Wednesday, 20 July 2011

10 Lessons learnt from David Ogilvy's "Confessions of an Advertising Man"

Whilst on the Barry Spelling IDM Summer School 2011, I was fortunate enough to be permitted entrance beyond the glass gates of Ogilvy's Canary Warf office and into the belly of one of the biggest global communications networks alive today.
Marvelling at the eccentricity and grandeur of the agency's "showroom section", we were treated to an audience with friendly UK Chairman Paul O'Donnell, and the ever-tangential (but undoubtedly brilliant) Executive Creative Director Rory Sutherland among others.

Having had a fantastic time at the agency, upon leaving each of our party were gifted a copy of David Ogilvy's notorious "Confessions of an Advertising Man".  With a small window between finishing my degree and the commencement of my marketing career with Starcom MediaVest this September, I relished the opportunity for some much-missed leisure reading.
Whilst this is not an in-depth book review, it can safely be said that this book is a must.  A must for those entering the media world for the first time, a must for successful MDs, and all those betwixt and between.  Whilst Ogilvy is overly (albeit deservedly) self-appreciative at times, the wealth of knowledge, experience, passion and ambition of this man oozes from every page.  Whilst my scrawled notes on almost every page exceed what can comfortably be read on such a platform, here are the main lessons I learnt/musings that resulted from reading the book:

1. In order to truly create and innovate in an overcrowded marketplace, (whilst still maintaining brand identity) it is necessary to differentiate the brand from market commonality.  Whilst perhaps fairly obvious, many brands are currently failing to fully grasp this concept and are merely "getting by" on loyal consumers.  This is especially true with new brands, as once the client's place in the pecking order has been established, it's not easy to change, so making that initial impact can help propel a brand into the big leagues.

2. Personal/internal aspiration is key to creativity (and subsequently success).  Complacency and innovational staleness are bred from monetary greed and stational ambition overtaking industry passion and thrill.  As Mr Ogivly stated "everything looked different when my bank account was empty" [p27].

3.  An agency exists as a brand's champion, expected to win them battle after battle and gradually create an empire for them.  Within such a precarious relationship between an agency and client, it is best to allow them to win the smaller quarrels in favour of the grander strategy.  Whilst vocalising a "we know best" approach may sometimes be appropriate (depending largely on the quality of the agency/client's rapport), a client's stubbornness commonly makes these opportunities rare.  Supplementary to this, many a comedian has stated that a wife gets her way by making the husband think an idea is theirs, and though a subtle approach is naturally required,this tactic is also available here.

4. Consumers aren't idiots, so don't treat them as such.  Generation Y is far more savvy as to what's out there and are far more likely to do their research during their journey from browser to shopper to purchaser to loyal consumer.  People want to be addressed appropriately, with research showing that youth culture even want to be addressed by language 2-3 years more mature than their age.  With consumers less susceptible to advertising than they once were, in order to stand out, a specific issue of the consumer must be addressed on a personal and (where possible) emotional level, offering them a clear life benefit.  Be direct.  Be succinct.  Be creative.  Connect to every consumer on an individual level and make them feel cared about.  With such areas as SCRM rising in necessity and availability, there's more opportunity for personalisation than ever before.

5. Choose diplomatic honesty over situationally pressured acquiescence.  Whilst (especially as a recent graduate) speaking your mind may seem daunting and overstepping your place at times, both colleagues and clients will respect you and appreciate you more for it.  Firstly, if you've been asked to a meeting, you're in it to contribute your opinions not serve as just a "yes man".  Secondly, if you have an issue with something, it's normally for a reason.

6.  A creatively fantastic idea must also make business sense.  The innovativeness and forward-thinking nature of the of the industry is part of what makes it great, but ultimately agencies are hired to make clients money.  Whilst monetarily endowed clients may be more willing to spend large sums on brand awareness, the vast majority merely want bang for their buck.  If possible, build business into the strategy.  Make payment not just the light at the end of the tunnel, but create opportunities to make back the spend during the campaign.  A recent example of this is AIS's O2 3D Rugby campaign, where the return acquired by selling tickets to watch the England rugby match at cinemas ensured they were able to gain a vastly greater initial budget.

7.  Always aim to make history.  Whether you're working with a sports brand, holiday operator, or supermarket, every new campaign is an opportunity for greatness.  Nothing could be worse than seeing a direct competitor create a brilliant campaign and steal consumers away from you.  Have the ambition and drive to be the envy of others.  To do this, every move considered should be scrutinised and subsequently reflected upon and learnt from, regardless of degree of success.  Proper reflection ensures that for each new question issue, you'll have that little bit more experience from which to draw upon, and increase the likelihood of making history.

8.  As previously alluded to, client's have expectations of your agency, and failing to deliver on any promises made will likely lead to a parting of ways.  The best way to avoid such a divorce is to gain as much brand-intimate information as possible.  This allows greater insight into their desires, a more accurate realisation of what you can achieve, and a heightened understanding of the brand's identity and inner workings. To do this you must ask clients questions, and listen to what they have to say.  There's a big difference between merely hearing a client's views and listening to them, and it's one that is too often ignored.  Try to get under the skin of the business.  Find out what makes them tick, and most importantly, why.  Speak to as many representatives as you can to get as broad a picture as possible, reflect on what they say and how you feel about their views.  A brand is far more complex than any one individual you're speaking to, so to accurately and adequately represent that entity you must immerse yourself in it.

9.  Research everything.  More than others.  Whilst books and books could (and have) been written on this topic, succinctly there are a couple of things to be said.  Whether it's for:  Insight, general sector knowledge, knowing who you're pitching to, to learn how you actually feel about a product or how your friends feel about it, improving your next/current campaign, being able to network better with specific people, finding new business ventures, or for the next step in your career.  The list is almost endless.  As are the benefits

Succinctly put:
1.  Experience everything on a consumer level.
2.  Give yourself the best opportunity to impress.
3.  Become an expert on whatever you're doing.

10.  "Everything you do contributes to the brands image".  Be it DR e-mails, TV commercials, pop-up stands, facebook pages etc, all contribute to consumers' view of the brand.  Whilst some naturally carry more risk than others, one wrong move can heavily (if not irreparably) damage this image.  For example much controversy arose over a homophobic tweet sent out by a Vodafone employee that was widely reported upon.  Whilst this is a fairly anomalous slip-up, brands constantly trying to push boundaries means that care must constantly be taken and risks assessed. Upon an underestimation of people attending the American Apparel rummage sale, riots broke out and police became involved.  However, their 365 approach ensured that the damage to their brand was managed comparatively efficiently and effectively compared to the scale of the problem, with brand identity damage minimised.