Category Archives: Brand

Why the new VW Arteon commercial is TV advertising at its very best

The new VW Arteon tv ad is brilliant.

Why is it brilliant? Because the creative team involved have clearly been given an incredibly boring brief (by the client/planners/suits) that said “Sell this car on how beautiful it is”. But have shown us all that, if you know what you’re doing, even the blandest of briefs can generate great work.

Most creative teams would have written an ad that showed the car in a variety of cool locations with people drooling over it as it whizzes by. It would be driven by smug man with beard, or cool girl with attitude. (There are no other people in the world according to most agency folk these days. Apart , perhaps, from the idiotic but loveable football supporter who appears in every beer/betting or pizza ad.)

The ad would feature trendy music, trendy editing, and probably some ridiculously contrived storyline crammed into 30 seconds. Ideally with a lame ‘joke’ after the logo and endline supers.

But the VW team did it properly.

They took the brief and said “How can we make this incredibly boring proposition come to life? How can we really dramatise the fact that we think it’s a good-looking vehicle? How can we make this duller than dull proposition be exciting and different? How can we make an ad that stands out and is genuinely memorable?”

What they did is show the car. In a regular, dark, car studio. Not even moving. No cool locations.

And then they have a blind man tell us why it’s beautiful.

Pete Eckert is, we’re told, a blind photographer. (Which is interesting in itself, in any context.)

Think about how off the wall that is.

It’s an ad about the visual appeal of a product. With its story told by a blind person.

Totally intriguing, totally different, totally brilliant.

What a shame that the car has such a terrible, terrible name: Arteon? Hardly Golf or Polo or Fox or Up is it?

How to write the perfect creative brief

Writing a bad creative brief is really easy. Writing a good one is really hard.

Why does it matter? Because the better the brief, the better the work you’ll get back.

If the brief is vague and woolly the work will be even vaguer and woolier.

Here’s a few tips on how to write a good one that will have copywriters and designers slapping you on the back and taking you for a beer. (Yes, great briefs are quite rare I’m afraid.)

Precisely define your target audience

It’s important to carefully and accurately describe the person we’re talking to.

Digital agencies tend to talk about “personas”, ad agencies tend to talk about the target audience still. But it’s the same thing. The more I can picture the person I’m writing for, the better I can empathise with his or her needs/problems.

Paint me a picture of who I should see in my mind’s eye when I begin work. Can I visualise someone I know?

What jargon do they use (if any), what understanding or knowledge do they have about the product or service we’re selling? What is their current mindset about the product or sector, and so on.

(Many clients like to subdivide the audience into small segments based on age, sex etc but I’ve found that behaviour is generally a much more effective way to divide an audience. Have they bought it before, do they respond to edm, etc?)

Describe and explain the product or service

The brief should clearly tell us what the product or service does. How it works. What’s different or unique about it. Why does the target need it? How does it help them? What problem does it solve for them? Or what emotional need does it fulfil?

Spell it out so anyone can understand it using simple everyday words. If you don’t fully understand it yourself, your creative team won’t have a clue. This is really, really important.

Often the nugget of a great creative idea is hidden in the detail about a product or service. If you’re an agency person, try and know more about the client’s product and market than she does. What’s its market share? What’s the awareness level in the marketplace?

Describing the product or service is the bit on the brief where, as a copywriter, I don’t mind if you write lots of stuff. Or link to a brochure or website that gives lots of detail.

On the other hand, the bit where you must NEVER write lots of stuff is what this post is really about…

Write a killer Main Proposition 

It’s the shortest bit of the brief but should take you the longest time to write. Because it’s far and away the most important bit. It dictates everything about the creative work you want produced, by tightly defining the core thing we want to say.

Writing a good proposition is what really separates the amateur from the pro when it comes to writing a brief for creative people.

It has lots of different names: the promise, the main message, the singleminded proposition. Or it may simply be a slot on the brief that says “What is the one thing that will make the target audience do what we want?” or variations on that theme.

The point is, it’s the single piece of communication that, if all else fails, we want to hit the target reader/viewer/listener with.

And it’s really, really hard to get it right.

So if you only have time to write one thing on a brief, this is the one to focus on. And this is how to do it…

Short and sharp: it should contain ONE message. A single, short sentence.

Benefit-led: It should convey a single promise or benefit to the audience:  how will the reader’s problem be solved? What offer are we making to her? In other words…

What’s the single, main reason they should buy this product?

It could be as simple as a price deal: “Get 25% off this Thursday”

It could be telling them that’s something will make their life easier: “Cook your dinner five times faster” “Reduce your lead time to customers by 30%” “Feel instantly refreshed” “Grow stronger rapeseed plants”.

These all are BENEFITS. You must be super-clear about the difference between a benefit and a feature.

A feature simply describes what the product or service IS. It’s a global supply chain, it’s a sausage made of best pork, it’s an online investment service.

But a BENEFIT tells you why you need to buy it. How it will help you or your business.

It’s the difference between ‘these boots are made of high quality leather’ and “these boots will last you a lifetime”. Clients often focus on the feature and find it hard to think it terms of benefit.

The best way to write a strong benefit-led proposition is to use my YOU CAN technique. Try writing You Can in front of your proposition. This makes sure your proposition is talking direct to the punter, and helps you make sure it’s framed as a benefit to them.

You can reduce your delivery lead time

You can feed your hungry kids quicker

You can grow more crops per acre

You can have a more fulfilling career 

Some writers and designers/art directors will even ask you to condense the thought down to a single word if you can (or will do it themselves using the brief) so they have a laser-like focus on the core message. Try it.

Emotional or rational?

Some people will say “You need  an emotional sell, not a logical one, these days.” Be careful, though, this often stems from misunderstanding how propositions and the resultant headlines are created and work.

Sure, you should write your promise or proposition in a way that empathises with the audience if you can, but a purely emotion-focused proposition like “XYZ Product will make you happy” won’t get you good work.

There’s a trend amongst account people and planners at the moment to use something like this as the proposition for every brief, because ultimately that’s what all products or services are designed to do, yes?.

No. A bland and boring proposition will get you bland and boring work.

It’s the creative team’s job to take your focused, benefit-led proposition and dramatise it in a way that stands out and that resonates with the audience in an emotional way. We present your rational proposition in an emotionally charged way so it works harder.

If you want to write your proposition as a quasi-headline, great. A good copywriter will run with it if it’s a good one. Good ideas can come from anyone in the team.

Try it as a newspaper headline?

If you’re struggling to write your proposition, try writing the benefit statement as it might appear in a newspaper or website news headline. This is a really good way of establishing whether it’s credible or just hot air and/or waffle.

Company claims new pesticide kills 5% more insects in your roof

Company claims new pesticide will make householders happy

Which one is more powerful, or more likely to get the punter to read on, do you think?

The proposition dictates the headline and the imagery

The headline that your writer or team comes back with should, in conjunction with the main image, instantly reflect your proposition. Anyone seeing the work should know at one what we’re offering the punter. If they don’t, the work has failed to capture the proposition and, arguably, should be revisited.

In my days working on huge FMCG clients like Lever Brothers or Procter & Gamble, the clients would sometimes evaluated the work entirely on a tick box basis. Does it clearly communicate the benefit in the proposition? Tick. Does it show who it’s for? Tick. And so on.

They would take the (sensible) view that the agency was the expert in writing ads and, therefore,  as long as their marketing messages were clearly communicated they’d trust us to do work that was exciting, impactful and memorable.

Which is a timely reminder that creative work isn’t generally there to make the client feel all warm and gooey. It’s to get his customers reaching for their wallet. Sometimes it’s very easy to forget this.

But what if there’s isn’t a strong and specific reason for them to buy?

If you’re selling milk or beer or clothes or even a car, there may not be anything specific or unique you can say to your audience to make them consider your product. In this case you may have to fall back on a proposition that is more about the target audience’s aspirations and lifestyle.

The creative work will most likely rely simply on imagery, humour or music that reflect what the brand wants to say about itself.

In a B2B environment, however, if you can’t see a specific reason/benefit you can use for your proposition, you’re stuffed. Chances are you just need to ask the client more questions. Or failing that, ask his customers why they bought.

(Can you imagine a hard-nosed B2B salesman telling a corporate procurement director that he should spend £2m on his machines because it will make him happy?)

Sure, you can treat a B2B brief like an FMCG brief for beer or perfume but the creative work you get back will be tosh and disappear into the ether, ignored and unread.

Why should they believe us?

The next section on the brief, immediately following the proposition, should be something called “support” or “proof points” or “why should the audience believe our promise?” or similar. This is where you can list all the product features and facts that make the proposition credible.

This section should really only contain the stuff that directly underpins the proposition. If there’s other stuff you’d like to say to the punter, put this in a separate section on the brief.

Finally, don’t forget the last two must-haves, both of which massively impact the creative people’s thinking. (I generally read these first so I can frame the rest of the brief in the knowledge of where it’s ultimately got to lead.)

The deliverables: do you want a web page, a brochure, an email, a brochure, a press ad, a banner or skyscraper, a logo, a doordrop? Or perhaps a campaign idea that will work across all of the above? Be clear and specific.

The call to action: what is it you want the punter to do? (It may be nothing but remember the product if it’s a pure brand awareness brief.) Do you want her to call you, visit a website, buy something Right Now? Be clear about what you want them to do and how you want them to do it.

Ageism in advertising is out of control

In most industries you care to think of, experience is considered a jolly good thing.

He’s a highly experienced surgeon, yoiu’re in safe hands with him. She’s a hugely experienced lawyer, she’s the best person to have in your corner. He’s a massively experienced electrician, there’s not a problem he doesn’t know how to fix. And so on.

But in advertising the reverse is true. Ageism isn’t just rampant it’s virtually compulsory.

You can have won a million top awards, you can have solved major marketing issues for some of the biggest, most famous brand in the world. You might have turned  companies around with your input, saving hundreds of jobs along the way.

But if you’re over 50, maybe even 45 — and in the digital arena, over 13 – you’re considered waaaaaay past your sell-by date.

The thinking goes that you can’t possibly have any great ideas if you’re ‘old’. You suddenly forget how to write fantastically persuasive copy or art direct a stunningly innovative and memorable tv campaign.

I wish I could rationalise this bizarre situation on the basis of money. Along the lines of: “Clearly, more experienced people should be paid more. They work faster and produce better results. They’re better with clients and have a much better insight into planning and business generally. So they deserve the big bucks but we can’t afford them so we’re going to have to compromise on quality and pay less.”

At least this has a sort of logic to it. But, actually it isn’t this.

There’s simply an unwritten law in advertising and marketing, now, that anyone over a certain age is Too Old. They won’t have good ideas. Their ideas will be somehow old-fashioned. They don’t understand digital communications. They’re not edgy enough. I’ve heard all these and more.

The ultimate irony is that the people who spend the most money, who buy the most stuff, are not 22 year olds that work in advertising.

They’re middle-aged people. Cars, tellies, Sky subscriptions, food, drink, financial services — the majority of sales in these marketplaces are down to people in their forties, fifties and above. The people with the dosh.

So ask yourself, who is more in touch with the mindset, the motivations, the day-to-day family issues this group faces? The 22 year old or the 52 year old?

And before someone pipes up with “Ah yes, but if you get people onboard with your brand when they’re young, they’ll stay with you for life”, this is utter tosh and has been disproven over and over again. Brand loyalty barely exists in any meaningful way and an empty shelf, a higher price or a disappointing experience will have us switching to another brand in a heartbeat.

The issue is even more profound with B2B marketing. (I’d never give my junior teams any B2B or internal comms work if I could avoid it.)

Kids, on the whole, just don’t understand business and management in any meaningful way. Ask them to explain the difference between revenue and profit and their eyes glaze over.

Trust them with your cornflakes campaign, by all means, but leave the serious stuff to the grown-ups.

Why Trump’s election underlines the awesome power of The Big Brand


The global airwaves and webwaves are now rammed with commentators and journalists post-rationalising why Trump got in.

You can’t turn on the telly or read a news site without finding some media luvvie telling you how half of Americans felt disenfranchised and ignored, and how, by voting for The Donald, they were making a statement about the Washington political elite. And globalisation. And immigration. And so on.

What nobody (apart from me, seemingly) has yet said is ‘Trump is an incredibly powerful brand’.

He’s built his public persona over many years. Like Kit Kat. People know exactly what he stands for and what to expect. Like Fairy Liquid. And as the ex-presenter of the US Apprentice series he is a genuine, A-List reality TV star.

And (just like Brand Boris in the UK), you can recognise Trump from his hair alone. What a fantastic logo that is. Just like McDonald’s golden M or Disney’s silhouetted mouse ears.

He’s got some brilliant brand slogans too: “Build a wall”, “Lock her up”. They’re what great slogans always are, specific, memorable and most importantly, ownable. Just like Have a Break Have a Kit Kat.

Compare Hillary’s lame offering: “Forward together”. Straight out of the bland political slogan handbook. Cooked up by a committee. Can’t really imagine people at a rally chanting “Forward together!”, can you?

Trump even created a hugely memorable  Brand Positioning for Clinton: “Crooked Hillary.” If you look at this stuff in marketing terms it’s actually close to genius.

In short, Trump has become quite simply a Very Big Brand. And big brands are what people go for. Ask Lever Brothers or Procter and Gamble.

Lever Brothers sell Marmite. Half the British population hates it (me included). The other half loves it. This division is so marked that it’s actually become intrinsic to Marmite’s brand. Their TV ads even show people spitting it out.

Lever Brothers and their agencies recognised that not everyone likes everything, and cleverly built a massive brand around the fact that lots of people hate Marmite with a vengeance. People in the UK even talk about things being ‘a bit Marmite’. How many brands have become part of everyday language in this way?

Donald J Trump is exactly like Marmite. He hasn’t tried to make everyone like him. But the people who do, love him. And the people who don’t, hate him. The people who love him forgive him his trespasses.

That’s why you’ll never hear anyone, anywhere, say, “Oy yes, Trump, he’s OK I guess”.

Large, established consumer brands can withstand short bursts of terrible PR. Their reputation can take a knock but, if they’re big enough, they easily bounce back. Smaller, less established brands can be destroyed. Again, Trump embodies this resilience spectacularly.

Contrast this with Hillary. A me-too brand if ever there was one. A white, charisma-free Obama-lite –  the own-label diet cola to Trump’s full-fat Coke.


Is grammar really that important?


Should you really be that worried about knowing the difference between ‘you’re’ and ‘your’, ‘there and their’ (and ‘they’re’), and ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? Aren’t these quaint old-fashioned considerations that in the modern, super-fast online world we simply don’t need any more?

Well that depends, as my friend stated pithily when we were discussing this issue yesterday, whether you want to look like an idiot or not.

As with many things in marketing, it all comes down to who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to 15 year olds about a new video game, not so much. If you’re talking to 46 year old CEOs of global corporations who might be (potentially) spending $1m on your product then, yes, it very much matters.

If your website or brochure is full of spelling and grammar mistakes, what kind of message does that send your customers who are clever enough, or experienced enough, or educated enough to notice?

It says either “I am too ignorant to know the difference” or it says “I know the difference but I don’t care that people think I’m just ignorant.”

EIther way, why take the risk of turning off a potential customer before they’re even fully engaged with your offer?

Of course, the proliferation of typos, bad punctuation and grammatical errors in today’s marketing has a lot to do with keeping costs down for clients. Hiring or contracting a good copywriter is a cost that more and more agencies feel their clients won’t bear (and they’re often right).

So the client writes their own stuff or, heaven forfend, a web designer or UX person does it.

But the result is copy and content that is badly written, hard to understand and that can genuinely damage your brand.


How Apple became the world’s biggest brand by banning the word brand


There’s one marketing blog out there which, to me, is unmissable. It’s called The Ad Contrarian and whenever you’ve had your head rammed full of fashionable, flavour-of-the-month marketing bollocks it’s a great place to go and restore your faith in common sense.

In his latest rant, The Ad Contrarian takes apart the idea that your brand is more important than your actual product. He shows a clip of the head of Saatchi’s (big UK ad agency) blathering on about how Steve Jobs of Apple put brand before product, blah, blah.

Except he didn’t. A quote from one of Jobs’s team puts the lie to this. Utterly. And totally.

In fact, Apple understand that you don’t get people to buy your product by making them like your brand. You build a brand by getting people to like your product. That’s why they’re the world’s biggest company.

This is a fact that is utterly lost on most most marketing and advertising, ahem, ‘experts’ who will drone on about brand-building, brand conversations and engagement, and the latest must-have bit of software that is going to change the game etc etc…

In a few swift and pithy sentences, Allison Johnson, VP of Worldwide Marketing at Apple from 2005 to 2011, destroys the dreams, aspirations, beliefs and motivations of the vast majority of the world’s advertising and marketing industry.

…the two most ‘dreaded, hated’ words at Apple under Steve Jobs were ‘branding’ and ‘marketing’.…we understood deeply what was important about the product, what the team’s motivations were in the product, what they hoped that product would achieve, what role they wanted it to have in people’s lives…The most important thing was people’s relationship to the product. So any time we said ‘brand’ it was a dirty word.

Here’s a link to The Ad Contrarian