July 09, 2018

The "Marketing Retrofit" Gag

One of my favorite marketing gags is the one in which marketing people take a huge creative success and attribute its success to some horseshit marketing process that was completely irrelevant to the idea.

Such is now the case with the famous "FCK" ad for KFC. Here's a quick recap for those who haven't seen it: KFC had a major delivery screw-up in the UK and ran out of chicken. They ran this wonderful ad...

The ad has won all kinds of accolades and awards. And, as advertising successes often do, it is now becoming some kind of bullshit morality lesson about client-agency relations.

An article in MarketingWeek recently informed us that this particular success...
"...highlights the importance of having an agency that really understands a business. Mother had been KFC’s agency for less than a year when the crisis broke, but already felt fully integrated. That was possible because KFC immersed Mother in the brand, inviting it along to its restaurant general manager conference during the pitch, and within the first three months of working together taking the Mother team to its HQ for tastings, having them bread chicken in the kitchens and going to franchisee meetings."
Give me fcking break. The reason this ad exists is that someone had a terrific fcking idea. It had less than nothing to do with breading a fcking chicken or going to fcking "franchisee meetings." It was talent that created this ad, the rest is footnotes.

Believe me, I've been to about all the "general manager conferences" and "franchisee meetings" one human being can safely attend without spontaneously combusting. If there's anything in the world that will cause a saint to knock over an old lady's wheelchair it's a fcking franchisee meeting.

KFC's marketing honcho had this to say...
"...seeing agencies as 'real business partners' has been key to the success of the relationship. All its agencies are fully integrated and tasked with working with each other and the KFC marketing team, while KFC invests time and budget in the relationship, holding quarterly breakfasts with agency heads and agency recognition nights, for example."
Oh, puh-leeze. How many times do we have to hear this trite horseshit until we realize that creativity does not spring from quarterly breakfasts. It comes from one place only -- talented people. Take a crappy agency and feed them all the breakfasts and recognition nights you want and you'll still get crap.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for agencies and clients working together as closely as possible. I am also all for agencies being treated with respect and held in high regard. And I commend KFC for this.

What I am against is the fantasy that creativity is the result of group hugs and harmonious collaborations. You want creativity? Hire talent. End of story.

I will leave the last deliciously cynical word on this subject to one of the most brilliant minds our industry has ever produced -- the great Howard Gossage: "Never tour the factory. Never taste the product."

July 03, 2018

A Certain Type Of Imbecile

There is a certain type of imbecile who can't see anything other than what is right in front of him. He has no peripheral vision and no rear view mirror.

He thinks the world started the day he was born and everything that has happened has happened on his watch.

He thinks that "disruption" is a new thing. He has no idea that progress has always meant that old technology would give way to new technology. He thinks this is new.

He has no idea that things are always changing but that change is rarely cataclysmic. He thinks that every new technology will "change everything."

He is astonished that the web hasn't killed television. He is surprised that 90% of shopping is still done in stores. He is amazed that 97% of cars still run on gasoline. He is astounded that social media marketing hasn't destroyed traditional paid advertising -- but has actually become traditional paid advertising.

Actually, he is not astonished, surprised, amazed, or astounded by any of this. He just denies it.

For some reason that is not clear to me, this type of imbecile has found a warm and welcoming home in the advertising and marketing industries. He is not just accepted here, he is celebrated.

He makes speeches and is quoted. He lives in a comfortable world where today's facts don't matter and his hyperbolic vision of "the future" is always home.

He is like a child with no perspective and an inclination to jump from one obsession to another. Yesterday he was lecturing us about millennials, today he is hyperventilating about Gen Z's. Yesterday he was pontificating about native advertising, today he's all over blockchain. He knows nothing, but has a trendy platitude about everything.

He is our new prophet. And you better be careful -- he may be an imbecile, but he's in charge.

June 21, 2018

A Copywriter's Burden

There was a time when being a copywriter was a lot simpler. It wasn't simple, but it was simpler.

We would be given a stack of documents about 1,000 pages deep -- primary research, industry information, briefing documents, strategy hypotheses, meeting memos, competitive category ads, focus group transcriptions, and no shortage of opinions and mandatories -- and our job was to turn this mess into 30 seconds of persuasive copy.

It was a rigorous exercise.

There were some copywriters who could never master the art of rummaging through a pile of paper to find the essence of what needed to be said. There were some who were very good at finding the essence, but not very good at finding an interesting way to say it. The very best could do both.

But the burden of being a copywriter today is much less straightforward. Today's copywriter is not really sure what she is. Is she a brand builder, a click maximizer, a storyteller, a community builder, a content provider, a conversation starter, a data interpreter, a three-times-a-day tweet machine? How do you keep true to a brand essence when you are "optimizing" for so many different objectives?

In fact, in the wrong hands, writing copy that is optimized for a ragbag of different media and a variety of different purposes can become antithetical to the idea of a single, simple brand identity. The tactical invariably drives out the strategic.

When that copywriter took a thousand pages of input and reduced it to a simple, singular proposition it became pretty clear how a campaign could spin out of it. In fact, the iconic "1984" spot by Apple started its life as a print ad that never ran. The concept superseded the media tactic.

But how does a focused brand strategy survive an hourly demand for "content?" Just take a look at the drivel that is coming out of McDonald's social media machine and try to find anything resembling a brand strategy.

There is a big difference between a being a novelist and being a copywriter. A novelist starts with a simple idea - "war is hell" - and expands on it to create a sprawling landscape. The copywriter does the opposite. He takes a sprawling landscape and, if he's any good, reduces it to a simple idea. Or at least he used to.

What does a copywriter do today?