Is the advertising working the wrong way or is the advertising working the wrong way for management?
Novus invites Mats Rönne
One of my biggest aha moments as a marketer came when I read a column by Rory Sutherland in the UK Campaign a number of years ago. Rory’s thesis was that the problem we have as marketers is not really being able to demonstrate that advertising works – although that can be difficult enough. The big problem is instead that when we show that advertising works, it usually does it in the “wrong” way. I.e. advertising works in a way that many managers and management teams are not quite comfortable with, and thus also do not always understand or want to acknowledge.
Management teams like things that are measurable. But they like even more things that are predictable, i.e. where the risk is low. To reduce capital tied up by increasing inventory turnover from 4 to 5 times per year. To lower the production cost per unit by investing in a new fully automatic assembly robot that does the same work in half the time. Things you can touch, or at least calculate. Streamlining. Cost reductions. To constantly play the game a little better.
But advertising – at least good advertising – makes us change our game plan and play a different game. Advertising does not lower the cost of production, but instead influences the buyer’s perception of what is being offered. It makes the product or service a little more interesting. A little more attractive, A little more valuable. Usually by creating attention and capturing the interest of the intended buyer. Not by making the product or service better in terms of higher performance, longer life or other measurable physical properties. But by making the experience of the product/service content better, according to the buyer’s subjective assessment. Advertising simply changes the rules of the game for competition. Or as the legend Bill Bernbach said “It may well be that creativity is the last unfair advantage we’re legally allowed to take over our competitors.”
When creating a branding manual, it is wise to divide the content into prescriptive and descriptive content. The prescriptive are rules: “do this”. The logo has a certain appearance and must be used according to certain approaches. Use these fonts etc.
The descriptive parts are rarely as clear, but at the same time often more important. They are about how to think in order to manage the brand in the right way, to do the right things. What is important? What should be avoided? How do we want it to be interpreted and perceived?
There is no prescriptive manual for how to create good advertising. However, there are a number of descriptive approaches that increase the chances of success. Creativity. Emotions. Scope. Production quality.
These are areas that many management teams are uncomfortable with, as these are issues and ways of working that are outside of their normal way of working. The legend Jeremy Bullmore once wrote: Brands are fiendishly complicated, elusive, slippery, half-real/half-virtual things. When CEOs try to think about brands, their brains hurt. And I sympathize. Given the nature of brands – and the persistent perversity of consumers – who wouldn’t choose to concentrate executive time on simple, rational, quantifiable things: like gross margins and case rates and return on capital invested?
And this is where I think we in marketing communications have our challenge. Even with measurable effects and well-founded reasoning, we marketers must teach the rest of the organization to go one step further than the manual. Everyone can follow a rule book, but if everyone uses the same rules, most people will also get the same results. But wildly breaking rules and norms is rarely popular in management teams. Instead, we marketers need to be the guides in these uncharted waters that changing the game plan means. I think there are three core competencies that give us the mandate to act and show that advertising works – regardless of whether you see it as the right or wrong way. In order to gain management’s trust, we therefore need to
- Be able to show how our work affects the business
- Be able to show how our work affects people and how they make decisions, thereby affecting the business
- Be able to show that our work follows descriptive (rather than prescriptive) “best practice” standards, and thus has a greater opportunity to influence people and their decision-making, and thus influence the business
Novus invites Mats Rönne
Mats Rönne has worked with marketing, brands and communication for almost 40 years, including as global brand manager at Ericsson and Electrolux and as strategist and account manager on the agency side. Today he is “brain for hire” and helps, among other things, Sweden’s Advertisers (Sveriges Annonsörer) to develop the question of how we, and our entire industry, can demonstrate the value of our marketing efforts to colleagues and managers in the organizations in which we operate.