Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I just had a struggling copywriter sitting in my office.
She's trying to write the mission statement for a probono/non-profit/apparel company.
And she's concerned that the client doesn't know what she's selling.

My response: clients rarely understand what they're selling.
Because while the eyeballs may say we're selling beer or soap or a trip to Disney World, we're almost never selling those things. If we were selling those things, we'd just put a big picture of them, along with the price, on the nearest flat surface and wait for the phonecalls and the dirty folk and the drunks to show up.

We're selling the idea. We're selling the club. We're selling intelligence. We're selling "But I'm worth it" and "Man Laws" and the feeling of a quarterback who's just won the SuperBowl, but whose only thought - the only thing that could top the feeling of winning the fucking superbowl - is going to Disney World.

We're not selling actual plane tickets., hotel rooms and 7 dollar ice cream cones.

At least I'm not.

My job is magic. There is no inherent magic in a case study or a bar graph or a 3.5% increase in sales. That's math. You hire mathematicians and that's what you'll get. You hire a media company and they'll increase your GRPs. Shuffle your budget to maximize the impact of your message - hit the right target. Or suggest sticking your idea on the side of a bus. But an unmagical message on the side of a bus is just as unimpactful as if you stuck it in your underwear.

You want magic, you'd better not depend on a mathematician. A microsite or an SMS campaign or a brand manifesto is a great thing. But it isn't magic unless, by encountering it, once gains a profound new emotional opinion of the product or service you're researching. Magic takes parity out of the equation.

Look at the difference between the Zune and the iPod. They do the same thing. They both play music. A thinking man says, buy the cheaper one. But we are not just calculators. We care about the way things feel and look and, yes, the way they are advertised. We define ourselves with our mp3 players- not just our music - and who wants to be brown?
Unless you're UPS - who has found a kind of magic in Brown. Not to suggest that iPod's magic is in the color of the device. iPod's magic is in selling freedom and expression and customization and uniqueness. iPod is a spaceship. Zune is a brick.

People spend ludicrous amounts of money on things based on magic. You won't find it on a spread sheet. Or in the transcript of a focus group. Or in a graph plotting your budget and your bottom line.

Magic is scary and inconclusive and risky and all the things we hate in business. But when you get it, you love it, you ride it for all it's worth and you long for it when it's gone. Magic is a one night stand. You make it with truth and luck and a couple people who believe.

Magic is not units or dollars or a big logo.

For the most part, clients can't make magic. Or they'd do it themselves. Like Target. But damn do they need it. And if your agency can't make it, they'll find one that can. I don't blame them, either. You don't stick with an agency for 20 years because they're nice. You stick with them because they've managed to keep a spark alive in your brand. That spark is M-A-G-I-C.

And when the magic gone, well, you know the rest.


Make the logo bigger said...

"...and a couple people who believe."

One of has to be a client with the guts to take a chance and try a new direction. Unfortunately 'chance' is a word that scares most of them.

J_Fox said...

Sure clients want magic. They just want scientific proof of the magic before spending money on it. How else do you explain focus groups, testing creative and the like? Marketing, and advertising moreso, is intuitive at its heart. But clients hate paying for intuition. So we gussy it up with numbers to make them feel better. Unfortunately, too many agenices believe in the science when the science is really more hocus-pocus than the creative.

James-H said...

If the focus groups are trained on whether or not something is magical - they're going to fail. It's like asking people in the fifties if they think a flight to the moon is a good idea.

"Sure. That'd be great? But it'll never happen." Until it does.

At which point people come swarming out of the woodwork waving their calculators to take credit for predicting such a success.

Funny how both of you guys grabbed onto the client being responsible for having balls. The bigger deal is, agencies need to have balls. Balls enough to say "we believe in magic." And know that a couple clients will slam the door in your face. But the ones that don't? They get the Bravia. Or Cog. Or the BMW Films. series.

Work that truly changes the definition. And expectations. Work that everyone points to and says "I want the Subservient Chicken of Soap."

Describe the focus group that let THAT magic happen. Show me the derivative function that lead to that jaw-dropping stuff.

Make the logo bigger said...

"The bigger deal is, agencies need to have balls. Balls enough to say "we believe in magic." "

Man I dunno. I think it's more about having a Wizard on the agency side with a silver tongue who knows how to sell that shit in, moreso than guts.

Especially in smaller shops. People expect far-out from Crispin, so in their case, they have an easier time of it. East Shitsville Advertising? Not so much.

You mentioned S. Chicken. A creative who worked with someone on that told me that idea was a throwaway they had in their back pocket after showing a bunch of safe stuff, when the client asked for something a little more out there. (Although after seeing it, I'm sure the BK DOM was thinking for a second, whoa, dude, I was joking.)

J_Fox said...

Hey, where did I lay all the blame on the client side?

"Unfortunately, too many agenices believe in the science when the science is really more hocus-pocus than the creative."

I've yet to work at a dangerous agency. Bob Bernstein owns two successful franchises: the largest Blockbuster franchise in the world and Beauty Brands. He does hardly any advertising for them. If he doesn't believe in the power of adveritising, why should his clients?

Focus groups are valid for gaining general opinions about stuff. But not about creative. We all know this. Most account people don't. And you're the one who told me about Red Lobster's Flav-O-Meter testing. Jeezo.

Agencies and clients talk endlessly about breaking through the clutter. Considering 99.9% of what they collectively produce IS the clutter, I'd say there's enough blame to go around.

Buck Super Stereo said...

being an account rat (i have no clue if any of your typical audience is or not), i see the fallacy of groups as well.

i do agree with mr foxy in that focus groups are valid for gaining opinions about stuff. i'm sure that BK and/or crispin found insights to their target by watching them somehow....either living the life themselves or through groups. account planning is at its best when observing lifestyle, not writing discussion guides. BTW - i absolutely love the fact that they have xbox games out. how crazy is that for spreading yourself out into your target's world?

and blame for not having an advertising nutsack is certainly abundant. most clients like safe and most agencies thrive on selling safe. when you're the one responsible for getting the door slammed in said face, its surely a different story.

part of the magic you speak of is having the right people in the right place...not just the right idea that taps emotional attachment. all agencies have to compromise themselves at times to keep the lights on. okay, lets revise that to "most agencies" b/c we know cp+b on a few others don't have to anymore, but i'm sure somewhere in their history they were paid to peddle crap with a message that missed the mark.