Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Insanity Approach to Advertising

There was a time, not so long ago, when pretty much all anybody had to do to sell condominiums in Washington was set up a card table on a sidewalk and take orders.

Any fool could sell a condominium. And did.

Condominiums aren’t so easy to sell anymore. But some in the real estate industry – and their marketing firms – seem to have taken that definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result as a positive guideline for success. Because not a lot has changed that I can see. It’s all the same stuff – except maybe louder. Running a bigger ad is no substitute for running a better one or for taking a different approach altogether.

There are still lots of small-space builder ads mixed in amongst all the rest of the small-space builder ads in the real estate section saying all the same things as before – which are the same things as everybody else. People are still spending too much money on expensive brochures but not putting enough effort into getting the right people to come in and ask for a brochure.

It’s all about selling now – not just announcing. You have to do more than blow most of the client’s budget on an award-winning collateral piece. And any ads that you do have need to look and work like something other than all the rest of the condominium ads out there.

Maybe you need to look at a more integrated or even (gasp) non-traditional approach.

Now and again we hear that this project isn’t selling or that project is in trouble, but when we look to see what they are doing about it we usually see one of two things – more of whatever they were doing before or a lot of whatever everybody else is doing.

It’s the insanity approach.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Shift in Control - Agencies Letting Go of Clients

Recently, there's been a growing trend in the complicated world of client/agency relationships. Agencies that once held onto their clients with clenched fists are now re-thinking partnerships that may have soured since first taking on the account.

From today's WSJ: "Increasingly, ad agencies are choosing to sever relationships with marketers, rather than waiting to be ousted or participating in expensive reviews. Butler Shine Stern & Partners recently took a walk from the Converse athletic shoe account, Crispin Porter + Bogusky called it a day with Miller Lite and Cramer-Krasselt resigned the CareerBuilder.com business, rather than defend the account in a review."

This last one as most people know, came after CareerBuilder's new TV spot didn't rate highly enough on the "favorite Super Bowl commercial list", despite years of enormous success building the brand.

Everyone wants to have a good relationship with their clients, that's a given, but it's nice to see that when these relationships stop becoming mutually beneficial, agencies are beginning to recognize it and walk away. It's not easy, especially without an immediate new client to plug in, but sometimes it's necessary.

Once a particularly difficult (for whatever reason) agency/client relationship is severed, an agency can better focus its attentions on its other accounts without that constant stressor tugging at its sleeve. The client is better off too. They're free to find a new partner, better suited to their needs and with more synched up sensibilities.

Again, it flies in the face of what most agency folk have been taught through the years, but in the end, it's better for everyone to get that sour taste out of their mouths and look for something sweet again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Maybe the web alone isn't enough?

According to Ad Age, a recent study conducted by Travelocity showed higher conversion rates on branded keyword searches than non-branded terms.

Only in 2% of paid-search conversions did the searcher originally click on a non-branded term and then search a branded term. And only 4% of hotel bookings (not hits) on Travelocity can be credited to non-branded searches. Any sort of primitive math tells you that 96%, therefore, came from branded search terms.

And that, friends, is evidence that however strong your web site is and however hard that SEO works and however much you invest in Google keywords, you’ll get a lot more qualified customers to your site – and your business – if they have some familiarity with your brand before they start to monkey around on the web.

The name of the game – it seems to us – is to use a strong integrated approach to drive prospective customers to search “Your Name Luxury Hotel” rather than just “hotels, Maryland”, or to Google “Izzy’s Ice Cream” rather than simply “ice cream, Bethesda”. To paraphrase a classic McGraw-Hill ad, sales starts before the customer fires up the Google search engine.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

What's with the Addys?

We’ve won multiple awards in the DC Addy Show before; I think 12 was the most -- eight of them Addys. We don’t rake ‘em in like some agencies to, but we more than hold our own.

This year we won one Addy and nine Certificates of Merit (I think they call them Silver Addys now).

I’ll rephrase that.

This year we were honored for exactly two good ideas. That’s because the nine certificates were all for various elements of the same campaign. The one you see below. We won for a transit campaign for the bus shelters, for a newspaper campaign for the newspaper ads and we won some single awards for individual executions too. Oh, and in those campaign categories? Because there were, like, 15 pieces in the campaign and the Addy rules define a “campaign” as 3-5 pieces, we split them up and entered essentially the same damn stuff certainly the same damn concept in the same category three times. And that’s what is just wrong.

We weren’t the only ones. An agency owned by a friend of mine won 11 Addy Awards and a few more Certificates for a three-ad campaign created for a theater group. Singles won multiple awards and the three of them won as campaigns. Just as it was in our case, what was a print ad was also a poster, hence, another award for the same work.

Don't blame the judges. The know good work when they see it. You can't expect them to ignore creative quality. And don't blame anybody who sees a category for an award and goes for it. But what has happened is that the Ad Club’s (it’s actually probably the AAF that mandates so many categories) need/desire to make money has collided in my opinion with what I think is a need to establish creative credibility and value to an awards show. I mean, exactly how excited should anyody be for winning a slew of awards for the same work over and over because the media plan was ambitious? Not very.

What should be rewarded is the idea. Not the number of places it runs. If I won six awards in a show where a single piece could only be entered twice once as a single and once as part of a campaign I’d feel much better than if I wrote three or four ads that we were able to enter twenty-‘leven times.

The value just isn’t there.

The AAF/Ad Club ought to step up for great advertising over profit.

That’s just what I think. But I will certainly scatter those awards around our office where people can see them. So call me a name if you want.

Woody Hinkle

Something new we did

Real estate advertising doesn't have to be boring. This is part of a campaign we did for The Grant, a condo on Mass. Avenue.

(Click the image to see it bigger.)

This campaign won a MAME award from the Washington Metropolitan Sales and Marketing Council (builders and real estate) as the best marketing campaign for a single community. Not bad for the very first one of these we ever did. You can see more of the campaign on our web site.

Here's what we think about that.

We think advertising in Washington, D.C. can be so much better than it is. The place is full of talented creative people, but many people and agencies have set a low bar for themselves. We're too often content to follow and imitate what other markets do and way, way to quick to claim that this isn't a market that lends itself to good work. Edgy, exciting, effective work. The kind most all of us in the creative field want to do. Baloney.

The market doesn't define the creative opportunities.

Here's something cool we saw recently. Wish we had a picture. It was a series of two-sheeters (the non-lighted signs by the escalators) in a Metro station that MDB did for the DC Lottery. Three or four posters, the last of which had the ad -- a red ball, promoting the Red Ball game or some such thing. The first few sheets were the line indicating that that the ball had been bouncing, as if it had bounced from one sign to another. That took courage. Courage to devote nothing on those first few posters but the bounce line.