it is first come first served – laid out and paid for based upon most trafficked areas. The answer is not on Wikipedia so I may have to get out more.

However the souq is organized and depending on its size there are lots of goods from which to choose. A dizzying amount. And that’s not unlike selling today. Consumers are overwhelmed with choices. And tools. And shopping options. Ads fill our lives just as the rows and rows of goods at the souq. So how do companies use ads to set products apart? What does insurance look like. By volume of advertising a Martian might think it looks like a lizard. What does a product taste like? Smell like? What value does it bring to daily life? Once all that is out of the way, why is one product better than that in the next stall? Price? Experience? Recommendation?

If given 30 seconds or a few thousand pixels to convey all of this, how does one package all that info? Apple is finding out. Apple is reported to have 1,000 people on payroll at the company creating ads and marketing materials. They have this massive group, presumably, to save money. A piece I read yesterday suggested the TV ads prepared by the Apple’s in-house team were smoked by the TBWA/Chiat/Day team ads (in consumer testing.)

It’s a big world out there. With lots going on. And massive, massive messaging. Maximize the effectiveness of your work. Get a strategy, be strategic and hire expert sellers. Families in the souq have been there thousands of years. Peace.


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Jerry Yang is stepping down at Yahoo (without a named successor) and PepsiCo has removed long-time ad agency BBDO in favor of white hot TBWA/Chiat Day.  Change is in the wind.  Yahoo needed to do something, though I’m not sure removing Yang does anything. The number 1 website in terms of traffic, they still do not know what they want to be. The next CEO had better have a focused strategic vision beyond “I wouldn’t have f’ed up the Microsoft deal.”


As for TBWA/Chiat Day picking up PepsiCo, it is the second black eye they have given BBDO in the last couple of years; taking Visa was the first.  Both these agencies are on a par if you ask me with the slight edge going to TBWA thanks to good leadership (Tom Carroll and Lee Clow) and the ability to do striking, simple work.  But “Life Takes Visa,” though a fine line, hasn’t yet been actualized.  


These two changes are incremental, certainly not seismic. And so are they changes at all? Nah.


But ladies and gentlemen, change is in the wind and it is to those who take advantage of it – with tight strategic understanding – that the spoils will fall.   

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Crispin Porter is a very, very good ad agency. I don’t always agree with their creative, but more often than not it has a positive effect. As they get bigger, though, they run into client issues, category issues, and problems they haven’t seen before, making it hard to succeed all the time.
One issue they are currently addressing with the new Microsoft advertising is the corner they have been painted into by TBWA/Chiat Day’s “I’m a PC” campaign for Apple. The campaign uses a Bill Gates-like nebbishey figure to represent the PC and he is never as cool or consumer-friendly as the Apple figure. Moreover, he takes shots like a hockey goalie.
Crispin Porter has done a campaign that plays defense against the Apple campaign, in a sense whining about being mistreated and made into a “stereotype.” This defensive position is a mistake and very un-Crispin-like. They are best when on offense. Secondly, the genius of the Apple work is not in dis-ing Microsoft so much as it dis-ing the PC. Microsoft has taken the bait…focusing on the PC not the software. Microsoft needs its own idea. About software. And “Life without walls.” (the new line) isn’t it.

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Absolut Relevance

In marketing circles Absolut vodka has always been famous for its ads. Today I learned Absolut will become famous for ad-inspired product innovations: 2 flavored vodkas celebrating America cities. Very inventive and very smart. The first flavors are New Orleans (easy) and Los Angeles (hard.)   The New Orleans flavor has a Cajun twist, while the LA’s is based on a mélange of berries.
Absolut is breaking from convention in two ways: moving away from single flavored vodka, say lemon, to a mixture of flavors. But the bigger idea is tying the flavor provenance to a city. Every city is pregnant with “flavor” (as Fab 5 Freddy might say) and the imagery associated with that flavor is what will carry the Absolut message. TBWA/Chiat/Day now has a new canvas for Absolut’s advertising, which I hope it will use to re-invigorate the spirits category.
One little misstep I should mention is the cause-related element of the effort. Donations are not a reason to try these vodkas and it taints the excitement. Make the launch about the flavors and the city. Selling the “flavor” of New Orleans will do more for the city than a big check on the steps of city hall. Make the donations, but make them quietly. Peace!



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