Monday, September 22, 2008

Who does it worst?

I have a theory that people don't remember the average but instead recall the very good and the very bad. This means that a great deal of marketing work is often not remembered as it is not best in class. This doesn't mean it has no value but it does reduce its value. Of course marketing departments don't aim to be average. Instead they aim to do stand out work. So why is most work so average? If I look at the programs I have worked on that were just OK (and there were a few), then in many cases it boiled down to a few simple things:

1. Dummed down - all too often a great creative idea has the edge taken out of it in order to reduce the potential risks that idea creates. Sadly by removing the edge it becomes a less then memorable campaign.

2. Under resourced - I don't just mean here that companies spend too little. Instead I mean that all to often great work is sandwiched in alongside large pieces of average work being done by the same company. If the resources of the average were reapplied to the great just imagine the difference it would make.

3. Trying to do too much - good campaigns will often be hijacked by all sorts of areas of a business. As a result the original focus of the campaign is lost. If other parts of a business want to jump on board a marketing campaign it is them that should adapt (within reason) and not the other way around.

4. Failure to learn from mistakes - too many companies ignore the mistakes they've made in the past. Even companies that bother to hold a post mortem after a campaign, will all to often ignore the lessons learned when creating a new campaign. Why?

5. Logic beats emotion - great marketing campaigns often have something that is illogical in the mix. Or at least an element that appears illogical or pointless. Take the recent Microsoft ads with Gates and Seinfeld. They are quirky and silly and have generated a lot of opinion both good and bad. Logic would have killed these ads a lot sooner than Microsoft did (apparently they are no more now). If they had made Seinfeld talk product features it is unlikely people would have talked about them. By avoiding talking about Microsoft for almost all of the advert and instead focusing on trying to connect with an audience, Microsoft made an honest attempt to connect with its audience. You can argue whether they succeeded or failed in this instance. To me they succeeded.

My concern with this issue is that I'd love to see more memorable PR work being done. As it stands I'm convinced people can easily recall bad PR and can recall, albeit to a lesser degree, great PR. That leaves a lot of work that probably penetrates the subconscious or affects a small community but goes largely unnoticed. Perhaps the best way to get people to do great PR though is to make them fear doing truly bad PR (See my poll on the right). Put another way, I think people should always ask "what do we need to do to do a better job this time?" They need to ask this at every step in the process.

8 comments:

jk said...

I’ll throw two additional ideas into the mix.

Your initial point about people’s tendency, on average, to recall the best and the worst of anything probably takes precedence over everything else in this discussion. Even if everyone suddenly started doing great PR, we’d still perceive the best, the average and the worst. Call it a bell curve, normal distribution, relative performance or whatever but our ability to understand anything is defined by the context around it. In a world without Apple, Google, etc., perhaps Microsoft is doing the best PR and the bottom of the barrel rises to average.

At a more fundamental level, people’s general instinct is to play it safe. Clearly that applies well beyond PR. Some people/agencies/campaigns fail and/or succeed massively while most aim to be comfortably in the middle, whether entirely deliberate or not. Great success is often linked with great risk and few organizations truly promote risk taking.

Joseph Kingsbury, Text 100

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