Posted By Shane O'Leary, Strategy & Insights Manager at GroupM Ireland,
11 April 2018
Updated: 10 April 2018
'Guys it's simple, we just need to find a big, interesting, brand relevant platform that can live over the long term, and then spend our time hammering it home in different tactical ways.'
The cranky old creative director was getting a bit frustrated at this stage.
We were reaching that awful mid point of a large pitch. Ad agency people will recognise it. It's around the time when early enthusiasm is draining, tiredness sets in and and the desire to punch each other in the face starts to become a viable option.
It was one of my first pitches. As a young exec with little proper planning under my belt, I, like others in the group, was having trouble actually grasping what a 'creative platform' meant.
Simple, but not easy
In my social media addled brain, a brand that said the same thing over and over again was boring, a one trick pony. I felt that brands should be like chameleons, changing quickly, adapting to trends and communicating through mini campaigns.
But the wily old creative director wasn't having it. His experience and knowledge told him otherwise. Great brands are generally consistent. Great brand managers think in decades not quarters. Big ideas and strategy before execution and tactics.
He got his way. And though we lost the pitch, over the last decade or so I've come to understand exactly what he meant.
A great creative platform is a shot in the arm for a business. It's one of the most powerful, most often ignored tools of great marketing.
Getting to a great creative platform fits that beautiful concept of 'simple but not easy'. You can easily describe it, but it's incredibly difficult to pull off.
Like simplicity, it's also the ultimate in sophistication.
The power of thinking short and long
Short-termism is a cancer on modern marketing. The pressure is on CMOs to show results or move on and most of the digital tools we use are inherently short term in outlook.
We've focused on massaging the end of the marketing funnel through tactical, rational highly targeted campaigns focusing on short term, often irrelevant metrics.
We've come to prioritise tactics and short term activation campaigns over strategy.
But as Sun Tzu said, 'tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat'.
The problem is, this may be draining all the equity from your brand. Logic dictates that without filling the funnel the top by creating demand and building brands, there's nobody left to convert.
The immediate, ADD style focus of brand managers who want to constantly change what's notable and memorable about their brand actually destroys the brand over time.
Oh, and there's also the fact that everything we know about how advertising works tells us we need both a short and long term approach, integrated across many channels.
The work of Binet and Field, Byron Sharp, Paul Feldwick, Martin Weigel, System 1 Research prove the point.
Long term, creative, emotive, fame building campaigns are multiple times more effective.
Great brands focus on building and consistently using distinctive assets (logos, tagline, colours, music) that bring the brand front of mind. They avoid unnecessary changes, yet still keeping the brand fresh.
Fluency, or speed and ease with which people process information about your brand, is one of the key ways you can build brand success. This is closely linked to how distinctive or salient the brand is. Fluency is only built over time by creating and amplifying distinctive brand properties, such as colours, symbols, slogans and sounds.
Branding is inherently based on consistency. People are evolutionarily hard wired to hate inconsistency. It's literally part of our brains. Brands facilitate that by being clear about what they offer. One of the key functions of a brand is to provide a heuristic, a simple mental shortcut that allows people make decisions in store or online quickly. If a brand is constantly changing what it's about, whether through advertising, packaging, logo or product, then its value diminishes.
So advertising that is consistent over time is financially valuable. It helps increase price elasticity and drives profit. Companies that invest heavily in branding in the long term outperform the stock market. That's not a coincidence.
Clarity, focus and prioritisation are the core tenets of a great market strategy. It's about deciding what not to do, along with what to do.
And that's why brands that focus on building the structure of a big, memorable, distinctive creative platform and fuelling this fire over time are so successful.
They understand the power long term thinking and see a creative platform as an incredible 'force multiplier'.
Force multipliers are tools that help you amplify your effort to produce more output. Investing in force multipliers means that you’ll get more done with the same amount of effort. They're levers that help to generate momentum. They amplify and concentrate a small input into a larger output. A hammer is a force multiplier.
And so is a great creative platform.
According to Kantar's yearly 'Ad Reaction' survey of 14,500 people in 45 countries, campaigns that have a strong consistent creative platform perform better across all brand KPIs by 64%.
If that's not a force multiplier I don't know what is.
Your creative platform is the unifying, overarching idea behind the creative you produce. It provides clear guiding principles as to what we're about and what we don't want to do.
Ideally, it's a concept so beautifully simple and strong that it instantly allows you to come up with an idea that fulfils it. A motivator instead of a constraint.
Many make the mistake of confusing a brand's tagline with a platform. This is a difficult concept to explain, but while a platform can be described using words, it's more than just a brand line. A creative platform to be is a gestalt, a sum of many things in tandem including music, creative direction, words, media choices, brand assets, colours, partnerships and tactical execution.
Of course, this is extraordinarily difficult to pull off.
Have you ever tried to create an extraordinarily simple, pithy, engrossing, big idea that channels the brand you're working for, while getting stakeholders with different incentives to rally around and execute against it in a variety of different consistent ways? It's the marketing equivalent of herding cats.
But that's what the best creative directors and strategists in the world do.
Here are some examples:
(Note, many of the creative examples given are either TV or VOD spots. However, all of these platforms stretch across all channels in their own ways. It's just easier to find creative examples on YouTube!)
Guinness 'Made Of More'
The grand daddy of all creative platforms. Guinness, more than any other brand, understands the power of consistency and hammering home distinctive assets and a clear platform over time. 'Made of More' is now over 6 years old, has been brought to life in hundreds of different ways and yet still retains its creativity and clarity. Guinness has probably had over 100 agencies working on their business across the world during this time, but still the platform shines through. This is a particularly fine example of how a platform is more than just a line. The 'Made Of More' creative treatment has remained consistent over time, as have the brand's distinctive colours, while the stories told all follow a similar pattern.
Snickers 'You're Not You When You're Hungry'
'You're not you when you're hungry' (YNYWYH) was formulated as a response to hard times in 2009, when Snickers' global share of value sales dramatically dropped. The platform took the simple premise that there are certain universal symptoms of hunger; you become irritable, weak, or dopey, and sets Snickers up as the antidote. This simplicity of insight meant widespread adoption across Snickers' many markets, and has fuelled some of the most famous ads of all time.
In its first full year, "You’re not you when you’re hungry" helped increase global sales of Snickers by 15.9% and grew market share in 56 of the 58 markets in which it ran, and the global approach has created some huge efficiencies for the brand in terms of production cost.
The brand stretched the platform into a multi award winning digital execution in 2016, measuring angry sentiment on the web and decreasing the price of the bar based upon how ticked off it got.
And when the platform was flagging, they reinvigorated it with this classic spot using Mr Bean.
Globally, the revenue return from this campaign alone was estimated at US $10.65 for every US $1 invested.
The platform is still in use today. Check out this brilliant IPA case study.
AIB 'The Toughest'
Award winning in both Ireland and Europe, AIB's GAA sponsorship platform 'The Toughest' has ushered in a new era of multi channel creativity in Irish marketing. Starting from a point of minimal awareness, the campaign has evolved into a creative beast. While it has retained its consistent of the GAA club championships being 'the toughest' to win, this is not about 'matching luggage' or using the same creative in every channel. It's about using the strong platform and tweaking it to bring it to life in a myriad of different ways across many channels across multiple years.
Fosters 'Good Call'
This one might be a little unfamiliar to you, but it's no less brilliant than the others. As a forty year old brand in a mature market, Foster's had lost touch with the new generation of men. This campaign upturned the normal category convention in beer of 'bravado' and helped to bring a dose of 'Aussie positivity' to men in the UK. 'Brad' and 'Dan' characters have been used since 2010 as Aussie agony aunts in a variety of ways across all channels.
The results were incredible. The first campaign moved the beer from third to first in the market and initially generated £32 revenue for every £1 spent on advertising making it the biggest ever ROMI seen in the IPA Awards, and an obvious gold medal winner. Check out the brilliant case study here if you have WARC access.
Other brilliant examples of clear, consistent brand platforms include:
Compare The Market's 'Meerkat'
Domino's 'Official Food Of Everything'
Vodafone 'Team Of Us'
(For full disclosure, I was somewhat involved in the last two. If you have any others, please let me know in the comments)
Quantifying the benefits
So now you've seen some examples, what is it that a great creative platform does for a business?
Firstly, it enables autonomy. It gives people creative license to come up with tactical executions but with the framework of a clear platform. If, as Adam Morgan says, creativity thrives within constraints, then a creative platform is the ultimate 'beautiful constraint'. It gives a clear focus point that everyone understands implicitly, but also allows decentralised, intuitive, informal decision making. You can feel whether a tactical idea is right or not if you have a great platform.
Secondly, it aids integration. Consistent research has shown that multi-channel campaigns actually make the same budget work harder and more efficiently and advertising across platforms delivers a higher ROI, and that integrated campaigns build better brand associations and more brand equity. In a world of channel complexity when it's not unusual to have four agencies work on one account, integration is absolutely vital.
According to Kantar's study, campaigns with a strong central idea are far more likely to remain integrated even when individual elements are customised for specific placements because the platform provides greater flexibility or elasticity. So you can customise for YouTube or Facebook or display without losing the core consistency of the idea.
It’s clear to see that cross platform advertising builds brands in consumer brains better than a single platform. Brands that know what they want to say and let that flow coherently into each channel will perform better.
You often have many big egos and brains around an inter agency table and, to be honest, many competing incentives. A clear platform that everyone buys into solves the problem of interagency communication and stops the PR agency going off on a solo run or the media agency mis-briefing a publisher. It allows people to act cohesively in service of a bigger idea, not individually with their own thoughts. It focuses everyone involved and provides a rallying call.
Thirdly, it actually helps the brand speed up. While it might sound paradoxical, having a concrete structure actually helps the brand react quickly. It creates a centre of gravity that provides direction, but also allows the brand to move quickly when it spots media or tactical opportunities, since anyone can easily evaluate whether or not it fits with the platform. If you know what you're about and what you're not about, then you can move quicker than a competitor who is lost in the fog of uncertainty. A creative platform allows what Adam Morgan calls 'strategic dramatism'. In the modern age, brand's need to be dramatic to gain attention at times, but this has to be consistent and coherent. Drama on its own is wasted unless it ladders up to what the brand is all about. A great platform is a blueprint for that.
Fourth, it also helps us to avoid the scourge of the 'channel tunnel'. Real creativity requires understanding that a big idea must work everywhere, and isn’t based on using a new channel or technology. Channels and platforms are the equivalent of creative canvases that we paint on. But they’re benign without a strong creative idea. Big platform idea first, channel, medium, tactics and execution second.
Don't get me wrong, great ideas need to live within channels. Great tactics bring great strategies to life. A big idea is nothing without a supporting cast of hundreds of small ideas that communicate it.
But execution should be an afterthought, not the place we start. Clear creative platforms ensure this doesn't happen.
And finally, consistency and clarity of focus also provides its own advantage for the business. It's pretty likely that most of your competitors don't really know what they're trying to say and jerk from tactical campaign to tactical campaign. This vision is an Archimedes lever for a brand, particularly in the long term. It ensures we don't erode brand value by doing things that are incongruent to what the brand is about. It stops us making an ass of ourselves.
For brands, consistency is a virtue. We can never forget that.
Brands like Guinness, AIB, Fosters and Snickers understand that they need to give their brand managers and agencies total freedom within the constraints of an agreed framework.
This sounds like an oxymoron.
But it's not.
The opposite is wasteful - different tactical ideas being thrown around with no real focus or clarity.
A great creative platform is beautifully elegant, incredibly hard to get to and is guaranteed to make your business money in the long run.